Tag Archives: writing tips

Ask the Author – H.S. Cook

Yay! It’s time for another Ask the Author post.

This month, we have exciting new author H.S. Cook with us. Working in a world of logic and reason, while dreaming of one filled with magic, Ms. Cook lives between her scientific research and her fantasy writings. A molecular biologist by day, she finds ways to inject the magic of her worlds into daily life, making time to write. She is currently working on an epic fantasy series: The Blood King Chronicles.

Here are some snippets of our conversation:

KS:  What is the easiest thing about writing?

HS.Cook: World building is the easiest part for me. I am always imagining fantasy realms: geography, races, the languages, treaties and wars. When I find a world I particularly love, like Cyrell and the Known World, I am in a much better place to write about the history than the story I’m currently working on. My plot bunnies turn into spin-off ideas set in the world’s lore and history.

Krisna: What inspired the world building for your current novel?

HS.Cook: It is hard to pinpoint anything exact. I draw on other fantasies I have read, maps I have seen and places I have visited. For example, the Forest of Dean has played a large role in creating the elvish country of Eihäldär. Ancient/archaic language then adds to the linguistics of the world – the main language of magic was originally inspired by Old English, though much of the dictionary is now more unique.

Krisna: That’s really fascinating! Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing as far as content?

I really struggle with dialogue – particularly informal dialogue. I can speak with kings and distant lords, but when two friends lay into one another, I cannot get it quite right.

Krisna:  How long on average does it take you to write a book?

HS.Cook: Ask me again when I’ve finished.

I have previously written some complete novels, but not gone further with them. They were both YA Fantasy and the first took me six months, the second a little more than a year and the third never made it past the first draft.

My current WIP has been brewing for years, though I have only been actively writing since April and expect to need around three or four months more. Depending on work commitments, of course. I can churn out a first draft in a month thanks to NaNoWriMo, but I rarely take those books further.

Krisna: What advice would you give to your younger self?

HS.Cook: Do not try for stupid NaNo Word Counts and take it easy! My wrists have never recovered that crazy year of writing!

Krisna: LOL!  I haven’t tried NaNo yet. I joined the NaNo Camp this year, but had to drop off due to family commitments. Thanks for the warning 🙂

Now for the last question, something other than writing… What is your favorite movie and why?

HS.Cook: That’s a hard one to pin down. I like so many films for many different reasons. The film that had the biggest impact in recent years would be Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies. It was really moving and is definitely on that list. Bicentennial Man is also up there as a film that really made me think.

Krisna:  Thank you so much, Ms. Cook, for your insights into your writing process 🙂

HS. Cook:  Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. By the Blood, may the Fates show mercy.

Connect with H.S. Cook:

Check out her website

Follow her on Twitter

Like her on Facebook

Check out my next month’s Ask the Author post on August 20th.

 

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ELEMENTS OF A STRONG HOOK

FICTION WRITING TIPS #2

What makes a gripping hook?

What is it that grabs the reader’s attention to our books, enticing them to pick it up or borrow it from Kindle library? Is it just an intense and perfectly-written chapter 1 or Prologue?

I think it takes much more to create a gripping hook. If the reader is not hooked into picking our book first, the question of a perfect chapter 1 doesn’t come to being.

Let’s look at this from a reader’s perspective. He walks through the aisle of a book-store or browses through amazon. What is it that grabs his attention first?

  • AN CAPTIVATING BOOK COVER

An alluring and professional cover goes a long way to grab the reader’s attention.

It is our first sales pitch.

A well-designed cover assures the reader that the author is meticulous enough to ensure that all aspects of the novel are as perfect as possible. It also gives him hints about the tone of the book (humor, dark/ horror, romantic, fantasy, sci-fi etc.) And if the cover is intriguing, he picks it up.

Now what is it that is going to entice him to look deeper?

  • A CATCHY TITLE

The title of the novel gives him information of what the novel could be about. For example: Let’s say the story is about a boy who enrolls at a magic school. He fights against the teachers who turn students to the dark side of magic. Below are two possible titles:

* School of Dark Magic

* The Courageous boy

Which one grabs your attention and why?

When combined with an alluring cover, the title will give the reader a better idea about what the book is about, make him turn the book and read…

  • A GRIPPING BOOK DESCRIPTION

If the cover and title hooks the reader, an amazing book description reels them in. It reveals hints about the story world, the characters, internal conflicts/ obstacles, the stakes and the consequences of failure.

A well-written book description makes the reader feel the need to read more, find out what happens in the story. So he turns the page or clicks on…

  • THE BOOK EXCERPT (CHAPTER 1 or PROLOGUE)

Now comes the part where the readers goes through the first chapter and prologue. The chapter 1 or prologue is a powerful teaser that should be able to help the readers connect to the characters or the story line enough to continue reading. But is this all that is required to hook the reader? Again, no. We need…

  • SUCCEEDING CHAPTERS THAT DEEPENS THE HOOK

Many readers (like me) read at least four or five chapters before deciding whether they want to continue reading the story. There have been books which have a spectacular Chapter 1, but the succeeding chapters don’t keep the promise/ expectations raised by the chapter. And the book ends up in the DNF list. Why? Because I was not invested enough in the story-world, characters or plot. Or there were so many logical holes at the beginning that I got frustrated and kept it aside. So the book grabbed my attention, but failed to hook me in the succeeding chapters.

So to conclude…

Technically, the hook could be defined as a strong beginning.

But, according to me, a gripping hook has stages. It starts with the element (mostly the cover/ title) that catches the attention of the reader and makes him read the enticing chapter 1. But it doesn’t stop there. Like the hook has to be attached to a rope/ thread, the strong beginning should be connected to well-written, intriguing chapters that keeps them turning the page, eager to read each scene till they reach the end.

And if they’re invested enough in our story, they’ll hopefully leave a review and buy the next book in the series 🙂

Look out for a detailed post on each of the above elements every week.

Next post on Fiction Writing Tips: ELEMENTS OF A CAPTIVATING BOOKCOVER

*Pictures in CCO domain taken from Pixabay (Foundry)

 

FICTION WRITING TIPS #1 

ELEMENTS OF A GOOD SCENE

While writing a novel, especially the first draft, our creative mind takes the lead. The scenes and chapters flow very easily and some of them are so fantastic (at least to our mind 🙂 ) that we fall in love with them. Then comes the revision phase and the internal battle to decide the scene that needs to go to ensure that the flow of the story is tight and gripping.

The first draft of my novel, Dragons of Atlantea, is roughly around 105,000 words. Much, much higher than the industry standard. I’m going to have to be ruthless and cut all the scenes that are unnecessary. So I did some research on novel scenes and here’s what I’ve learnt.

USE SCENES TO CREATE  A GRIPPING STORY…

A gripping novel is a string of relevant scenes that take the characters seamlessly from the start to the climax. A good scene that can be retained during revision has at least some of the following elements:

  • It reveals a character’s motivation or goal (Eg: Emma wants to win the Olympics)
  • It gives us more insight into the character’s backstory (Like: She is from a family where women are expected to marry and look after children. But she has bigger dreams)
  • Introduces more conflict and obstacles for the character to overcome (Emma has an accident)
  • Show us the consequences of the character conflict (She becomes temporarily blind)
  • Reveal a plot point or introduces a plot twist (Help from an unexpected source)
  • Increase the tension of the plot/ raise the stakes (Her mother has used the money meant for her medical expenditure to fund her daughter’s dream. Emma has to win to the Olympics and get the prize money to save her mother.)
  • Give a solution to a conflict/ problem (Absolutely no idea how she’s going to do that 😀 )

In addition to this, the scene can also give more insights into the following story elements:

  • World building
  • Story theme
  • Character traits
  • Leading hints to the plot

If a scene includes more than a few of the above points, it’s great. Scenes with just one or two of elements mentioned above might be weak and should be considered for being cut/ modified.

In fact, one of the plans I have for revision is to cut out the unnecessary details from weak scenes and combine it with others to make it more gripping while at the same time keep the charm and essence of what needs to be conveyed.

Since, as the author, we could be a little biased about our story and scenes, it might be good to get an impartial third-party (friends, beta-readers, critique partners etc.) to help us identify scenes which are weak or irrelevant to the plot.

But in the end, the decision always rests in our hand.

To cut or not to cut….

Chop, chop, chop! 😀