Monday, August 31, 2009

Hooked by Les Edgerton

Hooked by Les Edgerton, "write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go. Decent read, flows smooth, has some good examples of how to "show not tell"

Main point: Gotta start strong, right in the inciting incident, with no fancy words and backstory, right in the middle of the action. Open as quick as possible then dive into solving the problems.

Opening needs: 1)inciting incident, 2)main story problem (learn to love again) 3) surface problem (there's a bomb) 4) setup (where we're at, who's who, what's going on, as short as possible!) 5) backstory (absolute minimum possible! you can fill it in more depth later once you've hooked 'em) 6) brilliant opening sentence (opening sentence is what gets a publisher to buy your book) 7)language (strong, original verbs. don't pair adjectives (each additional one halves your power) use "said" instead of some overly fancy dialogue tag) 8) characters (introduce them to the reader by showing their reactions to the inciting incident. have them DOING stuff. don't say he's a miser, have him save his teabag in his fancy coat for reuse)(and don't overwhelm the reader with too many characters to early 9)setting (readers don't care about all that long flowy descriptive stuff you can right, quick and clever is better) 10)foreshadowing ("a brief hint of what's to take place at the end will make your story feel complete to the reader")

Readers have to live through the inciting incident and experience it with the characters so they can understand and care about it. Think smaller not bigger. If a bomb is your inciting incident how are you gonna top it, with a bigger bomb, bad idea. He says the inciting incident in Thelma and Louise is when Thelma decides to go on the trip without her husbands permission, not the rape, it's the first moment of defiance in her. So inciting incident won't be obvious enough for the protagonist to realize their "story problem" so you need a "surface problem" strong enough to get them moving (Thelma and Louise killing the rapist.) Surface problems can be overcome, but always lead to new ones, which gives us time to unfold how big the story problem is, until all problems get resolved in the end.

How do you figure out your story problem? Ask "why". You want to drag a dude around looking for the lost city of Xenon, WHY would he do this? Um.. to impress a girl. Can't he imress her another way? Um... there's this Walter guy who made our dude eat sand a year ago in front of the girl and now he has to prove he's a man to her because she's just looking at him with pity. Boom, there's your inciting incident, eating sand, and an antagonist, and probably our dude is really trying to get his self respect back for himself. etc, ask why and chase up reasons like that, pick them up put them down shuffle them around etc. Having trouble distinguishing between story and surface problems? You can photograph a resolution to a surface problem (getting the girl to love him = wedding photo)surface goals are particular while story ones are all encompassing and more general. Keep asking "what does my protagonist really want, so deep they don't even know it?" Try and get the goals entwined, Thelma and Louise running from the law works well with Thelma breaking free from men. You're antagonist's goals are probably opposite of your protagonist's but don't make him straight evil. Hal wants to capture Thelma and Louise because they're wanted for murder, and because he doesn't want them to wind up killed. The best story worthy problems are the writers own because you'll already be emotional about them, so you'll write stronger (if you can take it).

Always get your story down to particular individuals. It won't work to make a story about "Freedom", but it did work to write about Uncle Tom and his experience with slavery.

He was so mean that wherever he was standing became the bad part of town.
At that moment, the bad part was State Street just past Maplecrest, in the Georgetown Shopping Plaza. Behind it, actually, back by the dumpsters behind the Cap 'n Cork.
Into one one of which he was stuffing the body of his wife.

that's all the setup and backstory you need. Don't need to go into how he became a bastard right now, don't need to describe the town. Quick and Dirty, use words cleverly to crowbar the most important info into very few sentences.

We are used to noticing the big melodramatic moments, but the moments that really count are the dramatic moments. Dad dying is a melodramatic moment (big, huge, Thing), the first small realization of just what that death really means to our character = dramatic moment (intense, emotional, specific individual, to the bone.)

Show us who the characters are by their actions, and specific details. You don't need to give us specific's on how they look, we'll fill that in. "I was just finishing my afternoon flossing when I noticed the chip in my backup Peter Rabbit teacup." The audience starts forming an idea of who this person is based on flossing in the afternoon, and having at least 2 Peter Rabbit teacups.

Specific details can help paint vivid pictures. "He was forty eight, a fisherman, and had never caught a significant fish" the simple detail of "significant" makes that sentence much more interesting. Good writing is strong verbs and concrete nouns, not flowery useless adjectives and adverbs. Give the reader a character who's obviously cut from a different cloth then the everyman, and you create a compelling opening.

red flag bad openings: open with a dream, or an alarm clock buzzing, opening with dialogue (we probably won't know who is who), or too little dialogue (long walls of text)

Open short and sweet, quick scene giving a strong short flavor of who's involved and what the inciting incident is, then get to work to solve it.


Les Edgerton said...

Just wanted to thank you for the nice things you had to say about my book "Hooked." Whenever I find out something I wrote helped another writer, it makes my day.

Blue skies,
Les Edgerton

Alonso said...

ha ha, didn't expect to see you here. Thanks for the book, I got some good ideas and approaches from it. I hope if anyone else finds value from my notes they'll go check out the real thing themselves and get the rest of it.