By Hook Or By Book

Reading & Writing

Were you surprised to discover that the ‘Lost’ writers didn’t know what they were doing after their initial premise played out? The final episode brings a circularity to this shaggiest of shaggy dog stories, but little else. Like ‘The Prisoner’ before it, and ‘The X Files’, it proved to be all hook and no punchline. The difference was that this time around, the writers had cynically assured everyone that All Would Be Explained.

Which finally and irrevocably answers the eternal question; when we’re pitching ideas for books or screenplays, should we sell the hook or the story? I think these days it’s now entirely about the hook. Imagine, if you will, the selling of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘A Handful Of Dust’. No longer would it be about a man whose heritage is reduced to the title by the philistinism of those around him. It would be ‘A rich handsome guy’s wife starts an affair with someone half her age – why?’ Today I have to pitch a book that’s all about the unfolding of the story – and I can already hear the editor’s reaction in my ears. ‘Where’s the hook?’

It’s tempting to just pitch something insanely ludicrous and worry about how it pans out later, as if I was pitching to a network. Thinking about it, is that so very terrible? Book industry folk, help me out here!

3 comments on “By Hook Or By Book”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    I never watched the series, but tell me about the picture above. Is it actually a still from the program? And nobody commented?

  2. I.A.M. says:

    When hearing about a book, I’d like to hear the reason a reader will get past Chapter One. “Young Boy in seaside town suddenly discovers a way to escape his maudlin existence by instantly travelling… to a different time and country! Plus he can come back!” Excellent! “Film executive is suddenly poisoned and dies… yet he’s still alive and able to put right things which have always bothered him, AND DOES!” Splendid! Sign here…

    I’m presuming that the writer is entirely able to bring the plot to a conclusion that makes sense, ties up loose ends, and answers the question “so what have we learned here?” If they haven’t worked that out, either they will once they’ve spent the time on it, or the editing process will bring that problem to the surface and the author will either fix it or have their legs sawn off.

    So, to succinctly answer your question: pitch the hook, safe in the knowledge that you know how to write a conclusion, becuase the publisher presumes you’re able to do it.

    Lost: I’ve not watched the show either.

  3. admin says:

    A fair answer, although I wish I’d thought of those hooks for Calabash & Soho Black. I’m thinking purely in hook terms now – a man becomes a superhero hamburger at night! A girl turns into a boat! A chimney-maid with two ugly sisters is turned into a princess for one night – IN HELL! etc etc…

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