CREATING YOUR HOOK OR LOG LINE ("Levels of Conflict" below)
If you have already written good description of your story from Module I, you are on your way to developing a good hook line, but one MUST come before the other!
From Michelle McLean's "HOW TO WRITE A HOOK OR LOG LINE":
Your hook line, like a log line, takes a story full of complex plot lines and high-concept ideas and breaks it down into a simple sentence that can be quickly and easily conveyed to a wide range of people.
Your hook line is your first pitch in getting someone interested in your book. It can be used as the first line in your query letter, to help hook the agent into reading the rest of the letter and requesting information. It is especially useful for those pitch sessions at conferences or lunches. When a prospective agent or editor asks you what your book is about, your hook line is your answer.
Elements of a Hook Line
- Characters – Who is the protagonist? What is his/her main goal? What major role do they play?
- Conflict – Who is the antagonist? What obstacle do they create to frustrate the protagonist?
- Distinction – What makes your book different then all the rest? What is the unique element of your story that makes it stand out? Is your book a romance between a young man and woman? What makes them different?
- Setting – for a novel, adding a little about the setting, time period, and possibly genre (if it’s not obvious) is a good idea. For example, the hook line for my book, which is an historical romantic suspense, could begin “A young woman in Victorian England…”.
- Action – Your hook line should radiate verve and energy. Which hook below catches your interest more?
- - A woman has an affair and runs off with her new beau.
- - A neglected wife and mother has a torrid affair with an ex-con and kidnaps her children to flee with her lover.
Let's go back to the story description examples for hook lines, as follows:
In the year 1900, amid ominous and growing portents of violent weather to come, an overconfident man of science and his gleaming city of Galveston scoff at the idea of natural disaster, and following a catastrophe of death and destruction far worse than any could have imagined, this same man and his city must learn to face not only their arrogance, but more importantly, their irretrievable loss.
The Hand of Fatima
In 1564 Grenada, a young half-Christian Moor termed "The Nazarine" faces a life of scorn and torment by Moors and Christians alike until the kidnapping and murder of the woman he loves sets him on a dangerous path to reconcile the two faiths by seeking the God they both share.
Hiss of Death
At such time a quiet and animal-loving woman learns she has stage one breast cancer and enters the hospital she is galvanized into sleuthing after her good friend, an OR nurse, is found dead from a hornet's sting, and the doctor with whom she had an affair is electrocuted by his own car.
CONSIDERING THE PRIMARY CONFLICT - COMING OF THE "AGON"
Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve.
And now, onto the PRIMARY CONFLICT.
If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information regarding the history of conflict in storytelling:
Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter") and the antagonist (a more recent term), corresponding to the hero and villain. The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on.
Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her.
The above defines classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.
For examples let's return to the story descriptions and create some CONFLICT LINES. Note these come close to being genuine hook lines, but that conflict is present regardless of genre.
The Hand of Fatima
A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.
After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy
As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.
Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any. Beware!
OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS
"Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category."