Whether or not you love Colleen Hoover’s novels, there’s no denying it. She’s a sensation, and I’d love to have an ounce of her success. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to figure out how to write like Colleen Hoover. And I developed a sample outline of one of her novels.
About a decade ago, I read Colleen Hoover’s Hopeless, which I downloaded for free. I hated it. I thought her writing was trite–how many times did a character need to see some emotion in another character’s eyes? It was also gratuitous. The scene where they get in the shower, wash her newly dead dad’s brains out of each other’s hair and then have sex?
And yet. Colleen Hoover started out as self-published only to become an unmatched sensation, holding the record for having the most books on the NYT’s bestseller list at once. Her readers love her, and are incredibly devoted. So about a year ago, I decided to give CoHo another chance, if only so I can learn from her success. I’ve read Verity, Ugly Love, Confess, and All Your Perfects.
While I still feel that there are lots of better writers out there who don’t get the attention they deserve, there is something about Colleen Hoover that is both fun and compelling. I broke it down into FIVE elements.
- Colleen Hoover has a unique ability to capture and convey emotion. Her characters are often flawed and deeply impacted by the difficult circumstances of their lives, yet they are each capable of finding the strength to overcome them.
- Hoover also excels at creating gripping plots. Her novels are full of twists and turns that leave us unsure of what will happen next.
- Colleen Hoover’s novels are also popular because she’ll tackle difficult topics, like infertility, infidelity, opioid addiction, extreme trauma, death, and domestic violence. She often takes readers into the depths of trauma, heartbreak, and difficult choices.
- Colleen Hoover has a gift for creating complex and highly relatable characters. They make mistakes, but they also learn valuable lessons along the way. Hoover’s characters are not perfect, but that is what makes them so lovable. They feel real and we root for them every step of the way.
- Finally, and this last one combines the other four–Colleen Hoover is fearless when it comes to writing. No plot twist is too extreme, no tragedy is too harsh, and no topic is too controversial for her characters to endure. My background is in theater, and my college professors used to say, “Commit to it!” Commit to your character, to the scene, to the moment. Colleen Hoover always fully commits, and she never takes the easy way out.
This may seem vague, especially without specific examples. But rather than describing the plots of her novels to illustrate my point, I dissected one CoHo novel, chapter by chapter, and came up with an outline for how she achieved this fearlessness. If you’re a fan, you can probably figure out which novel it is. I’m not suggesting she uses this exact formula for all her novels, or that you should use it either. But laying it like this might give you ideas for how to structure your next novel, if you’re hoping to write something that will appeal to CoHo fans.
Prologue: Flashback. Sets female protagonist (FP) up as tragic and sympathetic. Something very bad happened in the past.
Chapter One: Present day. FP needs and wants something desperately. Establishes her as hard-working, down to earth, yet flawed. Meet-cute with male protagonist (MP). Instant attraction.
Chapter Two: MP has a secret. Also, something terrible and tragic happened to him in the past. He’s already in love with FP, and believes it’s fate that she showed up at his door.
Chapter Three: MP convinces FP to spend time with him. They banter and share a strong physical attraction. Still, FP is hesitant and doesn’t know if she can trust MP.
Chapter Four: MP makes himself vulnerable to FP.
Chapter Five: More flirting and emotional intimacy. Secondary characters like FP’s nutty roommate and an antagonist who’s mean to FP are introduced.
Chapter Six: MP is deeply flawed, messes up, and accidentally breaks a promise to FP. Also, we meet another antagonist who’s mean and has power over him.
Chapter Seven: FP is having a bad day for reasons outside of MP, but she’s also mad at MP. She puts herself in a bad situation.
Chapter Eight: MP rescues FP from the bad situation, but she’s still angry at him. She’s also funny and cute while being angry.
Chapter Nine: FP realizes something about MP and his tragic situation that makes her forgive him. MP tells FP that for a reason that neither of them can control, they can’t be together. But they decide to enjoy the time they have left.
Chapter Ten: MP & FP have a fun, carefree time together. Then FP’s antagonist shows up and betrays a secret. We now understand what FP desperately needed and wanted at the beginning of chapter one. After learning that secret, MP becomes even more devoted to FP.
Chapter Eleven: MP & FP become very close and almost get intimate. Then FP finds out something bad about MP. This very bad thing could get in the way of her getting what she desperately needs & wants.
Chapter Twelve: MP begs FP not to go. She still has strong feelings for him, but since being with him could mess up her getting what she desperately needs & wants, she leaves anyway.
Chapter Thirteen: FP realizes that by accepting the advances of her antagonist, she’s closer to getting what she desperately needs and wants.
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback. The bad thing about MP turns out not to be true. He was taking the the fall for and protecting someone else (his antagonist.)
Chapter Fifteen: FP is with her antagonist, making a deal with the devil to get what she desperately needs & wants. Part of that includes her not seeing MP, but then later he returns and she lets him in.
Chapter Sixteen: MP & FP share some tender moments, but then she tells him to go. MP goes to visit his antagonist. They have a confrontation.
Chapter Seventeen: FP is with her antagonist when she happens to run into MP. Her antagonist gets mad and threatens her. Later, FP goes to see MP. First Love/Sex Scene (75% of the way through the novel).
Chapter Eighteen: FP’s antagonist (now the main antagonist) finds out that MP & FP were together, and he harms MP.
Chapter Nineteen: The antagonist starts to attack FP, but the wacky roommate rescues her. MP comes running.
Chapter Twenty: MP tries to comfort and protect FP, but she still believes that in order to get what she wants & needs, she must be with the antagonist.
Chapter Twenty-One: MP confesses to FP all his secrets, except for one. Second Love Scene.
Chapter Twenty-Two: FP finds MP’s antagonist, and convinces him to help her, MP, and himself. Together, they come up with a way to foil FP’s antagonist and get everyone what they want, including FP.
Chapter Twenty-Three: FP and MP are finally free to be together.
Chapter Twenty-Four: In a flashback, we learn about MP’s last secret, and why he’s always loved FP.