Saturday, 7 December 2013

Hooking your reader

After the difference that Les Edgerton's book 'Finding your voice' made to me, I recently bought his book 'Hooked' to peruse as well.

Having received several more rejections of Rurik - in which the sentence 'it didn't really grab me' featured yet again - it's starting to become very clear that I have to do something different to what I am doing in order to catch an agent's attention. I think the opening is probably part of it.

Les talks in Hooked about lots of things you can improve to make your opening the best it can be, but the one I learnt most from was about identifying the 'inciting incident' - the thing that happens in the story that is the REAL reason the main character embarks on the journey that I, as the writer, take them on. He offers some useful examples which made me realise I had not identified the correct 'inciting incident' in Rurik...assuming I've understood this right!

Rurik's story opens with him waking up and cursing the fact he's not 13. He ponders for a while about the death of his father, which has meant the poor kid can't become an apprentice cobbler as planned. There is no money left to buy a new apprenticeship and Rurik's mother must remarry within 12 months to keep her home. So, over breakfast, Rurik's uncle offers to take the boy on as his apprentice instead - only Rurik has no idea what his uncle's job entails.

If Les is reading this, he's probably face-palming right now, because I've just listed at least three of the pet hates of editors and agents about openings; waking up, internal dialogue, eating breakfast...and I didn't even mention the backstory. Sorry, Les.

Laying all that aside, there's actually a bigger problem for me here; I'm struggling to decide what the inciting incident is - is it the death of Rurik's father, which sets off the whole train of events? Or is it actually the moment at which Rurik finds out about the plan for his new apprenticeship?

Gut feeling tells me it could well be the latter, in which case, I have also found my 'story-worthy problem' - the finding of a new apprenticeship. Not, as I'd originally thought, Rurik's adventure to find an object which is lost.

If that's the case, then I need to start my story later. Not much later, granted; but it definitely needs to start at the point where Rurik finds out about the apprenticeship. I feel a rewrite coming on...

If, like me, you're struggling with grabbing your reader from the start, it might be worth looking at Hooked. It might just make the all the difference.


  1. I read this, nodding all the way. My opening sentence of the current wip, the one I took to York, has a stonkingly brilliant opening sentence (she said modestly) but I then completely failed to cash in on it. Failed to identify (or fully flesh out) the MC, to add the proper amount of thrust to what the story was all about. And yes, I'm addressing that now (after a three month rest). But that said, not so long ago (but so long I can't remember which) I read a book with a fantastic, well-worked first chapter ... but it was downhill all the way from there.
    Really loved this post and the sharing of your experiences. Thank you. And I'm sure you'll eventually get Rurik knocked into shape.

    1. Thanks, Sandra - you've just summed up my worry; that I can get a good opening sentence, then I go downhill from there! Fingers crossed for your WIP! x

  2. Rules are made to be broken - my ww2 book starts with breakfast, but presented in a very different way. With Rurick, you could start with the moment he's on the dock side, with the harsh wind and the spray ect, and concentrate on his fear and trepidation,anger and sorrow - because then you'd see him on a physical as well as a literal cusp - the thing I've had to learn is to not put in any exposition at all at the start and have the confidence to launch into the action and trust the reader to catch up - which is a very hard one, and often I get pulled up for the opposite, people saying they don't know where something it set or when - a thing which never bothers me at all because I like to read and find that out! That's what a hook is, or what one of serval can be - the desire to know why someone is doing what they're doing, once the moment they're in has grabbed you.

    My amnesia in the one you've read is a device, a huge and old hoory one, that forces you to do that as a writer - live in the moment with no back story. It's very cliched in some ways, and yet it can work - perhaps try and imagine that you don't know why Rurick is doing anything, just see that he's doing something? We still loved it!

    1. Y'know what? That would've been my second choice for a starting point, Sophie - but to start there, I felt I then would have to backstory WHY Rurik was in that position.

      I don't know why I find it so hard to plunge into the action straightaway; I don't mind reading it, just don't feel comfortable writing it! And you don't know how glad I am to know that you still loved Rurik, in spite of his dodgy opening chapter! x