It’s been called the “it” factor, the “hook,” the unique selling proposition. It’s the thing that makes your story stand out from any other.

It’s your “also,” and every book needs one.

I drew this concept from a scene in one of my works in progress. In chapter three, the heroes meet the leaders of the rebellion and learn about their secret weapon:

“Sarah has the rare ability to snatch glimpses of the future out of the time stream and convey them to us in the here and now. No one knows how old she is or where this skill came from, but it has given us our only advantage over the forces opposing us.”

Ho-hum. Sounds like every other seer in every other story ever.

“Also, Sarah is a gerbil.”

Wait, what?

Suddenly the reader has to sit up and pay attention, because they just heard something they’ve never heard before. They need to take a second look at the story, at which point the writing, plot, and character development have a chance to sweep them away.

Most stories, especially in the scifi and fantasy genres, are going to be compared to other stories. “Oh, your book’s just like Harry Potter.” “Oh, your book’s just like Lord of the Rings.” “Oh, your book’s just like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” This might seem like praise.

Until you realize that we already have a Harry Potter, a Lord of the Rings, and an Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Why would we need yours?

Enter the “also.” This is the thing people say when trying to explain a creative work to a friend, the thing they use to convince others that it’s worth checking out.

“This TV show is a cop show, and also the main character is a bestselling mystery novelist.”

“This book is a coming-of-age story, and also the hero is the demigod son of Poseidon and a mortal woman in the modern day.”

“This movie is a generic nature versus military story, and also the CGI is really, really impressive.”

What’s your book’s “also”? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. The “also” must resonate with people.

“Also, the hero is a drunken, lecherous, puppy-kicking wastrel.” Yeah, I’m not interested.

Your “also” needs to be something that makes people want to investigate further. It’s fine to have something edgy, but it shouldn’t be outright repellent.

2. The “also” must be unique.

“Also”s have diminishing returns. If another popular work has used your “also” already, find a different one. “It’s a cop show, but also the main character is [insert a job other than cop]” worked for Castle, but if you try to do the same thing, you will look like (and be) a Castle knockoff. You can still have a main character who is [insert a job other than cop], but that can no longer be your main “also.”

This rule also applies if a large number of not-so-popular works have used your “also.” Just because it’s not in a bestseller, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done.

3. The “also” must be big enough to sustain an entire story.

“My book is like Lord of the Rings, and also I invented a few new races.”

I don’t care.

“My book is like Harry Potter, and also the protagonist is half elf and half vampire.”

I don’t care.

“My book is like The Hunger Games, and also there are ninjas.”

I don’t c–

“And it takes place in 1492.”

Wait, what?

Your “also” doesn’t have to be outlandish (e.g. Sarah is a gerbil), but it must be big enough to set your work apart from everything else out there.

4. The “also” cannot sustain an entire story alone.

“Also there are ninjas, and it takes place in 1492.” Okay. I’m interested. I will pick up the novel to read it.

If the novel then uses a nonsensical plot, boring characters, and poor writing, I will put it back down.

An “also” is a piece of bait on a hook. It’s the rest of the novel’s job to reel the reader in.

What’s an example of an “also” that hooked you? Share in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Also, Sarah is a Gerbil

  1. But it can’t be coy. People misunderstand this. I love your point–I like how you’re stating it. People often design their hooks like they’re a cheap magician. They pull the “hook” out of the air like someone conjuring a coin from behind someone’s ear, or something. A hook shouldn’t be “clever” because the average person is cynical and doesn’t like clever because it comes across as contrived, nor should it be shocking because people don’t like feeling hit over the head. It should be intelligent.

    I don’t know if mine novel has a good hook, but I like to phrase it: Even though Kat has speaking anxiety, he needs to inspire unity among his people before the dragon-riding fairies eat everything!

    Shrugs. I don’t know. Work in progress.

    1. You make a good point – the hook does need to tie into the storyline fluidly and feel natural. I could see speaking anxiety in a public figure being an interesting hook. 🙂

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