Breaking News–Writing a Hook Is Hard

This is what I’ve got so far, but I’m at that bad point where I’m not sure it’s comprehensible even to me.

Help . . . ?

Mackie Doyle is the dirty secret that no one in his family talks about. All he wants is to pass for normal—and maybe get a date—but he’s running out of convincing explanations for why his eyes turn black in dim light and why the smell of stainless steel makes him sick. To top it off, his allergy to iron is getting worse and despite his sister’s best attempts to come up with a miracle cure, the prognosis isn’t good.

When Mackie encounters a tribe of people living under the local slag heap and calling themselves the Unforgiven Dead, he doesn’t want anything to do with them, but when they offer a tonic that will restore his health if he’ll put in a few hours a week as their courier, it seems like a small price to pay. Now, acting as personal messenger to their shark-toothed child queen, Mackie’s finding that the Dead aren’t so bad and that for the first time in his life, he actually fits in.

As Halloween approaches, however, Mackie finds himself entrenched in the longstanding animosity between the Dead and their sister court, the Living. Although he’d rather align himself with the Dead, who treat him like family, he discovers that he has a binding obligation to the Living, despite the fact that they abandoned him a birth. Now, either alliance means honoring the seven-year teind to a creature whose currency is sacrifice, and the simplest solution is to pay out some blood. The problem is, he didn’t think to ask how much.

15 thoughts on “Breaking News–Writing a Hook Is Hard

  1. I would totally read that book!
    I wonder if, as a hook, it gives too much of the basic plot arc away? But I’m sick today and rather muzzy headed, so talk to more people about it before you take my word for it.

    • I would totally read that book!=always wonderful to hear :)
      As far as this particular type of hook, I’m in the strange position of having to prove to an agent (in about 250 words) that a whole story not only exists, but that one event follows from another in a satisfying way. Based upon general consensus in the comments, though, I’m going to have to completely tear apart that 3rd paragraph . . .
      ::wanders off to find a red pencil::

  2. Hmm, without thinking about it, I’ll say, “Condense paragraph 1, P2 sounds pretty darn good, P3 gets confusing w/the Living vs. Dead.” And my question is, what about Tate? Should there be something more about that dynamic? And, coming from someone who has never written one of these things myself mind you, the edginess of the story itself (as concerns writing style and all the piercings, etc.) doesn’t come across here. I, personally, loved the tongue ring twist so maybe some mention of the girl he wants has metal in her mouth, etc would bring in some of that flash :) I’m still loving reading the story itself!

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! As always, all comments are welcome. I’ll start revising tomorrow–I even got purple correction pencils like we used to use at CLP/Review.
      Let me tell you a secret: right now, I hate (hate, hate) the 3rd paragraph of this letter. I’m kind of banking on getting through the first set of revisions and magically gaining a new understanding of the plot.
      Now, as far as the edginess/voice, here’s where strategy comes in ;) I’m pretty limited in terms of word count for the actual hook, but the good thing is, I’d include at least five pages with the letter, so someone would get (assuming it doesn’t disappear in revisions) the blood-draw scene. What I’m counting on is someone–read: agents–being able to tell from that scene whether they’re likely to enjoy the voice.
      As far as including Tate, I’ll talk to you about that as I revise and get closer to shopping this thing. Basically, I need to decide who’s more important, Tate or Emma. In this version, I went with Emma, but I’m not sure that’s right.

      • Is Emma the sister?
        If so, I grooved on that. How seldom do we see strong sibling relationships in YA? Not very often. It’s one of those overlooked things that could make this really stand out.

        • Yep, Emma’s the sister, and the sibling relationship is something I actually feel pretty strongly about. I get the sense that often, people don’t perceive brothers and sisters as having good relationships in their teens, but it’s certainly not unheard of and I think it can be very powerful when tested.
          Plus, I just think Emma’s cool because she likes biology and other fascinating things :)

  3. I understood it, and I admit I’m intrigued. A fair resemblance to Holly Black’s Tithe, but not to the point of it being the same story.
    I like how that with as much information as you give, there are still questions to be answered.
    Dunno if any of that helps. ^^

    • I understood it, and I admit I’m intrigued.
      Yay! That makes me happy. While I’ll admit there’s a cursory resemblance to Tithe in terms of premise, I’m hoping it’s superficial enough that someone reading would forget after a page or two. I think the style is different enough to where it wouldn’t seem like I was treading over the same territory.
      (fingers crossed)

  4. I haven’t read the other comments yet, so hopefully this isn’t repeating what others have said.
    First thing, the tone/voice of the piece is really grabby. Strong, compelling. Makes me want to read the book.
    First P:
    “Mackie Doyle is the dirty secret that no one in his family talks about. All he wants is to pass for normal—and maybe get a date—but he’s running out of convincing explanations for why his eyes turn black in dim light and why the smell of stainless steel makes him sick. To top it off, his allergy to iron is getting worse and despite his sister’s best attempts to come up with a miracle cure, the prognosis isn’t good.”
    This just rocks. Especially good are the specific details: the black eyes, the smell of stainless steel. Weird! Who is this guy? Also awesome suggestion of good strong brother-sister relationship.
    Next P:
    “When Mackie encounters a tribe of people living under the local slag heap and calling themselves the Unforgiven Dead, he doesn’t want anything to do with them, but when they offer a tonic that will restore his health if he’ll put in a few hours a week as their courier, it seems like a small price to pay. Now, acting as personal messenger to their shark-toothed child queen, Mackie’s finding that the Dead aren’t so bad and that for the first time in his life, he actually fits in. ”
    Okay, here it gets a little confusing. IMO you’re being a little coy about what, exactly, Mackie is. As a result of not knowing, I wasn’t sure whether he was the same kind of being as the Unforgiven Dead or not. However I LOVE the deal he strikes and the nice angsty possibilities involved in being courier for a shark-toothed child queen. So, so cool.
    Third P:
    “As Halloween approaches, however, Mackie finds himself entrenched in the longstanding animosity between the Dead and their sister court, the Living. Although he’d rather align himself with the Dead, who treat him like family, he discovers that he has a binding obligation to the Living, despite the fact that they abandoned him a birth. Now, either alliance means honoring the seven-year teind to a creature whose currency is sacrifice, and the simplest solution is to pay out some blood. The problem is, he didn’t think to ask how much.”
    I think “entrenched” is the wrong word. Because I’m not certain what Mackie is, his position between the Living and the Dead is not clear. He’s a courier between them? He is one of them?
    The penultimate bit was unclear to me:
    ” Now, either alliance means honoring the seven-year teind to a creature whose currency is sacrifice….”
    It’s a little awkward, first “Now, allying with either means…” (that way the subject, who is acting, is clearer). And then the “teind” is confusing because not defined (I wondered if it were a typo), and the “creature whose currency is sacrifice” is totally unclear. The sharky queen? Somebody else entirely?
    Then this bit:
    “and the simplest solution is to pay out some blood. The problem is, he didn’t think to ask how much”
    Along with the previous sentence, it’s not made clear why he must honor a teind (whatever that is) in order to ally with one side or the other. Has somebody made a deal on Mackie’s behalf and he has to abide by it? And what does “solution” mean? Freedom from some obligation?
    Then the last sentence suggests the biggest crisis: he needs out of this contract so must shed blood. His own? And it only suggests the rest of the plot, doesn’t tell it. I know pitches need to end with that “read on” hook, but I do think this ends one sentence too soon. We need a bit more information about how Mackie is going to act to solve this blood problem (while juggling all his other problems, too).
    Good luck! This looks like tons of fun.

    • Thanks so much for all your observations :) Talk about above and beyond! It was great to get specifics–that last paragraph, especially, has been giving me fits.
      This: Has somebody made a deal on Mackie’s behalf and he has to abide by it? And what does “solution” mean? Freedom from some obligation? is really helpful, because yes, those are integral parts of the story, and no, they totally did not make it in there.
      Now, to answer those questions while keeping the letter under a page . . . yep, I expect this is the first of many drafts to come.

      • Phew! I’m glad it helped. I’ve been a little obsessed with how pitches work ever since Miss Snark did ’em.
        Sorry to add another point: why Halloween?
        Do you really have to get it down to 250 words (one SMF page)? I can see some other places to tighten up, if so. Yes?

        • The Long Answer :)
          I didn’t use the words fairy, fey or changeling in the manuscript because, while I think the actual particulars will be engaging, I made an assumption (I think, correctly) that a good cross-section of teenage boys–even the ones who read widely–might be put off by the idea of fairies. And also, I think a lot of people still have an immediate pixie reaction.
          I’m pretty sure I can make it work in the actual manuscript, but I don’t know how to approach it in my query without seeming coy or evasive. I’m hoping that because I’d be shopping this to agents who rep YA fantasy, the telltales (iron, etc.) will clarify without having to be overt, but I really don’t know.
          Anyway, Halloween is traditionally a very important date in folklore and is one of the most well-known sacrifice dates, so that’s where that’s coming from. And yes, ideally the final draft of the query will be under 250 words, so I’ve got a lot of work to do :)

    • Well, I’m extra glad you think it sounds cool, because this is the thing I’ll be needing some (likely stern) input on. I finished the first draft at the beginning of the month and I’m now trying to get it to that point where it makes sense to someone besides, you know, me.
      Hah, that double when has been secretly driving me crazy, but I can never tell if I’m being unreasonable about things like that, so it’s good to have someone sweep in and make the call. The sentence will now officially be rewritten.

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