Using Humor, Heat & Hooks in Your Writing (RWA 2010 Blog Series)

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Hi everyone!  Today I’m talking about what I learned from the Humor, Heat & Hooks Workshop given by Katy Madison at the RWA 2010 Conference.

Ms. Madison discusses a writer’s job, which is to engage a reader’s emotions and to entice the reader into the next scene.  As a writer, this is what you must do in order to keep those readers from putting down your book.  So how can you do this?  Well, there are a few ways:

  • Humor

When you write humor, it might seem funny at first, but it tends to wear off after you’ve read it for the 15th time.  This is where beta readers or critique partners become invaluable, because they approach your manuscript with a fresh set of eyes.  A few ways to use humor:

  1. Giving a character a sense of humor makes him or her seem more likable.  If he’s cornered by the bad guy and things look bleak, have him crack a joke.  The reader will see that he’s not beaten, which makes him that much more attractive/approachable.
  2. The rule of three: using a series of threes seems to get us into a lighter mode.  An example she gives:  “big, bad and hairy”.
  3. Children, who tend to say exactly what they mean, as well as pets can provide excellent comic relief.
  4. Fish out of water stories: Put a city girl in a country environment, or make a geeky guy a spy (Chuck, anyone?)
  • Heat
  1. Your hero and heroine should be aware of each other from the first time they meet.  In every scene, no matter what’s happening, there should be at least a hint of their connection to each other. 
  2. There should be some banter between your hero and heroine in their dialogue (i.e. sexual tension).
  3. Make intimacy a bad idea for some reason (even though the characters want each other, a relationship would be opposite to their goals).
  4. Make sure you highlight the characters’ emotions during love scenes.  Readers don’t simply want to read about the act of lovemaking; they want the emotion, the connection, between the characters.
  5. Use strong sensory words to evoke heat: sugary instead of sweet, fiery instead of hot, cherry instead of red. (This is a great tip!)
  • Hooks

Your story should start with a hook.  It should be within your first 4 paragraphs, or your first half-page.  Otherwise you risk your reader (or the editor) putting the book down.  You also need hooks at the end of each scene and chapter.

  1. Your first hook should tell you who, what, when and where.  The why will come later (that’s the hook).
  2. Your protagonist should start in action.  If he or she isn’t, you may be starting too early.
  3. “What’s coming next?” is a great end-of-scene hook.  This is especially effective when breaking a love scene in the middle.  Who can put the book down then?
  4. Cliffhangers make good chapter endings.
  5. Vary your hooks throughout the story between emotional, physical and story questions.

There was a lot more discussed in this workshop that I didn’t go over.  For those considering purchasing the Workshop MP3, I highly recommend it!

So, do you have any tips for writing humor, heat or hooks?  If so, I’d love to hear them!

On Wednesday I’ll be discussing what I learned from the “Turn the Page! Writing Techniques” Workshop.



2 thoughts on “Using Humor, Heat & Hooks in Your Writing (RWA 2010 Blog Series)

    kathy otten said:
    October 18, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Great tips. I couldn’t go to the conference so I appreciate everyone who shares what they learned. I like what you said about keeping the connection between the characters no matter what is going on in the scene. That is a good reminder for me, cause I get so caught up in writing the actions down I forget about keeping that emotional connection going.

      rosalielario responded:
      October 18, 2010 at 9:44 am

      I completely agree. I just finished my first draft of my current WIP, and now I’m going back in and layering in the awareness between the characters. Not constant, in-your-face awareness, but just a word or sentence here and there, to make it clear to the reader what my characters feel for each other. Now that I’m paying more attention to layering this in, I think it’ll make a huge difference.

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