We all do it. Whether at the bookstore or using our e-readers, we choose a novel based on a shockingly short sample. After looking over the cover and scanning the blurb, we read the first few pages. If the book does not grab us quickly, we don’t buy it.
HOOKED shows writers how to make that opening strong enough to sell the whole book. Edgerton starts by detailing the goals of the first few pages. They must introduce the story problem, establish the rules of the world, and hint at the ending. All the while, they must be intriguing enough to keep those pages turning. Simple and straightforward, right? But how do you do that? The answer lies in writing active opening scenes, and Edgerton shows you how.
He also goes into considerable detail about story problems. Heroes are nothing without a conflict to drive the story, and Edgerton explains the two kinds of problems a protagonist must have. The “surface” problem drives the action of the plot, while the “story-worthy” problem marks the internal change the hero undergoes. Edgerton explains why you must know the difference between them, why your hero needs both, and which one to put front and center in the opening scene. He also discusses backstory and how much to include (as little as possible).
HOOKED gives many good examples of openings, some a single line and some several paragraphs. By learning to deconstruct successful openings, I learned how to write good ones of my own. I also noticed that while Edgerton isolated the first few pages as much as possible, he couldn’t completely separate them from the rest of the book. In teaching how to structure an opening, he also hints at how to structure an entire novel.
HOOKED includes a very short chapter about bad beginnings. Dreams, alarm clocks and dialog shouldn’t start a story. Despite these warnings, Edgerton’s emphasis is on the positive. If you follow his advice, you won’t write a clichéd or clumsy opening, and therefore, he doesn’t spend too much time telling you what doesn’t work.
There is also a chapter in which agents and editors describe what they are looking for in an opening scene. They are proxies for readers, so this is what readers want, too. As expected, their opinions differ slightly, but excessive backstory is mentioned as a no-no several times. Every agent and editor recommends starting with action. Something must be happening right on page one.
Edgerton writes in a folksy style that seems overly cute for an instruction manual. He overuses exclamation points, sometimes several per page. He’s also fond of using ’em instead of them. In an effort to shore up his own authority, or perhaps in a fit of ego, he uses examples from his own fiction whenever possible (although to be fair, he uses plenty from other authors too). I overlooked these things because Edgerton is a good teacher with a great topic.
Writing a compelling opening scene is difficult for me. I have an easier time writing endings than beginnings. But now that I’ve read HOOKED, I’m more than ready to start my next novel.
HOOKED is available here.
rating: 4 stars
This book is best for beginning to intermediate writers
I recommend this book.