Writers talk a lot about hooks-the thing in a story’s opening that grabs the reader and makes them want to continue. It’s a popular question among writing groups when critiquing a first page or scene: “Where’s the hook?”
This can be… frustrating.
The problem is that critiquers often don’t treat the term like the broad, vague thing that it is, which makes their critiques broad, vague, and unhelpful. First I’m going to explain how hooks are subjective, and then how to make your critique more beneficial to the writer.
I wish my rejections came in old-fashioned letter form, like in the good ol’ days, so I could make a papier mache sculpture representing my despair. Working with my hands always makes me feel better.
Haha, it’s okay, I’m not actually despairing right now, but I have my moments. I know how the publishing industry works, how long it takes even for the most talented writers, that even J.K. Rowling got rejections up to her eyeballs. I know all that, but I still wake up sometimes with a weight on my chest and think, “It’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen.”
One time I wrote a piece inspired by David Foster Wallace. It was unconventional, not really a narrative, hard to classify. I didn’t think it was genius or anything, but I enjoyed it. I got some scathing criticism from an individual who focused very much on the rules it was breaking. When I mentioned that I was learning from DFW’s example, the critiquer said, “Yeah, well, you’re not DFW.”
Eugh… “Rules.” Just the word makes me think of similarly off-putting things, like peas or gym class or t-shirt armpits yellowed by old sweat stains. I prefer the more pleasing word “guidelines.” Ahh, that’s better – like a cheerful garden path leading you towards better writing. Or that wise old word “advice,” with its wizard beard and smell of vintage paper. And let’s not forget that perky lil word, “tips!”
Rules are smart, but no rule/guideline/advice/tip is an ironclad absolute.
Last week I wrote about critiques, which I get a lot of as I’m part of two in-person critique groups. And MOST of the time? I love them! Occasionally, not so much. For fun I decided to do a pros and cons list of writing groups.
I want to talk about critiques. Namely, the right and the wrong ways to give them, and there are wrong ways, so if you’re the type who believes honesty equals brutality or that “feelings” should be pronounced with a sneer and a sarcastic waggling of the fingers, I’d like you to read this post.