Action, Romance, and a Sharp Right Hook

These are three things I feel any mainstream novel needs in order to be successful in today’s market.  Let’s face it, if my reader isn’t interested in my story within the first few pages they’re likely to put it down and move onto something that promises to be, if anything, a bit more interesting.  It’s depressing to think that people won’t give your book a chance based solely on the first couple pages, but it’s a truth I’ve learned the hard way.  Experience has taught me what my readers want out of a book and I’m going to try my best to share with you my personal ingredients for creating a page-turning success.

On a side note, Chapter Two of The School of Arts is uploaded and I plan to reference it in this post, so read at your leisure. :]

Too Mainstream?

A perfect scene in every sense of the word.

First off, there has to be some sort of action.  Let me be clear, though.  In no way am I suggesting that throwing in senseless violence or needless explosions to suit your latest whim resembles anything remarkably close to a good idea.  I’m referring strictly to the action that drives a plot forward—a struggle arises as a result of the story’s main conflict.  Sure, things can blow up, and sure there can be violence, but it has to be for a reason.

As we can all probably attest, most of the mainstream blockbusters that grace today’s sticky-floored movie theaters use action as their main plot device.  There is, however, a limit to the amount of grisly red corn syrup and obviously fake explosions a person can take before the thought of death amuses them.  So, how can we incorporate action into our stories without making it seemed forced?  Here are some of my suggestions:

1)       It needs to make sense, both physically and logically.  If your plot never suggested that those two characters would be arch nemeses, then why are they suddenly so apt on violently murdering each other?  In the beginning of The School of Arts, I use action as a way to get my reader’s attention and hold it (more on that later), but I also use it to raise questions and make it perfectly clear that the world the story takes place in is very different than our own.

2)      Employ all the senses.  The best action scenes I’ve ever read, written by the likes of Terry Goodkind and JK Rowling, made ample use of sensory details.  By doing this, the reader will more easily lose themselves in the story and visualize the events as they transpire.  Whether it be an epic battle in a snow  covered mountain pass or the final confrontation at Hogwarts, I can still see them perfectly, as if I witnessed them myself.

Romance Isn’t Dead, At Least Not Yet

Overly prissy vampires and angst riddled teenage girls aside, there is still a place for romance in novels.  Actually, it has a BIG place, and when used properly it can add a depth to a story that would be unattainable otherwise.  Love is something everyone can relate to and when a beloved character falls for the girl of his dreams, people are going to be able to connect to the situation and find similarities within their own life.  (If someone claims otherwise, they’re either lying or have lived as a hermit for the entirety of their lives.)

Katniss and Gale. Their relationship kept me intrigued until I reached the last page.

As I said, the main goal of incorporating romance into a story is to give our readers something to connect with while they read.  They need to feel invested in the characters and their plights in order to find the inspiration they need to stick with them until the end.  There’s one mistake I’ve noticed quite a bit in my own reading and it’s making romance central to the plot.  Sure, this is an acceptable practice for those ten cent romance novels you might find in a used book store, but if you actually want your writing to significantly impact someone, there is nothing worse you could do.  I understand my fellow writers might disagree with some of the things I’ve said about this, but this is all my opinion.  So take it with a pinch (or tablespoon, depending on your taste) of salt.

If you don’t want a part in Chapter Two spoiled for you, I suggest you don’t read this next part until you’ve finished, but I wanted to talk about how I approach romance in my own writing.  Quite randomly, it might seem, Silvia kisses Lucas.  I haven’t explained her intentions or the motivation behind the impulsive act, but I made her do it for a reason.  There’s always an unavoidable tension between the two main protagonists, especially in Lucas and Silvia’s case, so I wanted to do away with it.

By removing that awkward buildup to the so called “first kiss,” I believe I’ve opened their complex friendship up to many interesting possibilities.  Now their relationship is even more uncertain, which I hope will keep my readers engaged.  I look forward to playing with their dynamic and adding new characters to the mix.  (I already have one more character planned to round out the main cast of three, since, you know, it’s the magic number and all.)

Go for the K.O.

I believe this one is pretty self-explanatory.  Don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops.  It’s a harsh reality, but in a market full of books, if your reader isn’t interested in the first few pages, heck, the first few SENTENCES, they’re going to move on to something else.  Make the first thing they read as exciting as possible and build your way up from there.  Every story has a series of ups and downs—intense, dramatic scenes interspersed between the longer, storytelling lulls—so who’s to say we can’t have one of the more exciting parts begin our story?   Here are a few of my own tips for creating a hook that will catch even the most timid readers:

1)      Start with action or dialogue.  I don’t mean action in the sense I discussed earlier.  This simply implies that something is happening.  By beginning this way, a reader will be inclined to see how the events transpire.  The same goes for dialogue.  It is naturally engaging and is an immediate insight into the characters and the situation.

2)      On the contrary, don’t begin with exposition.  Trust me, I’ve done it.  There is nothing worse than beginning a story with a long winded description of a rolling yellow wheat field or a darkly sinister forest.  Sure, it might be important to the story itself, but begin with the action and insert the descriptions as you go.

3)      Make it fun.  If someone enjoys what they are reading, they’re more likely to stick with it for the long run.  Whether you add humor or describe an epic escape scene (wink, wink), there has to be something the average person would find interesting.  I believe I did a decent job with this is Chapter One.  Does anyone agree/disagree?  I’d love your opinions!

Bring it All Together

Feel free to utilize these strategies in your own unique way, or come up with new and exhilarating methods for drawing your readers into your story.  No matter what you do, just make sure it all fits.  In the end, my best advice would be to never write without a purpose.  Sure, we can’t all be JK Rowlings, but if we aim that high chances are we’ll come pretty darn close.

Perpetually Inspired,

A fellow writer.

One thought on “Action, Romance, and a Sharp Right Hook

  1. Esaul says:

    This is the best post so far. However, I disagree with you in several areas. I always hated the idea of mainstream commercialism. It isn't creative to dip your toes into what's currently trending worldwide and try to feed off that. It doesn't make the work in question bad, but it can create a negative image so to speak. This doesn't mean one's idea under what's popular won't be good. It's just something to be cautious about.

    Television is probably the prime example (though this can translate into any media outlet). One can connect Glee's success to Disney's High School Musical. The hype the movie got was phenomonal. Next FOX tests the pilot for a musical-esque show teasing fans for the fall season. The results were unbelievable. No one expected huge success from it. NBC keeps failing with show ideas. This year alone, they've only had one (arguably two) successful dramas. One of them dipped into Glee's success with a musical-esque show. CBS also plans to do something as well in this field.

    Now two negative things can come as a result of this. Either people will get tired of it or they go in skeptical with the mind set of 'really?'. It's hard to seperate a new show that has singing from Glee. This applies if someone creates a story based off elements seen in Harry Potter. It isn't original nor is it interesting. The best example I can think, relating to this is Twilight. Stephanie Meyers took something popular and played to the hearts of teenage girls (for the most part). This doesn't mean she's a great writer. This means she marketed successfully. Writers should never sell out like that.

    Yes, it is important to keep in mind the target audience as you write, but don't use that as a crutch to try and achieve success. No, that isn't the message you were trying to convey, it's more of a cautious piece of advice. JK Rowling's only concern when writing was that she didn't think a story written by a woman would do well with guys, hence the use of 'JK'. Other than that, she just wrote. Her storytelling developed as the series progressed and as the characters grew older. She didn't censor, change her style, or the way she wrote the story due to her audience. She conveyed a story in her own way.

    This sparks another subject. Shippers. I hate them. People get so passionate with who they want to see a character end up with. This once more applies mainly to televison, but it can translate into writing. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in recent years played to the masses of fans who supported the idea of Elliot and Olivia hooking up. The executive producer purposely teased the fans with situations that brought the characters closer. First, Elliot is married. Second, the show is about the cases not the characters. It changed too much. It turned to a marketing scheme to keep people watching.

    In Harry Potter, people supported various relationship ideas. I know I was a fan of Harry/Hermione when I was writing fanfiction. People feel passionate when it comes to this. A writer should never succumb to the masses just to satisfy them. If you have something planned, then you're doing it for a reason, not to "sell out". In the Harry Potter movies, one could argue that they teased Harry/Hermione quite a bit, like when Hermione grabbed Harry's hand, or when they were dancing. This is to appeal to the shippers.

    And on the subject of romance, another thing shows love to do is the idea of will they/won't they. It's great for a short while, but dragging it on gets annoying. I can name you quite a few shows that do that. It can get exhausting. If two characters aren't meant to be, they aren't meant to be. I think it's a good idea that you had Silvia kiss Lucas. However don't be one of those shows that keep teasing the notion of maybe they will, maybe they won't. It does give you options, but don't abuse it.

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