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Book Review:

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at
Page One and Never Lets Them Go

Spring

By Scott Rhoades
Copyright 2007 by Scott Rhoades, All Rights Reserved


Title: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go

Author: Les Edgerton

Few subjects grab a writer's attention like the infamous hook. A recent first lines contest on agent Nathan Bransford's blog drew about 450 entries. Other agents and editors have blogged extensively on the subject. Obviously, this is a topic of considerable interest to writers, and one that editors and agents wish writers would learn more about. It seems most writers think we write good hooks, and many agents and editors disagree. 

In Hooked, prolific author Les Edgerton focuses an entire book on the topic. Edgerton doesn't limit himself to the first lines, however. The real hook is the first scene, which he says should be short and should thrust the protagonist into some deep trouble, with a hint that, as bad as things are now, they're only going to get worse. Trouble, according to Edgerton, is what keeps a reader interested. 

The book is enjoyable to read. It's written in a homey style that only occasionally goes a little too far. And it instructs well. Most articles about hooks start and stop with "write a brilliant first sentence." Edgerton goes into that, but he spends much more time discussing the purpose of the opening scene and how to grab a reader with a promise of escalating difficulties. 

Get to the inciting incident as quickly as possible, he says. Limit backstory, scenery, and other exposition in that crucial first scene. Get to the story problem as fast as you can. Over and over, he discusses how important trouble is. If you start with an interesting character in trouble, and that trouble looks like it's going to get worse, you've probably hooked your reader. 

No book is perfect, and Hooked is no exception. Edgerton uses one particular example from his own work a few too many times, one that didn't appeal to me nearly as much as it does to the author himself. He also used one of my pet peeves five or six times: "just that," as in, "The opening of a short story or novel is just that--the very beginning." And as is true of any instructional book, some parts are likely to drag a little, usually those sections that are about things the reader already knows.  

Those minor flaws aside, this is an instructional book and an instructional book is just that--a book of instructions. (Couldn't resist. It hurt a little to write the sentence, though.) As such, Hooked should be judged on how well it instructs. If after only a few chapters, you want to put the book down and go change your first scene, the book has done its job. 

Just make sure you come back to Edgerton's book after you make those fixes. You'll want to get to the final chapter, in which agents and editors discuss, in their own words, the goods, the bads, and the uglies of story openings. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book. It's an exclamation mark on everything that has come before. If you disagree with some of Edgerton's points, these comments from the people you have to sell your book to will bring you to the reality that ignoring his instructions is likely to net you more than your share of rejections. 

The rest of the book will make you think harder about your story hooks. It will leave you with little doubt that doing things the old way, beginning with a lot of description and characterization, will net you a whole bunch of rejections. On the other hand, starting with action and an interesting character's problem gets you much closer to bookstore shelves. 

Hooked does what many writers wish more writing books would do. It focuses on one small aspect of writing and discusses it intelligently and respectfully, as if the reader already knows how to write. Although beginners might benefit from the book, it is written more for intermediate and advanced writers. Edgerton assumes you already know how to write, but you want to improve your skills with a single, narrow aspect of writing. I wish more books would do that this well. 

Title: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go

Author: Les Edgerton

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Writers Digest Books (April 12, 2007)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1582974578

ISBN-13: 978-1582974576