Tag Archives: hooks

Hook “Em Over and Over Again


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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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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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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Hooked:The Story-Worthy Goal


By Les Edgerton

In chapter 3 Les said something that caught my attention in one of those stop, reread, feel the lightbulb go on over your forehead, and think how amazing this revelation is ways. The ongoing dialogue of this chapter is the protagonist’s story-worthy goal. The line that stopped me is, “Your protagonist’s story-worthy goal is probably very close to a goal you want to achieve for yourself”(65-66). My first thought was about my YA protagonist, Ginny, and how she is searching for her identity. Who is she really? Where does she fit in? Her parents told her she’s adopted, but she discovers she’s genetically engineered. Think puberty is rough, try that one on for size.

    My second thought was the one that turned the pause into a full on stop. One of the purposes of my excursion into an MFA program was to find my “identity” as a writer. I’d begun writing as a playwright and director. I’d branched from that to novel-writing which, in hind sight, was a horrid leap. The MFA program sent me back to the short story genre which was good for me in a host of ways.

  Still, who was I? When I sat down to write adult novels, they were nearly always mysteries or thrillers. The books I’ve always loved to read. However, every time I sat down to write for young people, this weirdo came out. I have no idea where she came from, but she was all over the place. A paranormal here, a sci/fi there, a horror story on the side, a sweet coming of age story as a chaser. What the heck was that about?

    Here’s where what Les said caused the hair on my arms to raise. The first YA thing I wrote was the sci/fi novel with Ginny which is at its heart the story of a girl who has lost her center. Through no fault of her own, she no longer knows who she is. I relate. Now I know why this book means so much to me. I understand why no matter how much rejection I face, I can’t let go of this story. I’m not Ginny, but her story touches at the heart of all of us who at some point in our lives question who we are. Sometimes it’s in puberty, sometimes it’s in midlife, sometimes it’s in the golden years, sometimes it’s as we exit life; but questioning who we are is as human as we are.

    As you write your WIP, do you think about your character’s story-worthy goal? Have you ever thought of how it might reflect your own goal? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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My Writer’s Bookshelf

Writers have extensive libraries. It’s a part of who we are. We have books in the genres in which we write, books outside of the genre in which we write, research books, and we have how to books. We LOVE our how to books. Even when we should put them down and just write, we can’t pull ourselves from learning our craft from experts.

Every writer has a list. Books that touched them and sent them down a path of no return in terms of their growth as a writer. I’m no different. Les Edgerton quotes some of my favorites in his book, Hooked, so it made me think about my list, my top ten, as it were. Here are the first five:

On Writing by Stephen King: Brevity is probably the surprising aspect of this part autobiography/part book on writing King penned after a horrific crash nearly took his life. When you look at the average length  of  his works, this book’s length is a picture book next to an unabridged dictionary. Still, he is classic King throughout offering tongue in cheek humor and dead serious professionalism about the craft. He offers up his own work in draft form as examples of the editing process. If you’re not afraid of climbing into the dark mind of genius, this is a must read.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway: This is perhaps the most comprehensive how to book I’ve ever read. I read it my first semester of grad school, and she blew me away with her insights. It’s like a mini writing class. I especially love the organization of the book. She takes an aspect of the craft; for instance, characterization, and she talks about it. Then at the end of that section, she has several pieces which best exemplify what she’s tried to teach you. I never put this one away because I am always referring back to it. It’s doggy eared, highlighted, scribbled in and my most used book.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas: This guy is the guru of agents. Not only is he a well-respected agent, a hot ticket on the conference scene, and a great writer, he appears to have unending energy. This book offers signposts for those seeking to find a way to make their novel break free of the pack and find success.  

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maas: This is another great book to use for revision. I’ve used the exercises in it for my writer’s group as we do rewrites of our WIP. Some of my best writing has come from these pieces. If you want to find your way down to the core of your writing, this book is a great way to start.

Hooked by Les Edgerton: If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m reading this book. I’m moving slowly – school year and I’m teaching six days a week – but I’m experiencing high levels of excitement from what I’m learning. Honestly, given the ADD nature of people today, you need to have everything on your side when it comes to your book. Getting the reader hooked isn’t just a good idea, it’s imperative. Read this book!

Next time I’ll provide the bottom half of my top ten. Tell me, what books are on your writer’s bookshelf?


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Hooked (Chpt.3)

By Les Edgerton

    Chapter 3 of Hooked has me, well, hooked. Not only because he references Janet Burroway’s book, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, which is one of my favorite writing books, but because it has highlighted strengths in my plot as well as areas of weakness. (By the way, Burroway’s book is in my top ten, but I digress.) In this chapter, Les lights on the inciting incident and here is where my YA novel begins to make sense to me. Silly since it should make sense to the writer all along, huh?

    The inciting incident is the “crucial event” that sets everything else in motion. This event “triggers the initial surface problem and starts to slowly expose the protagonist’s story-worthy problem”(55). Ginny is rudely awakened in the night by her father and placed in a panic room that he built after a rash of kidnappings in their area. Les points out that the protagonist may be somewhat in the dark during this period as to why these events are happening, but as events unfold she will begin to understand more and more. Ginny eventually realizes that she wasn’t adopted as she’d been led to believe but was genetically engineered. This surface problem needs to be compelling enough to cause her to take immediate action. For Ginny, her insecurity over where her parents have disappeared to and a realization that she doesn’t know who to trust, sends her fleeing in the night.

   Les points out that it’s important to keep in mind that “…any attempts to resolve the initial and subsequent surface problems must end in failure”(55). Ginny runs right into the arms of the Program, finding herself held captive in a compound full of freaks. Worse yet, the mad scientist who designed her and his army of genetic mutants thwart all her efforts to leave. 

     My book isn’t where I want it yet, but I’m feeling good about the story arc. I’m excited to fix any plot pieces that aren’t working as I read through this ongoing lesson on “hooking” the reader.

    Hooked is a fantastic journey in revision.

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Hooked, Chpt. 2

By Les Edgerton

“The opening scene should be relatively short – a good working length would be one to four pages – so it’s important to be concise and make the language work in more than one way”(36). I read this with confidence. After all, I began my writing career writing short (50 minute plays) pieces. I cut my teeth on concision so surely I had done this well. Of course, along with this we need to include those ten components also. Hmm. I printed out my first chapter of the YA. It’s a short 2.5 pages. Let’s see how I did.

Ten components:

Inciting incident: Thanks to Les, I think this is good.

Story-worthy problem: Yup, feeling good about this, too.

Initial Surface Problem: Oh, yeah. It’s there. I’m on a roll.

The Set up: Think this is in place also.

It’s looking good, right? We’ll ignore that, other shoe’s about to drop feeling I’m having.

Backstory: A personal bugaboo of mine. I’ve done well on this. Included just a hint of backstory that is essential to the plot and foreshadowing. Oops, that’s later.

The Opening line: Thud. That’s the other shoe. I have short stories with great opening lines. But my novel does not have a great opening line. And I’m not really sure how to fix it given that she opens in the middle of present tense action. I’ve boxed myself in a corner on that one. Ugh. Les offered great suggestions on this one. So, I’m off to fix it.

Language: I’ve spent more time on the first chapter than I have on any other one chapter. It’s truly gotten the work out. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there.

Character Introduction: I introduce Ginny, the main character,  but not the antagonist. However, there is the suggestion of one. In the first chapter Ginny refers to the kidnappings so we know there is a bad guy out there somewhere…possibly enough? Hmm. Think on that one.

Setting: In grad school they referred to me as a minimalist. I think some considered it an insult, but I didn’t take it that way. I like to read minimalist fiction so it makes sense I’d write that way. I don’t like fluff in life, and I don’t want it in my writing. However, the other side of that coin, is being too minimalist. I have to ground the reader in this place called Layton. It doesn’t happen in the first scene, but I do ground them in Ginny’s house…well, maybe that could use some work, too.

Foreshadowing: See Backstory above. I love the foreshadowing thing.

I can see that in spite of my repeated work on the first chapter, it’s still  not ready. Sigh. Back to the keyboard for me.


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