A beautiful wild flower meadow captured by my writing buddy, Jane Cooper.
Les Edgerton’s Hooked is one of my favourite books on writing. It’s a small gem which focuses exclusively on writing good beginnings. I stumbled across it in the sabbatical year when I wrote What Milo Saw and I know that the way Milo opens is in no small part due to what I learnt from this book.
Edgerton has a no nonsense way of telling writers to get to what matters and to focus less on what we feel like doing, like writing a long, flowery, philosophical prologue or being nice to our beloved characters, and more on giving the reader what he wants. Invariably, what the reader wants is tension, conflict and crisis. A crisis doesn’t need to be an earthquake or a car crash, it can be something small and subtle, but it must be vitally important to your protagonist.
Imagine that your character loves wild flower meadows – the one in the picture above is her favourite one, she can see it from her bedroom window. She’s made it her life’s work to campaign for the preservation of these places to make sure that wildlife and natural habitats survive. Tomorrow, the diggers are arriving: the piece of land has been bought by a major supermarket chain.
Here is how Edgerton puts it:
A protagonist should not gain anything easily. This is one of the toughest lessons for a writer to learn. In real life, you probably do everything in your power to avoid trouble or to reduce it whenever possible. In fiction, however, you need to seek out trouble for your protagonist at every possible opportunity. Even if he only wants a street address, make it hard to get! Each scene in a story is a battle, and the story entire is the war.
Hooked Les Edgerton, p16
Challenge: Write a scene today in which your protagonist’s desires are thwarted over and over again. Imagine your reader staying up late, her eyes dropping closed, longing for sleep: you want her to be so desperate to know what happens next that she keeps the light on and turns another page.