Hooked


Chapter Two: Components of an opening scene. I know this, I think to myself going in. And on some level I did. It doesn’t mean I have consciously thought these out every time I write an opening scene. However, on some level, I was definitely listening in grad school because as I read this chapter it was like a reunion with an old friend. If I could give the book a high-five [without people thinking I’m nuts], I would have.

According to Les, an opening scene has ten core components with four being the most important. Those are the four I want to talk about. 

The first component is the inciting incident, the “event that creates the character’s initial surface problem and introduces the first inklings of the story-worthy problem” (25). This is exciting because the first scene of my young adult novel opens this way. Ginny’s father throws her into a panic room in the middle of the night. Her parents disappear, and she’s off on a journey of self-discovery as she tries to stay one step ahead of everyone chasing her.

The second component is the story-worthy problem. This is the issue that exists “just beneath the surface of the story on a more psychological level” (25). Okay, I’m a bit squiggly on this one. Ginny does have this. She knows she’s adopted, but then she discovers even that was a lie. Instead, she discovers she’s genetically engineered. Talk about your identity crises.

The next component is the problem that results from the inciting incident. It’s certainly a plot piece and may be the driving force for the surface plot but isn’t necessarily the deepest part of the story. Hmm…well. The driving force for the plot is that government forces are chasing Ginny in the hopes of containing the “danger” she represents to them and a senator and his henchmen seek to “sell her to the highest bidder.” Surface problem, check.

The final of the main four components is the Setup. This is the fear factor for me. I see the setup as a visual piece. See the scene clearly so you can point it out clearly to the reader. Maximize the reader’s experience. Dude, I’m so out of my element here. First, Les says don’t open with dialogue. On the Run‘s opening scene is Ginny complaining about her father ripping her from her bead just before midnight. Oops.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Hooked

  1. Hi Dawn,
    Just wanted to thank you again for the nice things you had to say about Hooked, and to let you know how delighted I am that it’s helping you!

    If I may, I’d like to hopefully shed a bit more light on the areas you feel are a problem in hopes it helps.

    First, you say: The second component is the story-worthy problem. This is the issue that exists “just beneath the surface of the story on a more psychological level” (25). Okay, I’m a bit squiggly on this one. Ginny does have this. She knows she’s adopted, but then she discovers even that was a lie. Instead, she discovers she’s genetically engineered. Talk about your identity crises.

    Maybe this will help. The story-worthy problem is the “real” problem the protagonist is dealing with. The surface problem is symptomatic of it. In other words, the problem the inciting incident created/or revealed is a surface problem, but it simply masks what the real problem is. It’s as related to that problem as Siamese twins are. In some ways, both problems are part of the same whole—like an iceberg. The part she “sees” is the surface problem and the other nine-tenths of the iceberg is the story-worthy problem which she can’t yet see. The protagonist cannot know what her real, i.e., “story-worthy” problem is until she’s gone through the struggle to resolve the surface problem. Look at Thelma & Louise. Her surface problem is that she’s had it with her domineering husband who has her in a form of servitude which the inciting incident finally reveals to her. That’s a big deal and one many can relate with. Her “real” or story-worthy problem is that she’s in servitude—as a woman living in a male-dominated word—to society itself. As a result of all that she goes through to resolve her surface problem—escape her domineering husband and the resultant struggle that ensues—she little by little, learns that she has a much bigger problem than a moron husband. Her problem is that her very sense of self and individualism is at stake, simply because she happened to be born female in a world in which women are second-class citizens. If she’d begun with this knowledge, it wouldn’t have worked. She had to literally go through her struggle to learn this. And, the protagonist can’t learn this until they go through the struggle. Something at the end has to not only resolve the surface problem, but at the same time reveal and resolve the story-worthy problem. That scene—which should always be the final scene—needs to achieve that. While the protagonist cannot know what her story-worthy problem is until the very end, the author needs to know this so that she can lead her to this realization. It looks to me as if you’ve nailed all that.

    The second thing you said was: The final of the main four components is the Setup. This is the fear factor for me. I see the setup as a visual piece. See the scene clearly so you can point it out clearly to the reader. Maximize the reader’s experience. Dude, I’m so out of my element here. First, Les says don’t open with dialogue. On the Run‘s opening scene is Ginny complaining about her father ripping her from her bead just before midnight. Oops.

    Here, Dawn, I think you might be talking about two different things. First, the “setup” is just what you said. It’s the environment, etc. It can be as simple as “Two people, sitting in a pricey restaurant.” It’s usually delivered very briefly and should be. In T&L, the setup is that Thelma is in curlers, she has recipes taped all over her fridge, and she’s calling to get her husband up and to work. That’s about it and that’s about all that’s needed. Just a brief grounding for the reader so we see the protagonist and what’s going on. A paragraph or two at most, as a rule. If even that.

    Then, you include the thing about dialog, which is unrelated to the setup. What I said about dialog is that I wouldn’t recommend opening a novel or story with dialog as the first thing. Not scenes, although it may apply to scenes at times as well. And, I included a qualifier, in that sometimes it can work and gave examples of how it could. The problem with opening with dialog as the very first thing the reader encounters, is that she reads the dialog without knowing anything about the character or who she’s talking to or in what context, etc. That means, she has to read further to find all that out and then pause in her mind to go back and make sense of what she’d read. That means the fictive dream has been interrupted and that’s a big no-no. There are exceptions, but if you read a line of dialog at the beginning and it doesn’t become instantly clear who the reader is talking to and what the speech means, it will only interrupt the fictive dream. But, if the writer only use a few words to make that clear before the character speaks, it works. For instance, if you read:

    “What are you doing? Why are you in my room? It’s the middle of the night,” Ginny said.

    Then it make no sense and you have to read further to figure it all out—who she is, who she’s talking to and what she’s talking about. However, if you begin:

    Ginny woke, an arm roughly forcing her up and splintering her sleep. It was her father. His eyes were wide, frantic. She’d never seen him this way. “What are you doing? Why are you in my room? It’s the middle of the night,” she said.

    Then… it makes sense.

    Hope that helps, Dawn! I’m so honored that you find my book useful and it looks to me as if you “get it” just fine. I can’t wait until you finish this and get it published so I can buy my copy. And, I apologize if I shouldn’t have butted in!

    Blue skies,
    Les

    • dawnall

      Oh please butt in! That was really helpful. I was reworking my opening scene for a contest so that was good information to read over as I did that. Thanks for taking the time to clarify. I’ll get back onto my reading and rewrites. Thanks again.

  2. OOH, Private lessons. I love it. And I can sit in the back soaking it up. Thanks.

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