In conjunction with this ongoing interview – and in celebration of Hooked, Les’ book on openings – I’m hosting a FREE contest here at Write On. See below for details and submission guidelines.
Interview with Les Edgerton Part II
Write On asks: One of the interesting things about Hooked for me was the reminder that it’s not just about “hooking” them at the beginning but keeping them hooked and the difficulty inherent in that. Can you address your ideas on writers continuing to hook beyond the beginning?
Les answers: This is a great question! Every single page should “hook” the reader. How? By being interesting. By practicing what author Harry Crews does in his own writing. Crews says he “tries to leave out the parts people skip.” This is the best advice I’ve ever seen on writing. If you leave out those “parts people skip,” you’ll probably end up deep-sixing most of that insipid and boring backstory, most of the lengthy window-pane description, and almost all of the character’s wandering about in their skulls revealing their sophomoric, mind-numbing thoughts. By doing so, you’ll end up with a really cool book. One that gets sold and read.
Is there a trick to this?
You bet. The trick is know what your story’s about. Every quality story is about one thing only. Trouble. “Trouble” in novel terms, is the story problem you’ve created for your protagonist. It isn’t trouble in the lay term. It’s the story-worthy problem you’ve created and the surface problem that’s symptomatic of that problem.
A contemporary novel begins with that trouble. It begins with the inciting incident which creates and/or reveals that problem to the protagonist. The rest of the novel is about the protagonist’s struggle to resolve that problem. That means that the problem has to be present on every single page once it’s introduced. Every single page. No exceptions. It’s tightly focused, what Flannery O’Connor referred to when she described good writing as being of a “single unified effect.” To paraphrase former President Bush the Elder: “It’s about the story problem, stupid.” Everything in a good novel is directly tied to the spine of the story which is always about the story problem the protagonist is struggling to resolve. Anything that doesn’t adhere to this spine needs to be ruthlessly cut.
Got a great character who just “appeared” out of your imagination and has found herself in your story? Does she contribute to the protagonist’s struggle to resolve his or her problem? If so, great. Keep her in. If she doesn’t, then create a file for her for another novel. Delete her butt in this story. Unless, of course, you only plan to write one novel in your lifetime.
Got this terrific subplot idea? Great! Great, that is, if the subplot contributes to the main struggle and is subservient to it. If not, delete it. Use it for another story.
This is what Faulkner refers to (in part) when he advises writers to “kill their darlings.”
A novel has to have a single, undivided, adhesive focus. To be, as O’Connor advises, “all of a piece.” That’s how you hook readers on every single page. Give your protagonist a problem that’s compelling to most readers and keep her on the journey to resolve that problem. The more compelling the problem and the harder her struggle becomes, the more you hook the reader every time they turn the next page. It’s really that simple. Cut away the stuff that doesn’t contribute to this.
Les Edgerton is a full-time writer with nine books in print and teaches creative writing on the university level, through private coaching of writers, and on various on-line venues. He graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in General Studies (Honors of Distinction) and obtained an MFA in Writing from Vermont College.
Enter your first page of a WIP (any genre) by January 29. The winner will be announced by February 12. The writer of the best first page will win a copy of Hooked from me and a signed copy of Finding Your Voice. A big THANKS to Les for his donation of a signed book. Now polish up those first pages and be ready to submit.