Baiting the Character Hook

Baiting the Character HookCan you draw readers in without baiting the character hook? Genre and plot mean nothing if there isn’t a compelling character at the centre of the novel.

The Character Hook is something I picked up from author and coach Jed Herne’s modest video: How to Write Fantasy Character Arcs Better than 99% of Writers.

One section describes the character hook, in which Herne tells us to:

  • Show the characteristic moment
  • Show the character living the lie
  • Maybe hint at the Ghost
  • Character chases their Want
  • Establish rooting interest

Rooting for the home team

‘Establish rooting interest’ is a technique advanced by a lot of writing coaches, so no surprise here. Herne pays particular interest to Rooting interest. He calls this ‘why should we care?’ about the character.

He outlines five ways to establish rooting interest and make readers care about the character. The more of these factors you can apply, the more the reader is likely to care:

  • Sympathy
  • Skill
  • Personality
  • Progression
  • Worthy cause

There are echoes of the three scales of character which Herne picked up from Sanderson’s online course:

  • Likeability is Sympathy
  • Proactivity is Progression
  • Competence is Skill

Herne explicitly adds personality and worthy cause to these for his take on Rooting Interest.

Let’s take a look at applying these.

A Classic Hook

Guess which classic character I’m using to test Herne’s lesson? Lizzie Bennett (yes, collect a sticker).

Show the characteristic moment
Lizzie sends sparks flying from her very first dialogue with sister Jane

Show the character living the lie
Lizzie leaps to snap judgements and prejudice against people; she expects nothing of the Netherfield tenants and friends.

Maybe hint at the Ghost
Lizzie feels the weight of the Longbourne covenant and the expectation that she must marry to save the family home.

Character chases their Want
Lizzie has a modern outlook and values her independence.

Establish rooting interest

Lizzie is the rebel, the underdog who resists the society’s demands to conform.

Her intelligence and independent spirit are evident from the first page

We learn how sparky and witty she is from the first dialogue.

Her intelligence and insight hints at her capacity to change through the course of the story.

Worthy cause
She desperately wants to find a way out of the Longbourne covenant, if only that didn’t involve a loveless but advantageous marriage. She has two competing causes: save the family and save herself.

My Example

From the Ghost and the Vipers, how do I bait the character hook with Jovanka?

Show the characteristic moment
Her Second Sight kicks in from page one. She knows she has a fight coming with the Vipers. Before that there’s a battle with the Reavers coming. It’s unavoidable. She’s prepared for it. She won’t walk away. It sets the tone for her character for the rest of the book.

Show the character living the lie
Jovanka is fully engaged with the visions in her Second Sight. She believes her future is fixed and certain. That’s the lie.

Maybe hint at the Ghost
Despite the Ghost of the title, the metaphorical ghost of her past is her father, a commander in the Imperial army and a hated figure.

The character chases their Want
The twist for my book is there is actually a character called the Ghost who she’s looking for. Always there in her Second Sight, he’s part of the future she’s walking toward.

Putting down roots

Arriving at Rooting Interest, this is where I try to hit all the angles early.

Jovanka is clearly the underdog. She’s persecuted and pursued. We know from the flash forward in the opening scene that she’s going to fight and not give in.

In the fight with the Reavers, she’s clearly a highly skilled fighter, with or without her Sight.

Jovanka is spikey and determined. She doesn’t take any BS from the military veteran who’s her guide and bodyguard. But she is also young and vulnerable. She beats herself up with self-doubt and recrimination.

Her vision in the first chapter hints at the battle to come and the stand she is going to take.

Worthy cause
Jo is now part of the rebellion. She defies a vengeful emperor and resists the malice and spite of Radek and his Vipers.

Reel them in

Herne’s take on the Character hook is a useful checklist of sorts. It’s more detailed than Sanderson’s Three Scales of Character, but does that make it better? As always, the value comes in the execution. Even if you know the answers to all the questions, you still have to write those into the character.

4 thoughts on “Baiting the Character Hook”

  1. Too many headings to remember when I’m writing characters. And I can’t make a meaningful abbreviation that sticks.

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