Monthly Archives: September 2014

Hook-in words for book titles

What are hook-in words?

They’re a bit like keywords but they have an extra overlay of emotion. They give an urgent desire to find out more.

A keyword is a word used by many for internet searches: “how to something”. A hook-in word is  a word that arouses or disturbs our feelings.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book be aware that most people looking for answers search on the phrase “How to blah, blah.” So go with the flow and use what they search on – it will be a problem, hopefully answered in your book. These are keywords.

Fiction hook-ins are not true keywords

Fiction book titles use hook-in words. Hook-ins might not be searched for like a keyword, however, when a reader is searching for a good read the titles that stand out as intriguing use hook-ins in the title. Readers won’t necessarily search on ‘love’ but when they reach a list of books (Kindle or print) their eyes will be attracted to words that fit their genre.

Looking on Kindle I found a few e-book titles that use hook-in words.

Example 1

Anything with love in the title and you know where the story is going. Readers wanting to read a love story would know instantly that Hello Love by Karen McQuestion is in the romance genre.

A similar title is something with the word ‘heart’ in it: Guarding His Heart. Here is a young man who needs a (woman?) to unlock his heart and give him emotional release.

Brides is another hook-in word. Also in the romance genre. But then War Brides is an exception – a story of revenge.

Example 2

Hook-in words that indicate the darker side are also useful for attracting the attention of the horror, mystery, thriller and crime genres. Titles I found in this group were: Mean Streak, A Dangerous Witch, Body Guard of Lies, Whiskey : You’re the Devil.

The words ‘mean’, ‘dangerous’, ‘lies’, ‘devil’ hint at a little evil in the writing.

Weak hook-ins

Some book titles use weak words that don’t really indicate what they’re about, or hint at a problem. I didn’t know all this when I wrote and self-published Real Estate Rollercoaster.

The title didn’t give any indication of what was within or what the reader could gain by reading it. One of these days I plan to re-write and re-publish with a better hook-in title like: Avoid Tears on the Real Estate Rollercoaster. You see how the title becomes more compelling by using an emotion-laden word?

In my search I found a few weak titles: Good and Valuable. Both of those words are positive words but they don’t convey anything compelling.  Similar is Priceless.  This is no indication of the quality of the writing, or the skill of the author; it just means the books will be less likely to be bought by the impulse buyer.

Random hook-in words

Here a few random words that will hook-in a reader for a second-look:

Lost – Few of us have not experienced the panic of feeling suddenly lost, or having lost something important – even the car in the car park! The word will intrigue because we empathise with anything lost – a lost puppy, a child crying because they’ve lost their parent.

Edge – as on a precipice or momentous change. The word holds a feeling of nervous tension – great for a mystery or thriller.

Suspicion – anything that is under suspicion is something to possibly fear. It purveys a sense that we cannot trust what is happening or what we think is real. Definitely a useful word for a crime novel, but could also turn up in dramas or even romances where the suspected person turns out to be all right in the end.

Betrayed/Betrayal – This is a word that really has our world turned upside down. We don’t have to experience betrayal to know how it must feel.

Die/death/murder – I put them in because they will appeal to readers of a definite genre. Luckily most of us don’t have to experience it to feel the finality of the words.

Attack – (and many other fighting words) plays to our fear of being vulnerable. Fighting words can put off readers who dither between wanting to find out if it turns out all right in the end and their fear of being horrified by what they read. Use fighting words when you’re confident of your genre and audience.

Titles for display on the ‘Net

A new requirement has come about now that books are sold on the Web. The titles that look the best are those with easy to read fonts, have short 2-3 word titles that take up about a third of the cover. This is because fancy fonts don’t look too good when they’re reduced to the size of a thumbnail.

Take a look at the book covers I’ve put in so far. The first two titles (mine included) are reasonably easy to read. The last two are much harder to see in the small size. They might look fine on a print book cover, but not in the size of an e-book thumbnail.

To summarise:

  1. Use emotion-laden hook-in words in your title suitable for your genre
  2. Keep titles short
  3. Design your cover so the words take up about a third of the space and look fine at thumbnail size
  4. Use easily-read fonts

What’s in a name or …

Naming your story characters

Unlike mere mortals our novel and short story characters can be given names that enhance their personalities. Not so for our own author names!

When we’re born our parents give us a name they like. They may have wanted to honour a parent or relative, a favourite singer or musician; or our name may honour their beliefs, like Faith or Christian, or like Fern or Sage. Or you might have been blessed with a cultural name, like Tamati or Francesca. What we end up with, and whether it moulds our personalities is a lottery bought in the time when our parents were young.

Like them or hate them, names are important

Like our parents, we can ‘give birth’ to new characters and name them how we choose. Unlike our parents, we know how our characters will turn out as adults. The names we choose can give depth to our characters so that the reader gains a hint of who, what and why. Therefore, before blindly accepting the first name idea that enters your head, you need to think about what names imply.

Character names by era

A character named Edgar will be assumed to be

  1. A) Old
  2. B) Posh
  3. C) Pompous

A character named Marlissa will be assumed to be

  1. A) Young
  2. B) Girly
  3. C) Not strong

You could, of course, choose to give a character either of those names and build a story where the characters defy the implications of their names. It is simpler for the reader, however, to buy into their beliefs about names.

Don't let naming your characters get this bad

In novels, names should fit the era or decade in which your story is set.  Here are some popular names of the decades:

1950s (they’re approaching/in their 60s now)
  • James, Michael, Robert, John, David, Mary, Linda, Patricia, Susan, Deborah
1960s (they’re approaching/in their fifties now)
  • Michael, John, David, James, Robert, Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen, Kimberly
1970s (they’re approaching/in their forties now)
  • Michael, Christopher, Jason, David, James, Jennifer, Amy, Melissa, Michelle, Kimberly
1980s (they’re approaching/in their thirties now)
  • Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah
1990s (they’re approaching/in their twenties now)
  • Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Jacob, Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Sarah, Samantha

It’s interesting to realise how popular names for boys change very little, and those of girls only slowly. If you’re trying to set an era for your reader search for names slightly less popular than the top five but still recognisable as a name from an earlier generation. A great site to search for names is: the US Social Security website.

By using these names for your characters you are giving your story setting credibility. But remember that children given these names end up as adults a couple of decades later.

Strength of character in a name

The number of syllables in a name can make the name/character sound weak or strong. Dan is stronger than Danny and much stronger than Daniella. Sue sounds more no-nonsense than Suzy, while Suzette, for me, conjours up an elegant French woman.

Think about your characters. Think about their relationships. Who needs to appear strong and who weaker? Will their name matter?

How to choose character names

When you start writing or, even before, when you start thinking about a story, a character name may come to mind. Sometimes it fits, sometimes not. This is the time to consider the implications of choosing that particular name.

Does it enhance the character? Is it difficult to pronounce? Does it have cultural implications? Would his/her parents really have called him/her that? Think about their social class.

Even though your character may never refer to parents throughout the story, the reader imagines them placed in a wider context. “What kind of parents would teach a child that (belief/behaviour)?” “Why would they call him that?”

Calling in names with character

You could play on the implications of famous people to imbue personality types into one of your story characters, but you need to be sure that the famous person doesn’t engulf your character with too strong a personality. Someone named Barrack would immediately be assumed to be black (and handsome?) by readers. It might not feel comfortable to a reader to discover that Barrack was a retiring Spaniard.

There are some names to avoid if you want to build up affection for a character. I wouldn’t recommend ‘Adolf’ unless you wanted your character to inherit an overlay of evil. Sesame Street graduates (if that is the demographic of your audience) might have a tough time getting beyond the grumpiness of ‘Oscar’ or the clownishness of ‘Bert’. However, all of these names might to perfect for characters who possess these personalities.

Avoiding character confusion

When naming a group of characters, be careful not to have several starting with the same letter. When readers are beginning your story or novel, and they’re sorting out who is related to whom, characters with very different names help them differentiate between them. Nigel, Nick and Nathan are likely to trip them up, just as Nick, Mick, and Mac might. (You thought I was going to write ‘Dick’, eh?)

In the end, though, it will be your own creative process that defines what are perfect names for the characters who people your story. If you’re stuck, though, some of these ideas might help you ‘give birth’ to the perfect character.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Can you write an accent into your stories?

Loik whatcha red, mate? Dun wanna do ya hed in wif awl vat stuff. No watta mean?

Watcha sayin’, I gotta accent? I speak like we awl do – proppa hinglish.

Here are a few videos that will attune your ear into the differences between accents.

New Zild

The New Zealand accent is an amalgam of many influences.


Australian versus New Zealand accents

Listen carefully to Amy’s distinction between long and short vowels.

British versus North American accents

Here a few words that are said quite differently between these northern hemisphere countries. You can use vowels and even hyphens to exaggerate the syllables and length of the word sound.


Writing accents

So how do you write an accent on the page?

Identify key words where accent differences show

Get creative with your written words.  In these videos (above) key words were mentioned where there were distinct differences in pronunciation.  Often the differences are around the length of the vowels. Use these options

  • A (a, e, i)
  • E (e, ee, eh)
  • I (i, e, ee, eye)
  • O (oh, oo, o-a)
  • u (oo, uh, a )

Using these letters in place of the normal spelling can alter the way the word is ‘heard’ in the reader’s brain. Only a few words will start them thinking in the accent and add credibility to your dialogue. You don’t even have to continue beyond a page or two – just keep adding in the odd word in the accent and the reader will make up the rest.

English was always a bastard language or change is inevitable

Take this history of English as you’ve possibly never seen it before:

English influences were bound to mould the way we speak.

Let’s have some comments in a favourite accent and we’ll see if we can work them out!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

How to recognise a novel’s theme

What on earth is a novel ‘theme’?

I remember struggling with this at high school as English teacher after English teacher asked the class what was the theme of our set novel. I was among the blank faces or embarrassed book shufflers.

What is a ‘theme’?


Like many of my classmates, I thought you simply read a novel, enjoyed it or not, and moved onto the next one. Why dissect it?

Is there any value in recognising a theme?

I understood that your characters had to be real – have some depth – so that the reader could believe in them. Believable characters carried me through the action – even unbelievable action – because I, the reader, understood ‘what made them tick’. I might identify with their intentions or be horrified by them. Nevertheless, characters and motivation was what sold the story to me as a reader.


For instance, the theme of Aladdin might be that: Anything’s possible. But does knowing that make our enjoyment of the story any greater? We just identify with Aladdin and feel the power that three wishes could grant us – a bit like winning the lottery.

And the theme of Animal Farm has popularly become: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Yet George Orwell was writing a very political novel and commentary on class in western society. Most of my classmates read the book, shuddered, and moved onto a less depressing story.

Does knowing about the theme add or detract from the novel?

One easy to recognise theme is the popular ‘good triumphs over evil’.

Many stories interweave this theme through their pages and storyline. Despite having to resort to violence, the main character(s) restore order to the universe, their country, or someone else’s country. They suppress the natives, bring civilisation to savages, or make an errant woman/man realise the error of their ways.

Of course, ‘good’ in that sense definitely depends on your point-of-view, current status (or religion). Most ‘themes’ are less obvious.

Do authors recognise their story’s theme?

When I started writing More Than I could Bear I had no idea of the novel’s ‘theme’ –  it simply crept up on me. In fact, even when half way through writing the novel I was struggling to define its theme. I went through things like:

  • Friendships can be abusive – ugh!
  • We all need to be true to ourselves
  • When one child is disabled the whole family is disabled

Nothing quite fitted all the actions and motivations of the characters.

The theme emerged like a waking monster

Finally I realised that the underlying meaning of the story is: “Life is a series of compromises – we just have to work out which compromises we can live with”.

According to novelist, screenwriter, and game designer Chuck Wendig: “Every story’s trying to say something. It’s trying to beam an idea, a message, into the minds of the readers. In this way, every story is an argument. It’s the writer making a case.”

If I look at my novel through that lens I can see that in each scene, characters wrestled with their own compromises, some by trying to control others, some by allowing life to happen to them, some by searching for a new direction. Each of the main characters contributed to the climax of the novel by trying to find a compromise they could live with. It fitted with all the characters, even minor ones. It fitted with their reaction to circumstances and events. Even when the characters tried to change things around to fit their objectives, in the end they had to compromise.

In the end there was clarity

Chuck Wendig’s analysis gave me some clarity.


The theme of a story or novel has nothing to do with the reader and everything to do with the writer. It’s the author putting the stamp of their beliefs on their piece of writing.

It really could never have been any other way.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

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