Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review - "Hooked" by Les Edgerton

The subtitle for this book is “Write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go”.  Isn’t this what we all want to do? We all know that if the opening to a book doesn’t grab an editor or agent in the first few lines, they’ll stop reading. This book aims to show writers how it’s done.

“Hooked” should be required reading for every writer. Les Edgerton does a great job of explaining what an opening scene has to accomplish and gives us detailed information as to how to craft that opening scene. I thought I knew a fair bit about openings, but this book taught me much more. Edgerton breaks down the parts of an opening into two components and ten distinct areas:

The primary components:

1. The inciting incident – The event or trouble that creates the character’s initial surface problem and hints at deeper problems under the surface. This is the problem that gets the story rolling.

2. The Story-Worthy problem – I’ve sometimes heard of this part of the story that operates on a more psychological level referred to as the internal conflict. The inciting incident may be the event that starts the story, but the story-worthy problem is what the novel or short story is all about.

3. The Initial Surface Problem – This is the problem that occurs as a direct result of the inciting incident. It may seem at first that this is what the story is about, but it’s not. There’s a deeper, more complicated story-worthy problem underneath that must be dealt with. The surface problem exists to propel the protagonist forward and take action and assists in the eventual revelation of the story-worthy problem.
4. The Setup – It ‘sets up’ the opening scene by giving information  that allows what will take place in the following scene to be clear to the reader. But don’t overdo. The general rule is to only give what’s absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the scene that will follow.

For example, in my own work, “Flawless” the inciting incident occurs when an agent from the Special Operations Executive springs jewel thief Hunter Smith from prison in England so that he can steal a priceless diamond, Le Coeur Bleu, from the Nazis in occupied France. This incident changes the course of Hunter’s life. The surface problem he faces is of course trying to find a way to steal the diamond without being caught. But along the way, as Hunter falls in love with French Resistance fighter Madeleine, he faces his real story-worthy problem; his inner belief that he is unworthy of love and will never be as good a man as Madeleine’s late husband, his friend Jean Philippe. I set up the opening scene by showing Hunter in an English jail, being interviewed by British spymaster Alastair Campbell. In the opening scene we learn he’s been in jail for jewel theft, that he’s American, and that his best friend Jean Philippe died trying to keep Le Coeur Bleu from the Nazis.

The Secondary Components:

5. Backstory – Backstory includes everything that’s happened up to the time of the inciting incident. A little backstory may be necessary in your opening scene, but Edgerton warns that putting too much backstory in your opening is dangerous; it can easily bog down readers in detail and worse, turn off editors and agents. Trust the reader to ‘get’ what’s going on without providing lengthy backstory.

6. The Opening Line – Edgerton says writers should spend a lot of time crafting this line. He says to make sure it creates a strong first impression.

7. Language – The opening is where you should create your most memorable language. Use original verbs and concrete nouns. Don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs.

8. Character Introduction – Introduce your characters by showing their reactions to the inciting incident. Those reactions reveal their personalities and create a first impression for the reader. Resist giving the character’s life story in the opening.

9. Setting – A glimpse of the setting should be included in the opening since it’s important to be grounded physically.

10. Foreshadowing – This means hinting at the action or obstacles to come. Foreshadowing may or may not be important to your novel, depending on the genre. For mysteries and thrillers, foreshadowing may be very important.

What I enjoyed most about “Hooked”, aside from all the good information, is that it is so readable. Edgerton uses lots of examples, and his style of writing is humorous and easy to read. Even though it’s a book on the craft of writing, and craft books can sometimes be a little dry, it’s an enjoyable book.
I highly recommend this book for writers of any genre. I know it’s one I’m going to refer to again and again. "Hooked" can be purchased at Amazon and at Writer's Digest Books.

Do you have a favorite opening line from a book?


  1. Sounds like a great resource book, Jana. I'll have to check it out.

    "One hundred and fifty-four f^&^ing inches of rain a year - and this little corner of the Colombian jungle was getting all of it tonight."

    That's the first line from Crazy Kisses by Tara Janzen (one of my favourite authors). I don't know why I remember this one particularly. I guess because it sets the tone right off the bat - there's trouble and it's only going to get worse! It's a bit shocking because of the language. I read it and I knew I'd been in for a great ride!

  2. I hope we don't have to squeeze all ten components into the first paragraph! LOL Great information here, Jana. The first line from my most recently submitted book, Nothing But Trouble, is probably my favorite of all the ones I've written.

    Chase Paladin slammed on the brakes and prayed.

    It has to make the reader wonder why and keep reading. At least I hope so!

  3. Jana,
    I've taken a course with Mary Buckham, and she recommends a similar list of hooks to incorporate at the start of your novel. I do my best!