As well as plot and structure, some books have a hook and a theme. Where the structure of the novel is the familiar shape of a story that we all recognise, the hook is the uniqueness of the story. It’s that spark of an idea that, for the writer, stirs the initial excitement about the premise and, for the reader, the retention of interest.
Because we are all unique, with out unique stories, it should be easy to find something that grabs interest. Yet it becomes more complex when we consider genre and zeitgeist. So, if you know which genre you are writing for, this will narrow down the range of unique hooks. Additionally, what is currently popular will influence what you write. Plus, writers must second guess what will be popular in one or two years, as it is unlikely that your book will be published before then (unless it’s an ebook). The hook must appear early in the book, and recur throughout the plot.
So, we have the hook, an idea that pulls the reader into the novel and keeps them there until the end. However, many books also have a universal theme. For example, the hook for your novel might be the story of a child’s survival against disability. This is what holds the interest of the reader, but the overarching theme might be a backdrop of poverty, say during a war or on the great depression. Or it may be more contemporary, set in New York, or London. The overarching theme can also be a theme that runs through the novel, such as the importance of family, a particular location or even a concept. The complicated part is intertwining the hook and the theme.
Hook and theme are a little like the personal and the social, or the micro and the macro. Again, this works so well because it overlays onto our psychological lives and gives a context to the story. Some of the best novels where we are asked to suspend our belief are scaffolded by a strong overarching moral theme, usually good vs bad. Other emotive novels have a very strong hook based on strong characters.
Finding the hook for a novel is far from easy as it needs to be unique. Planning hooks for current work has involved researching what is popular now in women’s fiction, where the gaps are, and trying to identify something in between. This planning, in some ways, detracts from complete spontaneity, but hopefully will be compensated by reaching 90,000 words fairly safe in the knowledge that others will be invested in the content.
It’s always wise to run your hook and theme by writing colleagues to see if they are viable. Some writers have a problem with this, fearing that someone will steal their idea. Obviously this does occasionally happen, but even if someone did steal the idea, what are the chances of exactly the same story being written? It is clear that although there are still unique ideas to be had, there is a set of concepts that overlap in writers material: relationships, family, trauma, problems and emotions. Taking this full circle, it these common elements that create genre.
Some writers automatically steer away from subject matter other authors have covers for fear of repetition, but it is unlikely that the exact plot of a novel will be copied by accident. This is because we all base our writing on our unique imagination and memory. Sometimes it’s a good strategy to have either a hook or a theme that is similar to other novels, as this may help marketers see that this sells. With two permutation, the hook can be the same as other novels, but with a different context and plot, create an entirely different piece of work.