How much more do I need to say about hook?

Oh Wise Master of Snarkiness,
After looking through countless suggestions for creating a compelling hook for a query letter, and participating in several query/hook critiquing contest blogs, I've come across the following dilemma. In a novel that features a relatively large cast of protagonists, with three separate "main" characters, each with their respective storylines, how do you structure a compelling hook? If I spend time to give a brief description of each character and storyarch, it doesn't seem like there's enough space to make any of them sound particularly compelling/interesting/"hook"ing, but if I focus on a single character, I lose 2/3 of the story, and could theoretically have 3 completely different hooks for a single novel.

Look at Airport, or Hotel, or any novel by Arthur Hailey.

Look at novels by James Michener or Leon Uris.

Look at Bleak House by Dickens.

Read the flap copy on big sprawling books.

You'll get the idea.

And if you need more help, there's an entire 600+ entry crapometer on hooks.


Gay said...

Thank you to the brave soul who took a hit from the clue gun for me, as I've been struggling with this very question myself. Conflicting answers abound, but I trust Miss Snark's.

ORION said...

Shorter is better...shorter is better...shorter is better...

Anonymous said...

Just remember: they don't call it the crap0meter for nothing! But well worth the time spent.
Keeping Miss Snark reading not one but 3 different queries seems like Good Odds, better than even, to me.

kelly said...

I have the same question and this answer is useless. Read similar novels? The question is about hooks, not novels themselves and in EVERY contest I've seen, the judges are merciless with multiple protagonists. These judges can barely believe in a large story, and never would such a thing get published! (Where is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? I left them in my high school English class, sorry.)
I've been seeking an answer to this question for some time and this is worthless.
But in general I love the blog.

Miss Snark said...

Kelly, read the jacket flap copy for those novels, not "read the novels".
The jacket flap copy gives an overview for the novel, similar to a hook.

And this isn't about hooks for contests, it's hooks for query letters.

Reading comprehension score for today= 0

Chris Eldin said...

Sometimes 600 plus crap-0-meter entries just isn't enough.

For those who crave more, you can visit Evil Editor's site.


Christa M. Miller said...

My multiple-protag hook was just destroyed in the Fangs, Fur, & Fey contest. On one level I could see the judge's point - I don't think I got to the meat of the story. On another, I felt the story itself was judged (cut one character, focus on another).

It IS an incredibly hard balance, no matter what. But I like the flap copy suggestion.

Jean Bauhaus said...

This was my question, too. My crapometer hook only focused on one of my protags, and based on that I got a lot of Snarkling opinions about my plot that didn't really apply. I didn't have time to read every crapometer hook entry (and God bless Miss Snark for doing so), but I at least skimmed the best I could, and I didn't see any examples that really addressed my problem.

I started out going to the back covers of George R. R. Martin's Ice & Fire series for examples, but his cast is so friggin' huge that that wasn't much help either. In the end, reading flap copy and reviews for Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman gave me the most help -- same number of protagonists, dealing with about the same amount of plot as my own.

I'm also finding that writing and revising my hook as I write my novel helps me remember what my book is about and keeps my plot from wandering all over the place.

Christa M. Miller said...

Incidentally - if you have a hard time getting to a bookstore (as I do) or your library is limited in resources (as ours out here in the sticks is), you can find some flap copy at Amazon. I just found one for Uris' Exodus. Happy hooking! (Pun intended.)

Anonymous said...

Maybe, next time, write something more simple.

Glenda said...

Maybe I'm the nitwit here, but if you have multiple protags with multiple plots, doesn't your novel have some unifying element that ties them together? Wouldn't you use that same unifying element as the meat of the hook?

An off-the-cuff (and trite) example: Title is the story of three brothers in 18th century Scotland. Jack, a smuggler, Edward, a soldier, and Michael, a priest, struggle to come to terms with their mother's brutal murder and their father's descent into madness. They follow separate paths as Jack does X, Edward does Y, and Michael does Z. Ultimately, they reunite to discover....

I've seen advice to sum up each plotline in a single sentence before beginning to write (or before beginning to revise, at least). It seems to me that when querying a complexly structured novel, one sentence per plot is about all you can afford.

Beth said...

I've struggled with this, too. Ultimately, I trimmed my hook to the two characters, male and female, whom I felt represented the main arc of the story. I focused the pitch only on their particular conflict. This version has gotten requests for partials every time I've used it.

JeanJeanie said: I started out going to the back covers of George R. R. Martin's Ice & Fire series for examples, but his cast is so friggin' huge that that wasn't much help either.

The flap copy for GRR Martin's GAME OF THRONES is so vague and uncompelling that it was years before I decided to chance reading that book, because I couldn't tell what it was about. (Glad I did read it finally, because it's an amazing series.) But that particular jacket copy provides a really poor example of writing a hook for a multi-protag novel.

Kathleen said...

fennel said what I was going to say. If you really can't tie the story lines/cast of characters together, maybe you need to re-look at your plot.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I have the same problem, and it took me a lot of tampering with my hook until I found a way to deal with three MCs and a cast that makes NY look a village. It's still not perfect and only covers the first part of the book in any detail, but here you go. Maybe it gives you an idea how to tackle the problem.

Keepers of powerful magic stones, last remnants of realms once connected by ley lines, the Norman knight Roderic de Sinclaire, the Gaelic clan chief Alastair O'Duibhne, and the Norseman Kjartan Haraldsson are thrown into the feudal struggles that change the face of Scotland and Europe. Rumour of the stones incites kings and lords to search for them, and to use the stones themselves is a constant temptation for the three men who have their own wars to fight. Roderic is an exile in Germany after he broke his oath of fealty and now fights the savage Abodrites in Duke Heinrich's service; Alastair faces enemies on the Scottish westcoast where the Gaelic leader Somhairle and the Norse King of Man strive for power; and Kjartan would sacrify more than his life to regain his king's esteem.

When the fate of Scotland is decided in the Highlands and in Normandy, the three men have to find a way to prevent their home from being divided between the cultures that shaped it. They also have to find a way to destroy the stones without causing greater damage to the world of which they are a part - but are all three Keepers willing to go that way when each of them has the power to challenge kings and armies and claim the throne of Scotland for himself?

You see, I start with what unites the three MCs, then mention their plotlines, and go back to the unifying aspect of the story - which of course, is a lot more complicated than the hook makes it appear. But we don't want to scare the agents now, do we? *grin*

Miss Snark said...

that's a hook?

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, I said it's not perfect, but it's a suggestion to deal with the structure of a several MCs/plotlines plot, I think.

I know that it needs to be shorter.