Skip to main content

Grappling with a hook and other crap that's nagging me

I opened up my latest manuscript, "There's Something Strange About Mr. Brickwell," with a pretty lame chapter.  It does all the basic stuff it needs to do, like introduce the narrator and her hometown and all that jazz.  And it worked pretty well to get me started so I could work on the rest of the book.

But last week I got held up on forward progress because the opening was kinda pissing me off.  There's simply not a hook.

It's the kind of thing that I should be tabling for now.  I shouldn't be revising things yet.  Right now is first draft time, which means it's fine for me to have a shitty opening as long as I'm getting words on the page.  Still.  I can't let it go.  That seems to be my way - it's like waking up at 3 AM and you wonder if you should go clean the kitchen, and now you can't sleep until you do.

I mean, just look at this mess - there's no tension or anything.  It's just like, "Hey, I'm the main character, here's where I live, nothing happens.  You want to keep reading or what?  'Cause I'm gonna keep talking for awhile before anything interesting happens."

I'm finding more and more lately that the hardest part I have with a story is giving it an interesting first chapter.  Looking back at my past work, I think I've gotten progressively better, but I'm still not quite where I want to be.  Born Loser lets you know that there's a bank robbery within the first sentence, so that's good.  But nothing actually happens until chapter 2.  (It gets really, really exciting once they rob the bank in chapter 5, though.  Trust me.  You should really go buy a copy and find out.  Hell, go today and get a copy for free.)

There's just too much information that the reader is going to need to know for chapters 5 and on to make sense, so I spend chapters 1 through 4 just seeding the basics.  And that's what I've done with my post-apocalyptic comedy book, and it's the same thing I'm doing with "Brickwell."

It comes down to the same old inner conflict I have about anything I write.  At what point have I given enough context and exposition that I can comfortably dwell on plot?

This absolutely destroyed me with Bitter People Without Souls.  I really wish I had a bigger circle of readers to use as a focus group with that one.  I'm proud of the end product, but I'm well aware how dense the first few chapters are.  I don't feel like the plot really gets cooking until maybe a third of the way in, but there's just so much about the universe that I was setting up.  I'd love to get a test group to read a condensed version and tell me if it still makes sense.

So, I have a prediction: my books will languish in obscurity for decades and then I'll die.

Wait.  That's not what I was thinking.  I mean, it is what I was thinking, but... let me try again.

I predict that many years from now, I'll have a modest stack of sales for each my books, but Bitter People will be my worst-selling and least read product.  I think it's a great story and I want people to read it - but I freely admit it has no hook whatsoever until Mary decides to start stealing people's souls, which takes ages to happen.

Anyway.  I've still got time to work with "Brickwell."  Stay tuned for its inevitable release next year.