Tag Archives: Hooked

Hook “Em Over and Over Again

Revision

When writers gather, the talk always centers on our shared issues. We don’t sit around and talk about the joys of being in the zone or the love of a request from agents or even a personal rejection…well, okay, we do that, too.  However, we home in on what is kicking our butts in our current WIP. What I keep noticing is a common thread: forward momentum or the lack of it. Several blogs I’ve read in the last week have discussed difficulties with a WIP not so much stagnating as moving without really moving forward.

I recommend Hooked by Les Edgerton. I know I talk about this book a lot but honestly, it has taught me a lot. For one thing, I’m well versed in the inciting incident of a story. I teach it to my students, can identify it in a story I’m reading, etc. I knew that it is what hooks your reader pulling them in . What I didn’t think about until I read the book was that each scene has an inciting incident of its own. An incident that will propel the scene and the plot forward, illuminating things for both your protagonist and your reader.

After so many years of reading and writing, it was so simple and I couldn’t believe I’d missed it. Now, when I’m working on a new scene or rewriting a scene that isn’t working, the first thing I ask myself, “What is the inciting event here? What propels this part of the story and my character forward?” In my big picture plotting, this small scene event planning got  completely overlooked.

Exercise: Instead of a traditional outline of your novel, make an outline of the scenes in your book by inciting event. If you’ve done your job well, you should see an acceleration of events building to that perfectly planned denouement. Let me know how it goes. I’m off to try it with my adult mystery. 🙂

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Campaigner Tag

For whatever reason Word Press spammed some Campaigner’s comments so I’m a bit slow in responding. Thanks Daniel for tagging me in the Platform Building Campaign question tag game. Here are my answers to your questions.

  1. If you had one week left to live, what would you do? I’d spend it with my family, the horses, nature, and writing. I’d say goodbye to my friends.
  2. What quote inspires you? “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~Anton Chekhov
  3. What movie scene inspires you? Why? The courtroom scene in TKAM when the balcony stands for Atticus to exit the courtroom and Scout is told to stand for her daddy.
  4. What comedy do you end up watching again and again as the years go by? I can’t say that there is any that I watch again and again…what does that say about me?
  5. Do you think love can last forever? I think true love is eternal.
  6. What fictional character would you trade lives with if you could? Stephanie Plum. Are you kidding? Ranger here I come.
  7. What historical character would you marry if you had to choose someone? I’ve always had a mad crush on Mark Twain.
  8. Which do you prefer, coffee, hot cocoa, soda, vegetable juice, water? I’m addicted to Lipton’s Diet Raspberry White Tea and if it’s a hot drink nothing beats Chai Tea Lattes.
  9. How long would it take you to drive to the beach from where you live? Depends on who is driving and what they’re driving but it would take at least two days to reach the closest ocean.
  10. What are you currently reading? I’m reading Catch Me by Lisa Gardner and rereading Hooked by Les Edgerton.
  11. If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the chance you will be correct?
    1. 25%
    2. 50%
    3. 60%
    4. 25%

    I’m a writer. Always stunk at math. 🙂 Can I plead the fifth?

Here are the people I’ve tagged and their eleven questions.

  1. Rebekah Loper
  2. Carol Riggs
  3. Neil Vogler
  4. Margo Kelly
  5. Alison Miller
  6. Kharisma Rayne
  7. Ute Carbone
  8. Susan Roebuck
  9. Lena Corazon
  10. Sarah Pearson
  11. Sara Bowers

Here are your questions

  1. Wine or beer?
  2. Mountains or the beach?
  3. What is your ideal writing spot?
  4. What intrigues you more developing character or developing plot?
  5. Who is your favorite “beach read” author?
  6. What is your favorite animal?
  7. Do you like music when you write or silence or something else?
  8. What genres do you write?
  9. Do you cross genres in your writing?
  10. If the dream agent walked in one day with the dream deal on your latest novel, how would you react?
  11. You’ve got your book deal, what’s your personal marketing plan?

Thanks for the tag, Daniel. Everyone have a great week.

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The Power of Words

       All writers understand the power of the written word. We’re even intimidated by it at times which explains the “myth” of writer’s block. Advertisers are aware of the power of few words. Speech writers are aware of the power of certain words. Technical writers are aware of the importance of jargon and keeping it within the industry. Heck even parents are aware of the power of proper nouns, especially when used in threes. “Dawn Frances Davis” was never a good indicator.I didn’t hear it often but when I did, I knew it wasn’t good news for me.

     All writers should pay attention to the power of each word. This isn’t limited to speech writers or advertisers or technical writers. I can’t tell you the number of novels I’ve read since grad school that I wanted to take a knife to. They were great stories. They were just too long. Often wonderful language and messages were buried in overwrought sentence structure or armies of prepositional phrases. The power that existed there but would never be unleashed is heartbreaking. A lean writer, one who selects each word carefully and with consideration, is a rarity. The following link is to a video that illustrates this point beautifully. Enjoy! 

  The Power of Words

What tools do you use to ensure that your words serve the best purpose for your prose?

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Evil Let Me Count Thy Ways

I’m reading The Queen by Steven James. He’ll be a speaker at OWFI which our group attends every May. This is the most recent in a series and only intending to read one of them I became hooked. (Isn’t that the point?) The thing that has struck me with this latest book is different from the others I’ve read by him. Maybe I’m just noticing it because I’m also reading Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches. However, I’ve been really drawn in by the assassin. Bad guys are usually drawn in two ways: all bad or bad but with underlying reasons that allow us to at least understand how they became “bad”.

Steven drew this character with the black and white of the mathematician’s mind. Ordinarily, I would not guess this would be effective. However, this character’s world is clearly painted for us with the parameters that he has conceived as acceptable. He can kill easily with little concern and no guilt. However, he will not kill women and children and will not allow the killing of women and children. This is a matter of importance to him when he is framed for the murders of a mother and child.

He easily dispatches a deputy to allow himself to escape authorities but then the hero’s bravery in attempting to save that deputy draws him in. Rather than leave the agent to die of hypothermia on the river bank, he calls 911 AND retrieves the body, wraps it in a tarp, and leaves it beside the road for medics to find. Of course, he does this right after murdering the trucker whose truck he then commandeers for his getaway.

The contradiction of the black and white world he lives in makes this assassin more human on the page than some protagonists are. In spite of the evil he does, I find myself cheering when he does things that are redeeming, such as saving the agent.

One of the reasons I like reading craft books and novels simultaneously is it’s good to see craft applied in what you’re reading. James has certainly mastered the principles of a villain of worthy adversary for his main character.

What have I learned from this?

Make your villain worthy of your protagonist’s respect and vice versa. There is a degree of gamesmanship at work with these two roles. The best stories will pit the two against each other. Only with that mutual respect can the game really play out well for the reader.

Make your villain a worthy opponent. Your protagonist is smart and talented, good at what he does. The villain is his equal and in some cases more. He must push your protagonist to the limit. The two characters drive each other and the action forward.

Villains need as much dimension as any other character. There is more there than just a bad childhood. Does the villain struggle with esteem issues or is his ego out of control? Educated? Not? How does that impact how he interacts with the protagonist? What drives him on? What will stop him in his path? This is the primary question for your protagonist. If he wants to stop this guy, he needs to know the answer. That means, you-the writer, need to know.

Give your villain a history. He can be a man of mystery to the reader but not to the writer. Regardless of whether you’ll use any of it in the book itself, write a history of your shadow character. This way you know why he does the things he does. You will know where he draws the line and why.

I don’t know why James’ assassin has a thing about killing women and children. I don’t need to know. The mystery of it fascinates me. The only person who really needed to know was Steven James. Reading The Queen, it’s obvious, he does.

How do you make sure your villains are multifaceted?

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Historic Storms, Fantastic First Pages, and Hooked with Les

Thanks to everyone who submitted their first page of a WIP. As the bulk of the country is now hunkered down while white stuff whips around outside the windows, what better time to read some more of what Les has to teach us?  Strong voice is huge for most of us as readers. I know it when I see it, hear it, and yet, ask me to define it? Luckily, Les wrote a book answering the question for us.

Write On asks: When I read a book with a strong voice, I recognize it immediately. Yet in writing it’s not that easy to practice. What do you think is the magical quality called voice?

Les says: Voice is both a simple and a complex concept. When we first learn as children to communicate, we all have a terrific and original voice. We still have it, but many times it’s buried beneath layers and layers of “instruction.” We’ve learned to hide it over the years because of all the naysayers we’ve been exposed to in education and in life. Put simply, your voice is how you think. What happens is we put up a bunch of filters between how we think and what appears on the page, so that we can “please” all those folks who told us what’s acceptable and what’s not. (Including moi!) It’s not that we have to create our writing voice; we simply have to find where we’ve stashed it—we’ve already got it. That’s all my book, Finding Your Voice intends to do. Show the writer how they lost their voice and how to regain it.

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First Pages Deadline Extension

Thanks to life complications on my end, I’ve decided to extend the deadline for submissions to February 1. If you haven’t submitted your first page, get it in soon!

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Hooking Your Reader

Free Contest

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.

 

Contest Information

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.

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