Shaping a hook

Two weeks ago, I posted a draft of a hook I’d developed for Paris in Ruins on Facebook. I knew it needed something more and my Facebook friends were the ideal test group.

Version 1

Charlie asked: Where is the peril or the tension? R Ann said: I would like a titch more, while Ruth said: It feels a tad generic. Heidi suggested a couple of words about the women involved. Janet felt that “lives changed forever” is too generic. Liz suggested I add something to clue the reader in on the relationship between the two women. Many others offered suggestions for which I am very grateful. Back to the drawing board.

Version 2

Version two felt stronger to me. And a few people agreed. However, my friend and fellow Toronto author, Patricia Parsons gave me this feedback: “It feels heavy – laden with background research. Four out of the six lines are about the history. Only two lines are about the story.” She suggested that I focus on the story of the women in order to appeal to a broader audience. “I believe that in the best historical fiction, the story comes first and the historical detail provides context and colour.”

Several people agreed with Patricia. Liz added that there was too much detail and not enough emotion. She wanted to know: “What’s at stake, what’s at risk and why should we care about them? Are they allies or enemies? The theme sounds fascinating, now pull me in.”

Hmm. So I asked Patricia if she would noodle on the problem with me. Two heads being better than one!

Here’s the new version we came up with on Tuesday:

Version 3 … or maybe it’s version 10 by now

Would love your feedback!


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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18 Responses

  1. I personally like version 1 best because the words “siege” and “rebellion” already makes me feel that I am inside Paris during the Commune. The phrase “the horrors of war” in version 3 is less appealing to me, and perhaps a bit too generic. The Paris Commune was violent, but it was also a period of political renewal and democratic experimentation, which makes it so interesting. Perhaps there would be a way to introduce the notion of rebellion in version 3? 🙂

  2. I’m with you, Mary. Writing blurbs and tags is incredibly difficult. That said, I like version 3 the best, as it promotes interest in the protagonists. I played with a few tweaks to eliminate repeat words. 🙂

    Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common. Yet it takes a siege on the city they love to bring them together in a fight against oppression. War has a way of teaching people lessons – if they can survive to learn them.

  3. Begin with “ war has a way of teaching lessons.”

    Diane Diane C. McPhail 395 North Cobb Road | Highlands, NC 28741 Author of THE ABOLITIONIST’S DAUGHTER (Kensington Books)


  4. Interesting to watch the development of your hook. I’m starting to do more with my novel on the Kennedys (no relationship to the US Kennedys) of Dublin/Mount Kennedy, a 17th century family. Appreciate your sharing your process.


  5. I am keen to see/read your book Paris In Ruins. I have just finished to histories by Mary McAuliffe – Paris, City of Dreams & Dawn of the Belle Epoque. 1870 & the Commune are key elements in both books. I am particularly fascinated by Louise Michel & the role she played in this period. Will she be mentioned in your novel?

    1. Hi Jerome … glad to see that we are both interested in the same period of French history. To your question – yes, I do include Louise Michel and the Montmartre Women’s Committee that she led. From what I’ve read she was an inspiring and determined person. Also included some other influential women who supported the Commune in a particular scene.

  6. Thanks for sharing your process. Version 3 reads like a strong cover blurb. Wondering if the opening paragraph should include an interaction, a shred of dialog, a bit of drama to pull us in. “As sun rises in the smoke-fill ruins of 1870 Paris, Camile awakes with a cough and panics when she doesn’t see Mariele next to her.” Something like that. I haven’t been following closely so don’t know how you are using POV. But I am searching for the hook in my own historical novel so the various approaches are on my mind.

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