In a previous blog I mentioned a book called ‘Hooked’ by Les Edgerton, who writes about how to write. It’s one thing to read a book on how to improve your writing but what’s the point if you don’t apply the principles? One of the most interesting observations in the Edgerton book is his belief that there are lots of good books that never get published because they start in the wrong place. According to Edgerton one of the most common problems is that many stories begin with what he would consider ‘back story’. If you’re an author, you likely have spent endless hours thinking about what motivates your characters. You have all sorts of information about them that helps make sense of their actions. You believe that your readers will need all this background in order to make sense of the plot. Edgerton would argue that you don’t – that too much background placed too soon into the story will turn readers off.
Edgerton likes the idea of an ‘inciting incident’ – a ‘something that happens’ that draws the reader immediately into the story. He believes that the first sentence is critical in establishing the incident and creating mood, mystery and interest right from the start. The first incident leads implacably to other incidents until all is revealed and the reader is hopefully drawn into further reading because of the interest you’ve generated at the start.
Well, it sounds perfectly logical. In fact, I’ve been revising my three novels using this lens. I’ve recently finished re-working ‘The Odin Incident’ with Edgerton’s ideas in mind. I wrote this novel as a result of two ideas that collided. The first was drawn from an interest in Norse mythology. If you grew up with Marvel comics you might have a passing thought of overly muscular critters whacking people with magic hammers as they take on all comers in whatever dust up the writers dreamed up for that month’s issue. Odin, or Wotan, was the head god who entertained the noblest of fallen warriors, brought to his great house called Valhalla by winged women called Valkyries. Then there was Thor, with his magic hammer that flew back to his hand whenever he threw it at his foes. I don’t remember them ever giving much space to Freya, the mixed race magical goddess that had her own shack, called the Folkvang, where she entertained the fallen as well.
The second idea that spurred some inspiration was the possibility that all this northern valor might be far different than the reality. Maybe these mythical characters were really visitors from a technologically advanced world and the primitive earthlings they encountered viewed them as gods. What if these gods had clay feet? I was intrigued with the idea of Odin and Freya as business competitors in the hotel trade, running the two best establishments in Asgard. Let’s give both of them a penchant for high-stakes poker. Odin loses his hotel, the Valhalla, and brings a band of disgruntled followers to Midgard (our world) where he makes up all sorts of self-serving stories to assuage his wounded ego.
Then it becomes evident that Odin’s loss of the Valhalla begins a series of events that threaten the existence of every world – about five thousand years down the road. Stir in a couple of characters that might just have a chance to prevent Armageddon and you have an idea of where I’m aiming the story. Now I just have to decide if I’ve managed the right hook at the beginning. I’ll try a sample next week.
In writing it’s not easy to find the right hook on the chin.