Monday, May 3, 2010

What's Your Twist?

"What's your twist?" is a new phrasing of the old writer's question, "What's your hook?" It's the question many of the presenters at the recent LDS Storymakers conference asked. What makes your story different enough to catch the eye of an agent or editor? Boiling down half a dozen different lectures and discussions resulted in this advice. Find an ordinary experience your target audience can identify with, wrap it in layers of the extraordinary and increase the stakes for your characters.

Examples included Stephenie Meyer's top selling vampire romances. While teenage romances filled with temptation and angst aren't unusual in today's market, even ones where the hero is a vampire, Meyer's hero is a sparkly vegetarian vampire with remarkable self control. That's quite a twist. More than romance is at stake in these stories, lives lie in the balance.

The Harry Potter stories are all about the familiar experience of going to a new school and making new friends set in the unusual frame work of a boarding school and a magic boarding school at that. And the stakes couldn't be any higher. It's not only about keeping Harry alive and out of the clutches of Voldemort but it's all about saving the world.

Laura Rennert (Searching for Harry Potter: Key Elements of YA and Crossover Fiction) brought Monsoon Summer to our attention, a mother/daughter relationship story played out against the background of helping the poor in India. Aprilynne Pike (Faeries & Vampires, Oh My! Writing and Selling Fantasy for the Young Adult Market) mentioned 13 Reasons Why, a coming of age story dealing with death and loss, but told from both the antagonist's and protagonist's point of view.

Bree Despain (Paranormal Fiction: Delving into the Unknown) pointed out a new trend in paranormal fiction, telling the story from the boy's point of view. It's a twist that's beginning to sell.

I applied this criteria to a recent reads and two old favorites. Lovely Bones was easy to break down. It is the story of surviving loss of a loved one, a universal experience we all can relate to, told from the point of view of the murdered child, a poignant twist.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe four siblings struggle to find their places in the family structure during their parents absence, a scenario easy to identify with. The intensity of that conflict evolves into life and death proportion when a simple game of hide and seek leads them into the war torn fantasy world of Narnia.

Even successful picture books meet this standard. Take Cat in the Hat for example. Every child knows how hard it is to resist the temptation to misbehave when left home alone. Throw a giant talking cat in a striped red hat bent on mischief into the mix and the mundane becomes magical and mystifying mixed up with the well recognized fear, what will happen when Mom comes home?

Whether you're writing for children or adults the formula for finding that hook or twist to catch the agent or editors eye is the same. Choose a universal experience that your audience will identify with, wrap it in layers of the extraordinary, and create stakes high enough for your protagonist that your reader will feel compelled to turn the page and find out what happens next.

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