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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    When I saw him shot through the head, it was unexpected, but it was less of a surprise than one might think. I had seen it before. It was always the same. Driven by some reflexive impulse I couldn’t seem to overcome, I looked up and followed the trajectory from which the shot must have originated.

    But there was nothing there.

    People spilled sideways, parting like the sea to make space for a strange man lying motionless on the pavement. What had been a single crowd of persons moving in a uniform pattern towards their various points of destination split down the middle so that a single tear was visible in their formation. As was generally the case, I was the only one who stopped. I always stopped. Even if I couldn’t look, I stopped.
    —Elizabeth Leslie

    Developmental Edit

    This hook is packed to the gills with questions—good job!

    Tense? check
    Intriguing? check
    Raises a question? check check Who got shot? Why isn’t anything at the source of the bullet’s trajectory?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check check Why doesn’t anyone else stop? (Why is that generally the case in this character’s experience?) And why can’t this character look sometimes?

    What does this paragraph tell us about the book we’re starting? A character with a background in analyzing shooting scenes comes across someone shot through the head on a busy sidewalk and is the only one to stop. And there’s no evidence where there should be evidence.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? I’ll follow them to the next page, at least. They’re rather blase about shooting victims and can’t look at certain things, and that’s intriguing enough to keep me going.

    Genre? Mystery? Thriller? I’m guessing maybe a paranormal element because it turns out there’s nothing where there ought to be something. It might also be futuristic sci fi, since this character’s from an environment in which it’s normal for pedestrians not to stop for a dead body.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? Well, I’m okay with this amount of information for now. But there should be more pretty quick. Particularly, I think we should know why pedestrians in this world don’t normally stop for something like this.

    Do we need to know what the character’s going to do next? I’d like to know why they can’t look sometimes. That seems paramount, considering this time they looked at both the bullet wound and the trajectory.

    Does this paragraph drop us right smack in a specific moment in this character’s story? Indubitably.

    So let’s talk about the structure of it. The first sentence is a bit awkward. And there’s a problem with the use of the word “trajectory,” since a bullet doesn’t originate from its trajectory. I’m a bit confused by the descriptive paragraph, too, because it seems to be from high above the protagonist. Can this be made shorter and snappier, while clarifying the language?

    Copy & Line Edit

    It was unexpected, but it was less of a surprise than one might think. I had seen it before. It was always the same. Driven by some reflexive impulse I couldn’t seem to control, I looked from the man on the pavement with a bullet in his head to the point at which the shot must have originated.

    But there was nothing there.

    People spilled sideways, parting around the body. As was generally the case, I was the only one who stopped. I always stopped. Even if I couldn’t look, I stopped.

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    8 Comments

8 Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: When I saw him shot through the head—”

  1. It seems I was unclear about the “looking” part. The narrator looked at the moment when the man was shot because, even if you’ve seen it before, it probably catches your attention when you see someone shot through the head. Therefore, looking when the man was shot was an involuntary act he would prefer to have avoided. However, once the man is dead and lying on the ground, the narrator feels the need to stop. To show some recognition, and some respect, for this person’s death that is being treated so meaninglessly by others. It is at this point, that he is unable to look. Now, that he is in a position to make a decision. When I wrote “Even IF I couldn’t look…” I didn’t mean to imply that sometimes he looked at the body and sometimes he didn’t. Maybe it would be clearer if I wrote something like, “Even though I could never look, I stopped.”

    I also have a concern that I have written a hook that does not properly represent the book as a whole. Because I know that I’m supposed to start the book with an action scene that introduces questions,I have done so. But the book is actually literary, and while violence in different forms plays an integral role in the story, most of the violence takes place mostly in the background, and the story is largely character driven. The genre is actually literary. But am I conveying this to my readers by using this hook? Will they read the hook and then be disappointed later on?

    I appreciate the feedback of you, Ms. Mixon, and also that of any others. I am so intimately familiar with the characters and the story that it can be difficult for me to detect where things I have written may be unclear to others. I also appreciate all feedback in general.

  2. Yes, it is excrutiatingly difficult, Beth, to read our own work and see only the words and not the characters and story we know should be there. Believe me—it’s excrutiating for everyone, even those of us who work on other peoples’ writing all the time!

    If you mean to show the actual moment of the shot being fired, you need to be absolutely clear in describing that moment, particular for a first sentence. The use of the verb “shot” lends itself in English to ambiguity, because you could mean either the perfect tense, “being shot right now,” or the pluperfect, “having been shot.” All we know for sure right now is that this is the moment in which the protagonist makes themself known to the reader.

    If your work is literary and violence is not the point of it, I would choose the first event in your story that is significant to the point. Violence is not the only action that can introduce questions. Sometimes someone turning away in silence from a speaker can introduce significant questions. What’s important is that the reader get the ambiance you intend in your literary work, because like little ducklings they will imprint upon your hook and carry it with them throughout the rest of the novel.

    We’ll be talking about this in-depth in the Fictional Structure Workshop that’s beginning next week: where to start your story, how to develop it, when to spring the climax on your readers, and what it means to resolve your characters’ dilemma in the very end. Participants will have a chance design and fine-tune an entire novel-length plot, either from a Work-In-Progress or from a new plot dreamed up in the first assignment.

    Victoria

  3. *rubs hands together* – I love this! And what makes it even better is that you say it’s literary. I’ve written a fairly literary piece that starts with someone getting shot in the head. It was in the last set of hooks. Sounds like I need to go check out your blog. I have such a hard time finding other writers who write similar stuff as myself!

  4. Unfortunately, Beth, I can’t find your blog. I’m hoping you’ll guide me to you, somehow!!!

  5. Hi Lady Glamis,

    I’m so glad you like it. So far, the agents haven’t been leaping at me with offers. It’s refreshing to hear that someone would be interested.

    You can’t find my blog because I don’t have one. I’m VERY new at all this stuff. I just started writing books (thinking that’s all there was to it), and it’s slowly becoming apparent to me all the other things that are required — in addition to simply writing books. I know you can blog for free but, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what I would write on a blog. I definitely feel like I should start blogging, and this is just more evidence to that effect. Do you have any tips for starting a blog? I looked at your blog, and it looks quite sophisticated. Did you need a program like DreamWeaver to set it up? I see other peoples’ blogs, but I’m having a hard time making the leap. I guess I have “blogger’s block.” And I need to get DreamWeaver. So much to do, so little time.

  6. You don’t need Dreamweaver, Beth – there are plenty of blogging platforms that will have you up and running in no time with a blog of your own. 🙂

    I just wanted to say that I love this hook. It definitely feels very “literary” to me, and while I’m not one who reads a lot of that, I’d certainly be interested in picking up a book that started with this. Very nicely done, I think – intriguing.

  7. Hi Jamie D.

    Thank you for your encouraging feedback.

    Beth

  8. Beth, go ahead and email me! (ladyglamis at gmail dot com). You don’t need Dreamweaver. Blogger.com lets you do it for free and it’s quite easy. I have a series on my blog about blogging you might want to check out:

    Create A Shiny Blog

    I don’t cover the basic basics, but if you need any help, I’d be more than happy to help you get started if you send me an email. Not every writer has to have a blog, by the way, but it’s certainly fun. 🙂




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STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


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