Last week, I promised you the Story Beats HOOK example from my work in progress, Death of an Heir.
What is a Story Beats HOOK?
The opening pages of a novel introduce essential aspects of the story and grab readers with an intense need to know what happens next.
These critical details convey what the story is about, establish the actions required for upcoming events (e.g., characters and settings), and entertain readers (i.e., maintain interest).
Also, the HOOK is the first opportunity to make the hero appealing and hint at one or more flaws.
Aside from grabbing readers’ attention, the HOOK starts the SETUP for the story in the stable world. The SETUP serves as the contrast to when the hero enters the unstable world in Act 2.
To be clear, the HOOK is not the TRIGGER event, but it sets up the core conflict. Also, if you include a PROLOGUE, I consider it part of the HOOK even though it’s a separate scene.
The Story HOOK from Death of an Heir
These prior posts lead up to today’s example:
- How to Create the Ultimate Character Arc and Profile
- Stuck Trying to Turn a Premise into a Plot? Do This Instead!
- Plot a Story Using the Story Body Structure
- Story Beats: Discover an Easy Way to Write Your Novel’s Essential Scenes
In the above posts, I referred to the POV character as Dorothy Example. In this cozy mystery excerpt, she’s renamed Deena Finch.
I welcome your feedback. Please leave a reply.
➨Story HOOK Example
Friday, Present Day
Byna Spring, Texas
Deena Finch savored the last sip of dark-roast coffee before she pulled the baking tray from the oven. While the peanut butter dog treats cooled, a thump on the longleaf-pine floor announced her chubby Boston terrier was on his way. Each morning, around six o’clock, Ike enjoyed a fresh treat before a slow-walk in the neighborhood.
The temperature in Byna Spring had yet to reach the toasty range for early June. Deena loved her mornings, unhurried times of reflection and prayer. But the patter on the windows signaled rain, and Ike hated to get his feet wet. She snugged the yellow slicker tight around her neck before snapping the leash on the dog.
Most mornings, she and Ike strolled through the residential neighborhoods near Main Street, taking in the quiet that blanketed the small Texas town. On those days, Deena left the hundred-year-old building through the front door. Given today’s rain, she planned a short trek and exited by the back door into the alley.
The colorful art painted onto the walls of the buildings took on a surreal glow. Holding the umbrella over her and Ike, Deena made the best of the weather, letting the dog take his time as the drumming of drops on the rooftops and umbrella wooed her into a dreamlike state. She recited her favorite Bible verses and a wave of peace swept over her.
Ike jerked on the leash, growled low and nosed a loose shoe. She froze, but the dog tugged again, straining toward the body lying face up. A flood of adrenaline raced through Deena’s veins. Her balled fists dug sharp nails into soft palms.
Ike inched forward, dragging Deena along.
She stared at the discolored face. Ted Deval? Her newest client at Live Oak Gallery.
Even though Ike weighed north of twenty-five pounds, Deena swept the dog into her arms, darted back inside, and phoned the police.
Her husband came into the kitchen, stood near, and after she hung up, Deena collapsed into his arms. Between sobs, she described Ike’s discovery.
Without a word, Greg hugged Deena tighter.
After moments of silence, Deena raised her head from Greg’s chest. “I told Officer Thurston we’d meet him in the alley.”
Greg locked Ike in his crate and grabbed the oversized umbrella.
Outside in the steady downpour, minutes passed. “I—” Deena turned toward Greg. “I’ve got to see if it’s really him.”
Greg hugged her shoulders. “You sure?”
The day before, Ted Deval asked Deena to appraise a painting from his parents’ estate. The art rested on an easel inside her gallery.
Deena came out of her thoughts to find Greg staring at her. Without a word, she led him toward the body. He held the umbrella over her as she leaned down.
Before today, it had not crossed her mind that bad things might happen to good people in Byna Spring. As she drew close to the pale body, a drop of rain, like an icy finger, raked down her back to the base of her spine.
Her newest client, at six feet tall, was rail-thin for a forty-something male—a stark contrast to her husband, who was half a head shorter and stocky. The victim’s rain-soaked hair looked black instead of what she remembered as chestnut brown, but he was definitely Ted.
When Deena stood up, Greg wrapped his arms around her. “You okay?”
“What do you think, Captain Oblivious?”
Greg squeezed Deena’s shoulders and touched his lips to her damp forehead. “For a grumpy gal, you don’t gripe too much.”
She glanced at her watch. Where’s officer Thurston?
Greg wiped a raindrop from her nose. “Get you anything?”
“Yeah. Find the receipt to that carefree retirement you promised!”
“We’ll get through this.” Greg pulled Deena close as an involuntary spasm swept across her shoulders.
She stared toward the alley’s entrance.
Sure, you and Ike. Me, not so sure.
➨Story HOOK Wrap Up
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt from Death of an Heir. Could you spot the essential scene beats?
- HOOK: Introduced the point of view character with action.
- SETUP: Described the location and routine.
- TRIGGER: Forced POV character to deal with a dead body.
- WRANGLE: Showed her debating choices and actions.
- ACTION: Showed POV character acting on choices.
- CLIMAX: Raised the question: what will happen next?
In the next section, I’ll elaborate on story beats.
Discovering Story Beats Reduced Stress
My stress level has declined over the years, but I still recall how the lack of writing structure limited my ability to connect all the dots in my stories.
So I found books for writers that gave me the required knowledge of structure. Later, I discovered apps to help me track everything.
➨Details Are in the Story Beats
Now, I delight in connecting all the story beats. For instance, I can record essential building blocks (i.e., beats) using my favorite writing app—Scrivener.
- HOOK: Offers something new or references the foreshadowing established in a prior scene, such as:
- Shows action
- Foreshadows trouble
- Dialogue grabs attention
- Raises question
- SETUP: Provides brief information regarding the character and current location.
- TRIGGER: Forces to the surface the scene PROBLEM.
- WRANGLE: Shows hero reflecting briefly on the choices and actions required to deal with the problem.
- ACTION: Moves character from the scene PROBLEM toward the scene GOAL (or WANT) based on hero’s choice and action.
- CLIMAX: Shows the outcome of character trying to achieve GOAL (or WANT), and sets up the drive to the next scene, such as:
- Ends with a cliffhanger
- Redirects story with a revelation
- Presents hero (villain) with a setback
- Reveals a secret or a lie
- Teases readers with a question
- Interjects an unexpected plot twist
➨Apps Provide Visual Aids
With the Aeon Timeline app synchronized with Scrivener, I can see and track where the green lines for the POV character (Deena Finch) and her friend (Judy Applegate) connect to the suspects (shown by the purple and red lines).
There’s no single path leading to the completion of a novel, but for me, adopting a story beats structure and using apps decreased my stress and increased my delight.
- The Trellis Method: How Busy Writers Can Use Story Structure and Write a Book Readers Will Love
- Self-edit Your Novel (Part 3)
- How to Use Global Story Beats with Scrivener
- Exploring How to Structure a Book
- If I Was Creating a Story Arc Today
- Story Beats: Discover an Easy Way to Write Your Novel’s Essential Scenes
- Story Structure: Exploring the Lester Dent Story Formula
- Story Structure: Erle Stanley Gardner’s Fiction Factory
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Your feedback on the story HOOK example? What stresses and delights you about writing? What have you read that filled you with thanksgiving?