Hounded by Kevin Hearne: How to Read Like a Writer
Hounded is the first book in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series. As Hearne’s first published novel, all aspiring authors should take a close look at how to enter the publishing world with a splash. Hounded is a true page-turner filled with humor and an urban fantasy with a unique cast of beings, all of which contribute to its success.
The Humor of Atticus O’Sullivan
Hearne’s Hounded is filled with the good-natured humor of Atticus O’Sullivan – an ancient druid who finds joy in life’s small moments. Written in first person from Atticus’s point of view, the novel allows readers to see his witty thoughts, telepathic communications, and glib comments. If the novel were not written in first person, some of the jokes and slap-stick mental images would be lost, and the light-hearted tone would be dampened. This humor can be seen in the second paragraph of Hounded:
Thank the goddess I don’t look like a guy who met Galileo – or who saw Shakespeare’s plays when they first debuted or rode with the hordes of Genghis Khan. When people ask how old I am, I just tell them twenty-one, and if they assume years instead of decades or centuries, then that can’t be my fault, can it? I still get carded, in fact, which any senior citizen will tell you is immensely flattering (1).
Here, Atticus tells the reader how old he is and shows his humor in the final line. In addition, he reveals his positive outlook on life. Without first person point of view, Atticus would be unable to tell the reader his backstory and provide the comical commentary.
While Atticus has humorous exchanges with other characters through dialogue, some of his best lines are exchanged telepathically with his dog, Oberon. This dialogue would not be as clear if the story were not written in first person, and a dog’s perspective on humans and life is inherently funny, as show in the following excerpt:
“So what would you like for breakfast today?”
“You always say that.”
<That’s because it’s always tasty.> (126)
This simple way of viewing breakfast is representative of how Oberon responds to most questions and his comfort with Atticus.
Both excerpts also demonstrate how humor can lighten the tone of a story. It takes a situation like having a god show up to kill you and twists it into a scene where direct threats are rebuked with witty comments and the weariness of a long life is held at bay by enjoying breakfast with a sausage-obsessed hound. In this way, Atticus’s sense of humor isn’t simply a trait designed to entertain readers, it is a quality key to his survival. When an aspect of the writing is a part of the plot, character, and story, it becomes more real to the reader and therefore is more effective. Humor is a device woven throughout Hounded to enliven the story, amuse readers, and deepen the characters.
Druids, Celtic Gods, and Elementals
When a fantasy novel focuses on magical beings other than vampires, werewolves, and evil sorcerers, readers become excited because it has done something unexpected. Hounded still has vampires, werewolves, and witches, but they are not the protagonist, antagonist, or primary characters. Instead, Hearne makes an ancient druid the central character and a Celtic god the primary antagonist and populates Arizona with a barrage of other beings like fir boges, elementals, and Celtic goddesses.
When authors choose magic and creatures outside of the usual canyon focused on in urban fantasies, the worlds they present feels new and fresh because readers aren’t as familiar with the mythology behind the beings. Readers can’t predict how creatures will react based on what they’ve read in other places because they haven’t read enough stories with those creatures to have a preconceived idea of how they should act. This means authors have more freedom and tools to create mystery, suspense, tension, betrayal, and surprise.
In Hounded, Hearne contrasts earth-based druid magic and the dark arts of witchcraft, the cleverness of a single druid with the power and will of bickering Celtic gods and goddesses, and the modern world with creatures born in the Iron Age. This makes his characters and world more interesting and less predictable because readers like to learn and read something new. Otherwise, they would read the same book over and over. One of the greatest strengths of Hounded is the way it highlights less well-known magical creatures while still sprinkling in some of the familiar cast.
When a book has excellent pacing and an intriguing story that keeps readers reading until well after midnight, it is called a page turner. One of the ways Hearne’s Hounded accomplishes this is through strategic chapter breaks. Authors are often told not to end a chapter at the conclusion of an intense scene because the reader may feel so satisfied with that stopping place they do not continue reading. While this is sound advice, it does not mean chapters must end in cliffhangers. Many of the chapters in Hounded end with the conclusion of the scene’s climax and often a funny or poignant line. However, the resolution is the start of the next chapter. Chapters one and two do this:
Chapter 1: I got a brief message from the iron elemental before it faded away, in the short bursts of emotions and images they use for language: //Druid calls / Fairies await / Delicious / Gratitude // (8)
Chapter 2: I looked around to see who might have witnessed the fight, but there wasn’t anyone close by – it was lunchtime (9).
These chapters flow into each other a s a continuous scene. However, a moment has ended in chapter one, allowing a reader to feel satisfied, yet they are still compelled to continue on to chapter two because the scene is not completely over. Something could still happen. By placing his chapter breaks in this way, Hearne does not annoy readers with cliffhangers – they could feasibly stop – but most readers will continue thinking about Atticus and his antics until they move onto the next chapter and finish the scene.
One important note about page turners seen in Hearne’s novel is that they are not constantly filled with fast-paced action. Each chapter in Hounded has the ebb and flow of action and humor. The pacing is controlled, not sprinting as fast as possible at all times. Instead of a sprint, a novel is a 10k or half-marathon. It still moves at a good pace, but there are some uphill sections that slow the runner down and some downhill sections where they let go and run with all they have. (A marathon is a series, and an ultra-marathon is a really long series.) Breathers are important: They keep the reader from becoming exhausted, but should be interesting and important to the plot. Hearne fills his slower moments with humor to keep the reader entertained and uses them to deepen characters and relationships.
Authors who want to write the kind of books readers can’t put down should read Hounded and pay special attention to the pacing and the chapter breaks. Both are key to creating that momentum reads can’t resist.
An Editor’s Notes on Kevin Hearne’s Hounded
I read a wide variety of stories. While I enjoy the occasional deep, pessimistic tale, more and more, I find myself drawn to stories with a humorous character or lighter tone or some semblance of happiness. Humor is one of those things that when done well seems simple and easy. Instead, humor is very difficult to pull off. What one person finds funny another might find insulting. Making humor a central feature of a story, like Hearne’s Hounded, is risky. I believe Hearne pulled it off because he made humor a key characteristic of Atticus, the narrator.
Writing a page-turner is equally difficult. While Hearne’s chapter breaks and pacing contribute to this quality, there is also an element of intangibility. Like defining story and voice, defining a page turner is difficult and slippery. Most readers and authors can say one book is a page turner and one is not, but explaining why is challenging. Through humor, strategic chapter breaks, and the intrigue of focusing on less well-known magical creatures, Hounded becomes a page turner. Authors should look at Kevin Hearne’s Hounded to see how to Ignite Their Ink into a page-turner.
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Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.