Tag Archives: Opening scenes

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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Hooked, Again

By Les Edgerton

End of the quarter is behind me, and I’m back to Les’ book, Hooked. I’ve been struggling with the rewrites of my young adult novel, On the Run. I’m confident I’ve started it in the right place (in the middle of the action). I’ve gotten good feed back on that. However, Les said something that I think may be part of my tweaking of this early part of my book. “When the opening scene ends (in disaster), the sequel begins with the character’s emotional reaction, going from that emotion to the intellectual portion of the mind, where a new action is formulated. A new scene begins as soon as the character begins to implement that action” (Edgerton 19).

Epiphany! Ginny, my protagonist, definitely has the emotional reaction – although, I think I can do that better also – but I don’t have her formulate a plan of action. She needs to do that before I place the next obstacle in her path. I’ve been stymied with my rewrites for about six weeks. I’ve blamed it on workload, family crises, and a host of other things. Deep down I knew I just needed to reload. That’s why I picked up this book which I’d read a lot about. It’s exciting to have it paying off this quickly into revising my key opening scene.

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