After I read from my thesis during my defense the floor was open for questions. I was asked by someone what my favorite “how to” book on writing is. That was an easy answer… Hooked by Les Edgerton.
Here’s the review I wrote just after reading it:
The tag line on this book says “write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go.”
Don’t we all want to do that?
I can’t say that I’m ever particularly drawn to the writing “how to” books. I usually find that there is such a dearth of information in the books that I tune them out around chapter six or so, much like I tuned out my mother after 20 minutes of lecturing me about some behavior. Hooked, however, had me hooked.
Edgerton uses examples and engaging language to discuss the writing of fantastic openings. He explains that every story must have an inciting incident and a story-worthy problem. These things should be known before beginning the novel, because they will help clarify the plot and how to best proceed with the plot.
The first three chapters provide something of an overview of story structure and opening scenes. The real meat begins with the fourth chapter when Edgerton describes how to integrate setup, backstory, character introductions, foreshadowing and opening lines. Chapters nine through eleven deal with things to avoid, scene lengths and transitions and advice from editors and agents.
Throughout my reading of this book and I found myself trying to fit my own story into Edgerton’s formula of inciting incident and story-worthy problem. I found these these two items especially helpful, and identified the story-worthy problem and inciting incidents in my thesis. Identification of these items helps to focus on the plot and why the events are so important to the characters.
I actually took notes as I read this book. Here are a few of them:
Stability + inciting incident = instability + struggle to resolve instability = new stability
A story is a movement from stability to instability to a new stability.
Components of an opening scene:
1. inciting incident
2. story-worthy problem
3. initial surface problem
6. stellar opening sentence
The beginning must be connected to the whole of the story.
Goals of openings:
1. introduce the story-worthy problem
2. hook the reader
3. establish the story rules
A scene is a unit of drama.
Instead of elevating the emotional language, the smart writer flattens it.
Begin with a small moment of intense realization that affects your protagonist on an internal psychological level and you have room to allow the problem to grow.
Keep your story on the level of individuals.
I would recommend this how-to book for anyone who writes, and not just for help with beginnings. Beginning a book effectively will help the writer write the rest of the novel.