Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't Get Fooled

Being a novice writer whose degree is not in English, literature, or any kind of writing, I struggle a bit with plotting. The whole three-act structure is kind of a mystery to me. It seems like something that you impose after reading a story, not something you can really plan ahead of time without seeming boring and formulaic. As in, "I must have a first act, so this is it, and here is the second act, and look at this nice climax I've added, and don't you just love what I've done with the denouement, Darling?"

I took French, so I can pronounce that correctly - "DAY-new-montt."

I remember in high school classes how we would analyze all these books and write five paragraph essays about them. And then I had to write a term paper comparing and contrasting three novels of the same genre. Again, with three main points, each one explained by its own mini-five paragraph essay.  Surprise - I picked the Lord of The Rings, Out of the Silent Planet and Earthsea. It was horrible digging up all the points I needed and putting them in the correct logical order, even though they were all great books to read and research.

I think that writing a three-act novel would be about as exciting as writing that term paper. So I'm just writing it, and I'll let the future American Lit students figure it out for me.

But, I had a revelation last week when I stumbled across this article at Hook vs. First Plot Point - Don't Get Fooled.

I think that I've been trying to make my first plot point my hook, and I need to go back to what I was doing and allow some buildup.

How are you handling the whole "hook" issue? How are you getting your readers hooked on your story, and how much do you reveal about the actual plot in the first few pages?  How much do you think you need to reveal to hold your readers' interest?

P.S. for more info on story structure, look here and here.


  1. Great post! Unless you're absolutely brilliant, I don't think you necessarily come up with a great hook right off the bat. I think you need to come up with a story, do an outline, then figure out the hook and where the story starts. They always say, start where the action is. I guess that's as good a place as any.

  2. I agree with Anne about coming up with the story before your hook. I haven't tried to outline. I came up with my story in my head then wrote my first draft (I'm a pantser). I didn't come up with my hook until I started revising.
    I have read to touch upon your entire plot in your first chapter. I'm not sure I've fulfulled that yet.
    I would do what feels right. You will feel it in your gut.
    Great post!

  3. Christine, my degree is in Chemical Engineering. The only time I went on the lit-side of campus was to watch the chicks stroll by.

    But, with that said, I do believe writing cain't be learnt noways.

    What thuh! Yep. Can't be learned. Sorry. (and here's my hook. See it?)

    It's like music, so lemme go with that one. Anybody can learn to play the drums (I'm a drummer). Some play pretty well. Some are GREAT drummers.

    But that doesn't mean they can write music, see, or even bang out a good cadence. It just means they can READ music and react.

    Same with literature. Knowing the hows and what-fors helps, sure, I'm not saying an MFA doesn't help your writing -- it does.

    But on the same note, plenty of writers are self-taught, as are many, MANY musicians.

    Vonnegut comes to mind. Crichton. Grishom. Clancy. Christine. Eric.

    For the plot article, I'll be honest and say I skimmed and yawned through the posted article you attached. Far too constrictive for me, following so many rules, and his writing was dull and commercial and predictable and written not from the heart, but from the wallet.

    Hook the reader. Der. Hook em early. Der. I saw a lot of "how" in that article, but not a lot of "why".

    And Christine, my dear, knowing HOW makes you good at something. Knowing WHY makes you genius.


    WHY do you hook the reader? To keep em reading.

    WHY do you want them to read? Because you have a great story.

    WHY do you have a great story? Because you have great characters.

    WHY should they ready YOUR story? Because you have a great writing STYLE.

    See the order there? Hook. Characters. Style.

    No mention of plot. The article didn't address characters, or setting, or style, just hook and plot, and Christine, oh, Christine, there is SOOO much more to a great story than a hook and a plot.

    Story is the bones, character the bloody heart. Plot is just the road they take.

    And no reader in the history of literature has given a whit about the road, not even the one with yellow bricks.

    They love the writing and the characters and the story.

    Give us characters we love, write from your heart, play by ear, and I bet you'll make some beautiful music.

    - Eric

  4. The article makes some interesting points and observations, but I'm always a little wary when someone wants to reduce writing to a math formula. The muse doesn't like that sort of thing and tends to either go silent or get ornerly. JME.

  5. I will usually go back and rewrite my opening when i'm done the first draft because then I know my story better.
    But James Scott Bell has some really awesome pointers in his book "The Art of War for Writers".

  6. Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for coming by! I've heard of that book. I was really disappointed when I realized it was not, in fact, about warfare (i.e. how to write good battle scenes.)
    Seriously, that's what I thought it was! LOL!

  7. Eric, you are so very encouraging... thank you!!! But, you are also so dynamic, I doubt many of us mere mortals can follow in your footsteps. Is that Red Bull you're drinking?

    Anyway, I'm really stuck in a bad place with my beginning. I keep going back and forth. I think I'm just going to keep moving forward with my revisions, and go back and figure it out when I'm done.

    I know the book is not working structure-wise; feedback in that area is clear. There's so much going on with my plot, it's hard to figure out where the correct starting point is. But I really do think I mixed up the hook and the first plot point. I'm doing some more research on story structure to try to figure it out.

    I totally get what you are saying about characters, voice, etc. But I also totally get what Larry Brooks and Ray Rhamey and others are saying about the need for good structure in order to tell the story. Like bones for a human being. We're all different, but we all have the same basic structure underneath.

    I have bitten off just a *bit* more than I can chew for my first finished novel. I just have to keep chewing, I guess.

    Pass the A-1 sauce.

  8. so many good comments, i don't even know that i should add anything. i guess i could say, find your style (not J. S. Bell's style or Angela Hunt's style or Randy Ingermanson's style). write the best story you can write. the story that's begging to be written. the story that wouldn't exist if you didn't write it. that's the kind of story i want to read - one that comes straight from the writer's heart. if it fits a plotting style, fine. if it doesn't, who cares?

  9. Hemingway said it best, Christine, regarding first drafts: "The first draft of anything is shit."

    So, you're on the right track!

    I paraphrase to "All first drafts are shit," and I think that phrase OFTEN.

    He also said: "There is nothing at all to writing. You sit at a typewriter and bleed."

    Sorry if you mind cursing. Writing will make you create new curse words every time you sit at the keyboard.

    Keep going. Keep cursing. Keep writing. Keep making crappy drafts, and with each draft it'll get less crappy.

    Man. I need to take my own advice! I'm at the beginning of a new WIP write now (get it, write now).

    - Eric

  10. PS, Christine, I granted you an AWARD over at Digging

    Thanks for being my 50th follower!

    - Eric

  11. I had no idea how to go about creating a plot and a hook and I DO have a degree in English and Literature! LOL I think it just takes practice - becasue what you start out thinking is a great plot/hook, so is not until someone sheds some light that had been writing for years and years! :)

    Don’t miss out on my contest!

  12. Thanks for the link to the helpful article and also the reminder about hook and plot point. I think I read somewhere that editors are looking for a hook within the first 50 words...thats right...words. Sheesh!

    Anyway, read your last line the other day and loved it. Then I saw you on Digging With the Worms and hopped on over to follow. Great post.

  13. Thank you, Raquel!!! I'm going to go visit your blog when I have some time to really dig around there. I'm preparing my students for final exams during the next week or so, then giving/grading them. After that, I'll have some free time.


I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.