Tuesday, June 3, 2008


In my current obsession, er, focus, on story openings, I've been scouring everywhere that writing advice exists, and came across a little book, about 5x7 and bright cerulean blue, titled Hooked. Despite my gimmick-o-meter flashing (danger, author resorting to non-standard size and blinding colors, stay away!) I picked it up. I read a whole chapter standing in the "writing and publishing" aisle and was, yes, hooked. (Insert groan or drum beat as appropriate.)

Besides being an entertaining read, this little book offers advice that is up-to-date and direct. The gimmick is really in the presentation only. Here are a few things I like about it:

  • The author gives a list of opening essentials, ordered according to the importance of each. This is tricky. On the one hand, how does one distill art into a list? On the other hand, a writer who doesn't take a stand or define the hard-to-define will only offer advice that drifts into obvious platitudes.
  • He tells it straight. Of prologues, he says it is "...a section of backstory or setup relabeled as prologue. It' ain't foolin' nobody, chum."
  • Yet he never says never. As strongly as he recommends against prologues, he actually has a section on frame-story (stories that begin with a prologue and ends with an epilogue) openings. Once again, he manages to maneuver the tricky waters between not waffling and recognizing that exceptions exist for every rule.
  • He references movies, and not n a disparaging manner either. Thelma and Louise is used several times as an example to explain inciting incidents and story-worthy verses initial surface problems. Even more interesting is that he attributes the current state of fiction-writing as partially indebted to movie-making. Imagine that, one of the oldest forms of story-telling being indebted to the new kid on the block!
  • He gives lots of examples and explains why he likes each one, usually enthusiastically, with exclamation points! It's so refreshing to have a sense of the person and his passion behind the words, especially in writing-advice books where all the sentences are trimmed of excess words and exclamation marks are nowhere to be found.
  • For a book ostensibly about openings, he manages to touch on the writing of the whole novel/story. To write a strong opening, he says, we need to figure out the story-worthy problem.

I believe this last point is where the crux of the matter lies. Lots of story openings don't work because the stories don't work. It’s easy to belly ache about the injustice of having our thousands of words judged on the merit of a mere few hundred, but this little book about story openings has sneaked in a new question in my mind not only about my story beginnings, but my stories period.

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