As part of her blog tour for her YA thriller Fireseed One, Catherine Stine is here to talk about plotting and hooks. And best yet, she used The Hunger Games (which I just finished re-reading) to emphasize her points.
Today, I’m guest posting on plotting and hooks. As well as writing fiction, I teach creative writing, specifically teen fiction. My students tell me I’m good at explaining plot, so here goes. Plots should be constructed like an exciting symphony—compelling and nuanced—with movements in varying tempos, from presto (rapid) to vivace (lively) to adagio (slow, regal) and so on. All of this, held aloft by a tight thread of tension.
A plot put simply, is a road map for where your story will go. A gold standard plotline starts with an inciting incident that launches the story forward with great energy and angst, for instance in the Hunger Games when Katniss is paired with Peeta, a childhood acquaintance she must kill to win the tournament. This is followed by rising and falling action where the protagonist struggles in her quest, each time inching ahead, but also suffering setbacks (As when Katniss loses an ally or weapon). Put big obstacles in front of your characters that create chaos. This will force your protag to come up with better strategies, a tweaked battle plan.
Three is a charm in plot points as well as in fairy tale. Think of the three pigs’ attempts to build a wolf-proof house. Two tries is not enough, four too many, and five drags a plot down into quicksand. This plotline would look like a three-humped camel, with each hump taller than the last.
At the third down slope, the hero or heroine has an apparent defeat, a black moment, when all seems lost. But the character is determined, and though he or she is exhausted, at wit’s end, the need to overcome is more important than anything, so said person will brush herself off and make that final push, to at least some point of success. Perhaps this person doesn’t get exactly what she wants, that’s okay. She gets something. For instance, Katniss does survive, although she now fears future retribution. This is the point at which your readers can finally catch their breath and cheer. But a writer dare not linger here long! The end must quickly follow the dénouement. Also, make your characters’ conflicts intertwine with the plot. In doing so, make then face their worst fears. For instance, if character A’s worst fear is of heights, force Character A to face his worst fear when he has to rescue Character B from the peak of an icy mountain!
Now, onto hooks. Hooks are musically mood-oriented—furioso (furied), lacrimoso (sad), agitato (agitated). They are chapter-end punctuations and should make your reader have a burning need to turn that page to see what happens next. Of course, you should be building organically to that moment throughout the chapter. Don’t end every chapter in the same mood. Redundancy is an author’s enemy. End one chapter on a sad hook, another on a fearful one. Here are some of my Fireseed One hooks, to give you specifics:
“Tell me your name.” More than scaring me, she disgusts me.
“Meg,” she spits out.
“That’s whale crap,” Audun says. His Hip Pod is out, and he’s scrolling down on it. “I just looked you up. Your name’s Marisa Baron.”
(Disgust and discovery hook—a big lie exposed)
Something else hits my chest, which jerks me back. It burns like fire.
My legs buckle and I pitch over. (Danger and injury hook)
After almost an hour of this annoyance, the ocean floor produces pay dirt. Like discovering pearls in barnacled muscles, at least forty more code disks peek up from the sludge. Audun and I cheer. I can’t help reverting to my six year-old self. We’ve excavated exquisite pirate treasure! (joyous hook, to be followed by more trouble)
One more plotting tool: create a visual plot line with colors and shapes to signal characters and events. Let’s say, every time the villain enters a scene you draw a red angry-face, or every time lovers share a scene sketch in a pink heart. This is also a great way to literally see plot holes. Good luck with your plots and hooks!
Thanks, Stina, this was fun.
Fireseed One is available as an ebook for $2.99 from Amazon, B&N, iTunes and Sony Reader. The collectible illustrated paperback is $7.99 at Amazon and B&N.
About the Author
Catherine Stine’s Fireseed One launched in December to 5-star reviews. Her first YA, Refugees, earned a New York Public Library Best Book and a featured review and interview in Booklist. Middle grade novels include The End of the Race and A Girl’s Best Friend. She’s also a professional illustrator, teacher, and she does manuscript consultations. For this service, contact her at kitsy84557 (at) gmail (dot) com with EVAL in the headline.
About Fireseed One:
What if only your very worst enemy could help you save the world?
Fireseed One, a YA thriller, is set in a near-future world with soaring heat, toxic waters, tricked-out amphibious vehicles, ice-themed dance clubs and fish that grow up on vines. Varik Teitur inherits a vast sea farm after the mysterious drowning of his marine biologist father. When Marisa Baron, a beautiful and shrewd terrorist, who knows way too much about Varik's father's work, tries to steal seed disks from the world's food bank, Varik is forced to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold and venture with her, into a hot zone teeming with treacherous nomads and a Fireseed cult who worships his dead father, in order to search for a magical hybrid plant that may not even exist. Illustrated by the author. Fans of Divergent and Feed will likely enjoy this novel; also, those who like a dash of romance with their page-turners.
Please consider LIKING the Fireseed One Facebook page on your way out, and take a look at the other fun Fireseed One tour stops here, from February 20 through March 19th!
Where you can find Catherine and Fireseed One on the web: