Les Edgerton’s Hooked

Back in October, I talked about The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler. In that post, I mentioned Les Edgerton’s book Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go. I said I’d talk more about Edgerton’s book in another post.

So here we are.

With November and NaNoWriMo ending, and the new year heading our way fast, I thought this would be a good time to pick up this thread. Revision is, in a big part, about structure–about what happens when and which scenes go where. Edgerton’s book is solely and completely about the beginnings of a story, but (pardon the pun) that seems as good a place as any to start.

Edgerton talks about a lot of the same things Vogler does—at least in terms of the early part of the hero’s journey. Edgerton may not call everything by the same names, but in his chapters, you’ll find the ordinary world, the inciting incident, the threshold, etc. The big difference, though, between the two books is Edgerton’s emphasis on how quickly we, as writers, have to get those starting points onto the page.

I write fiction for kids–middle-grade and YA readers. These readers are not known for their patience with authors. You can blame it on action movies and video games, or you can credit these kids with the sense and intelligence to recognize and appreciate a tight, fast-moving opener. As someone who, in the past ten years went from reading (and loving) 700-page Victorian novels to devouring 250-page tense and terse, funny and furious YA books—I can say the decade has been a good education in writing.

Because it’s not just kids’ books that move more quickly today; it’s all books. At first, when you realize just how much Edgerton is asking you to do in the first chapter, first scene, first page, first paragraph, it’s intimidating. And part of your brain may go into the “I don’t have to” whine. But keep reading. And go back to the books you’ve lost most in the past couple of years. You’ll see that he’s right.

It’s not just that we’re told over and over that agents, if we’re lucky, read the first five pages. It’s not just that we know most book buyers skim the first page, maybe the last, then make their decision about whether to buy that book or leave it on the shelf where they found it. It’s that, these days, a good story sucks us in from Page 1, hooks us, and goes racing along so quickly that we have to grab on and ride, just to keep up.

This is the kind of story I want to be writing.

Thankfully, Edgerton doesn’t just point out the necessity of this kind of beginning. He gives thorough, detailed information about the big pieces of this skinny little beginning, and he follows up with seriously helpful (and funny) instructions for how to put those pieces together.

If you haven’t read Hooked, take a look. Especially, if you’re looking at a revision, post-NaNo or not, take a look. I think you’ll be glad.

And don’t forget to check out Martha Alderson’s blog, Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers, all through the month of December, for tips on plotting out your revision. Martha will be guest-blogging here, too, soon!

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8 thoughts on “Les Edgerton’s Hooked

  1. Gary says:

    I enjoyed reading your article. Engaging readers in the story is a valuable skill. For me, character development is the most important part of a work of fiction. Only a few writers have the insight and inspiration to create characters who have a major impact on the reader (me). A new novel in a series with a one dimensional hero (spy, detective, lawyer, vampire, etc.) will sell because the reader is already hooked by the continuing story. It’s hard to imagine what motivates such a writer to keep going on. Harlan Coben decided to take a break in his very successful mystery series to attempt something that could increase his self respect.

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  2. beckylevine says:

    Gary,

    One of the things (the many things) Edgerton talks about is how to deal with background information about the character. You have to have SOME, although a lot less than we often think, but how do you put it in without slowing down the roll of the story. The book was a huge help to me on this, although it’s still a struggle!

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  3. Me too, me too! I am ripping through the Twilight series in a binge-like fashion for this very reason ~ I simply cannot stop! Not that the writing is that good, or I love the heroine that much. But, it’s GOT me.

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  4. beckylevine says:

    Gottawrite Girl–have you read Hooked? Does Twilight reflect what Edgerton talks about, do you think? (It’s been too long since I read T to remember.)

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  5. Hi Becky,
    Just wanted to send you a big thank-you for all the nice things you said about my book “Hooked.” I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciated your props! Best of luck in your own writing.

    Blue skies,
    Les Edgerton

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  6. Edgerton is no slouch of a teacher on this modern day imperative, introducing the nub of the conflict, action, and key characters early. I’ve been handing my dog-eared copy out to folks in my writers critique group. I don’t like pandering to low-attention readers–am I only adding to a bad trend?–but there’s a bunch of competition for what used to be “reading time.” Web site form should request “email” address, not “Mail” [address]. Following directions only erased my first version of this. Thx for good article, though, Becky. -RB

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  7. beckylevine says:

    Richard,

    Thanks for the post–I don’t know that it’s so much low-attention readers as that reading (and writing) styles shift and change over years. I like the quick starts just as much as I loved reading long, Victorian novels–when I was there.

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