Monday, March 14, 2011

Hook Line and Sinker

I've noticed something lately. Because there's been such an emphasis on writing an incredible-can't-put-it-down hook, writers have been going a little crazy with their openings. As in I'm going to start the book by having my MC take on Godzilla in the middle of Prom kind of opening. Um, okay maybe not that specific, but you get the idea.

DON'T DO THAT.

That's right. You heard me. I just said to NOT open your book with that unbelievably tense and exciting moment that you think will wow them. Do you know WHY? Because I don't care about your character, and I don't buy the situation, and I'm just plain confused.

No. I need to care. I need to understand what's going on. And I NEED to be immersed in the scene, not hit over the head with it. Plus if you start at your climax, what are you building up to in the next seventy-thousand words?

You can start with action. That's okay. You should hook me with something I can't quite let go. But make sure it's
  • the right point for your book to start
  • Important to the story (EVERY scene should be or you don't need it)
  • showing me something about the MC that I can connect with
So glad we could clear that up! Except that now I want to read a book about Godzilla in a prom dress for some reason...

photo credit (Kind of creepy that I actually found this picture)

36 comments:

  1. LOL. That's so true. I'm with you all the way! (except maybe on the Godzilla thning ;o)

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  2. It's all about the writing! Doesn't matter if it's high action or low action - if the writing is good I'll see past it. Nightshade does a great job with an action scene but connecting the reader right away to the mc.

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  3. You do have to have some element of interest early on instead of just scene setting and description, but you're totally right about not leaping into desperate action immediately. I'm sure it works every once in awhile, but it's hard to pull it off. Still, knowing where to start the story is really hard. I've struggled with this with one of my novels, and I think I've rewritten it at least twelve times! It's harder with some stories than others, I guess.

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  4. I've struggled with this concept. I wrote my ms. After a few CPs gave a peek, I rewrote the beginning to be more 'action packed'. Although the opener is an emotional scene for the MC and readers all said they were drawn to read more and did (even some agents), something still didn't feel right to me. I'm currently rewriting the beginning with what I feel is a more initial character lure, drawing the reader into the character's current situation (introducing her more personally) before the emotional scene. I think it works better.

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  5. Great advice, Lisa. Ellen Hopkins told me during my professional critique at the LA SCBWI conference last year that you should begin with the mc's normal THEN disrupt that near the end of the first chapter. Of course "normal" needs to be interesting enough to get the reader to the end of the chapter. ;)

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  6. This is fantastic advice! I honestly think that all the first 250-word contests mess with people's heads on occasion. They get critiques that say, "It's fine, but nothing's happening," and they think it needs to be spiced up beyond recognition. Love the Godzilla pic :)

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  7. That is a great picture. I'd like one taken with Godzilla too *_* But yes, awesome post as well lol.

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  8. I'm loving the comments today! I see I really hit a nerve for some people, but hopefully in a good way. :D It IS hard to find the beginning of your book, which sounds counter-intuitive. But it's true!

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  9. Great post, and something I struggle with. You only have so many pages to hook the reader (or the agent...) but they need to "connect" with the character as well as be interested in the plot... so if it's all plot you won't hook 'em and if it's all character development you won't hook 'em either. Godzilla has to look good in that prom dress, or be having an existential fashion crisis... in addition to breathing fire on the mean girls... or something like that ;-) happy writing!

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  10. LOL! I have no doubt someone will write it. How can one not? Godzilla in a prom dress, I mean come on, awesome! You make an excellent point. We need to start our story where it starts, and that isn't necessarily at the inciting incident. I'm like you, I like to get to know the character and care about them, whether it starts with action or not. The connection is what keeps me reading, not the action.

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  11. There goes my Godzilla destroying a prom opening!! What if Mothra destroys the prom (gimme something)? Nice post. I think most hectic openings should be reserved for movies - for some reason they work better in that format. Books need a great hook but that hook involves the MC for sure. Thanks, Lisa.

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  12. Ha, this is soooo true. As readers, we don't even know who these people are. So do you think I'll care if Suzie gets eaten by Godzilla? (You are going to have Godzilla eat people at the Prom right?).

    But if I get to know Suzie a little better, I will be more concerned about her safety. Empathy first. High drama later.

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  13. OMG you guys are AWESOME!! I love love love the comments! And yes - I can't imagine Godzilla not being hungry. I mean wouldn't you be if you were him? And all those appetizing girls dressed up... Ha, if I wrote it, it would totally be from Godzilla's POV.

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  14. Hey Lisa! First of all, I loved that picture you put there! That monster is so ugly, yet for me it looked cute--or maybe it's just me, lol.
    Anyway, I totally agree with you--I think that if you want to start with action, you have to give something about the character for the readers to empathize with. So, I think your words were wise, amiga.

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  15. Aw, but it's Godzilla! Everyone can connect with Godzilla! ;)
    Great post with a great point :)

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  16. So wise, Obi-Wan. For some reason made me think of Jodi Piccoult. I love her opening scenes because they are so gripping: some action, but more emotion, we immediately need to know about these characters - and she can get you to care about multiple characters in one first scene, too.

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  17. I though Godzilla was a guy. Apparently he's a cross-dresser, or he just looks darn good in a gown. Great points as always, Lisa. I just started reading White Cat by Holly Black - now there's the perfect blend of a character that I'm willing to invest in from the get-go and a crazy opening sequence.

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  18. I love being referred to as Obi Wan. :D And I care extra for Godzilla who takes the time to dress appropriately. He he.

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  19. Finding the right spot to open in, the right POV, the right wording -- it's so difficult but incredibly important. And I agree that it can't all be about causing a sensation as much as bonding with the character.

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  20. So true. I think fast openings and opening with action get a little lost in the shuffle. Action doesn't have to mean explosions or car chases. Something is set in motion, and like you said, we need to care about someone right away. Otherwise, why bother?

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  21. I came over thanks to Julie's tweet. Definitely agree with you on this. I much prefer to know even one minute thing about your MC that'll make me want to go the distance with him/her before the fireworks hit.

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  22. Excellent advice. I especially like this: I NEED to be immersed in the scene, not hit over the head with it. ha!

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  23. He he he - thanks everyone! JL and Doralynn welcome! Glad you liked it.

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  24. Excellent advice. I think people often think that 'start with the action' means 'start with action'. It doesn't--it means you need to start with something that draws us in and shows us what this book is going to be about!

    Although I could deal with starting with a bang if it involved Godzilla and a prom.

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  25. LOL I LOVE that somebody finally says this. The #1 reason I put a book down in the first few pages is not that it didn't grab me and excite me, but that I didn't bond to the characters. Some people just throw too much chaos in there and you feel like you can't cling to anything. If I don't care about the people you're introducing to us, I won't read it past page 5, period.

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  26. We must resist the temptation - even of Godzilla at prom.

    And I'm not sure I'm really the first to say this, but I'm glad I mad it clear!

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  27. Great tip! I need to rewrite my opening but I'm struggling with where to begin! It's good to remember that you don't have to start with an action-packed scene. I agree with the above commenters who said that you need to start at a place where the reader can get to know the MC.

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  28. I also don't care for action-packed beginnings. Not only is there no bond with the characters, but sometimes they're confusing.

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  29. LOL - I'm going to start using that example (the what-not-to-do)! Do you get the feeling that sometimes the blogosphere creates it's own problems in some ways? Anyway, the best description I've ever read was in McKee's book: start with the Inciting Incident, but only if it makes sense (sometimes you can!). Otherwise, put exactly as much information (no more, no less) than is what's necessary for us to completely understand the Inciting Incident before it.

    Not that this is easy to do, but it helps keep me pointed in the right direction. :)

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  30. Ha ha! Action is okay - but it can't be the deciding factor, it's really about letting the MC reveal his/herself to the reader. And Susan - I love that advice. Well said!

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  31. I think people confuse having tension in your opening scene with having wham-bam action. They aren't the same thing. I think action scenes could open up a novel, but it would have to be done really, really, really well. Really.

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  32. Thank you Thank you! Yes exploding vampire zombies killing the werewolf angel morph on the first page with the xemsdkjwsks machines....may be in literary fashion right now....but

    why do I care?
    How do I know your vamps don't explode every day?
    If I can't pronounce it - could it not be in the first paragraph.
    Reaching your word count does not mean your story is over - if you can't close it - don't open it....it just makes me mad. If you just stop typing - you better have had an exploding vampire malfunction - or I won't play book two. I can deal with a little cliff hanger - but don't just refuse to finish the story.

    I hope this fashion passes - nobody will want to read anything if every single book ends up having that formula alone.

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  33. Howlynn - Ahhh Exploding vampires! LOL why didn't I think of that?? He he. I doubt that kind of manuscript would get very far honestly, unless of course you really make me care about the vampire who's going to explode. :D Thanks for the great comment!

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