The second in a series of posts that expose and analyze the architecture of this novel.
A little business first.
Donna Lodge sent me a link to an interview with Kathryn Stockett (author of “The Help”), and it’s fascinating, scary and encouraging (writing often brings us a collision between those experiences).
“The Help” was rejected SIXTY TIMES… click HERE to read about it. And pay attention to Stockett’s final tip to other writers, it’s pure gold.
Also, at the end of this post you’ll find information on two workshops I’m delivering soon, both in Oregon. Nice there this time of year, just sayin’.
Also (one more)… my buddy Randy Ingermanson (co-author of “Writing Fiction for Dummies”) publishes the largest writing ezine on the planet (over 27, 000 subscribers). The latest issue is out, and, like all of his stuff, it’s worth your time… get it via Text or PDF. You can visit Randy’s site HERE.
Okay, let’s do this:
The Opening Salvo in “Bait and Switch”
I’m a huge advocate of mission-driven storytelling.
The mere existence of a structural paradigm for our stories – four parts, three major milestones, a handful of other strategically-placed narrative tent poles – creates a compelling path for our stories…
… and thus, a context that defines the mission of our scenes and the part in which they appear.
In other words, the scenes at the beginning of a novel are different than the rest of the scenes in the story. They have a unique mission. And they come from within a unique contextual expectation.
Some writers get this by instinct. Some only get it when the principles of story architecture have been shown to them (like, right here on Storyfix and in my book), and then, from that moment on, they see it in every book they read and movie they see.
It’s like a lightbulb going off. A cloud lifting. The truth illuminated. It’s architecture exposed.
It’s always there. You can’t unsee it, you can’t deny it.
And it’ll need to be there in your story, as well.
When I wrote “Bait,” everything about the mission and context for how the book opened was driven by this non-negotiable contextual architecture.
The Mission of Part 1 of Your Story
You should create a hook for the reader. Something that makes them want more.
You need to open a can of worms… lay the groundwork for an unfolding dramatic narrative (plot).
In Part 1 you must introduce the hero and show us a pre-plot point world view, including near-term goals (which will change at the First Plot Point).
You need to foreshadow.
You need to establish the world of your story.
You need to establish stakes, and on several levels. The reader should be invested in the hero (root for him or her, empathize). This is critical.
You have anywhere from 8 to 20 (or so) scenes to get this all down. Because when you get to Part 2 (after the First Plot Point), the mission and context of those scenes changes.
Understanding these contextual differences between the scenes in each of the four parts of your story – which allows you to properly define the mission of those scenes – is a major key to advancing to a publishable level.
All great stories do this.
It begins with a hook. In the case of “Bait and Switch,” I deliberately – strategically – opened with two of them.
The Two-Barbed Opening Hook
In mission-driven scene writing, even though they are infused with character, sub-text and voice, it is best to have a single mission in mind for each scene. Doing so avoids random, sprawling narrative in the name of characterization, which is the bane of newer writers and unpublished manuscripts.
“Bait” opens with a Prologue. It’s mission: to plant the seeds of a major corporate scandal and a cover-up that shows us these bad guys will kill to protect their secret. Who dies, and how, is less important than the exposure of a cover-up that will become the heart of the plot.
The hero isn’t in that opening scene.
The first barb of my dual-hook was plot-driven.
The next short scene is part of that hook: it is a thinly veiled intro of the character with a foreshadowing of the covert world he is about to enter. More tease, more hooking. By implication, this scene links to the Prologue… we know our hero will be in the center of all this darkness.
That’s barb #1: my intention was to hook you on the plot. To want to see what this all means, where it will go, and how it will involve a hero we haven’t met yet.
In the third scene (Chapter Two), we meet Wolfgang Schmitt, the hero of this story. It uses first person narrative to sweeten the intimacy of the reader’s relationship with Wolf. The story is actually very character-driven, despite a complicated (I’m told) plot, so this scene was critical.
It plays like a short story, a little mini-drama that really shows off Wolf’s character while setting the stage for plot advancement… which happens in the last sentence of the scene.
That’s called a cut and thrust, by the way. A zinger at the end of a scene that has satisfying resolution in it (the scene is very Tarantino-esque), but is now history (background context) as the story quickly advances into the main plot thread.
That scene is the second barb of my opening hook strategy.
By intention, we now love Wolf. We relate to him. He just did (in this scene) what we’ve all wanted to do in a business meeting from hell. And now he’s on to a new adventure… the one foreshadowed by the Prologue and Chapter one.
None of those three scenes could succeed without an understanding of the context of the Big Picture of the story and the unfolding dramatic narrative (plot). It’s all dripping with sub-text and context.
And yet, one of the barbs had a mission that exclusively targeted characterization, with that ending zinger.
The context was all about him becoming vulnerable to the offer that would suck him into the story (pure Part 1 context stuff)… and the mission was simply to show us this guy and make us fall in love with him.
Every scene needs to forward the story. The plot. Characterization is the suit of clothes, the paint, that makes the scenes work. That, and a little mini-drama that the scene presents and then resolves.
Mission-driven. Contextually linked. That’s the ticket… including your hook or hooks.
Here’s the skinny on the two workshops I’m teaching in Oregon:
October 1st, in Medford, Oregon.
It’s a two session (morning and afternoon) intro and overview of the Six Core Competencies, with a direct application to any WIP of the attendees. How to put this into practice.
Email Alisa (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Phil (email@example.com) for more info. The workshop is sponsored by the Southern Oregon Willamette Writers.
October 29 – 30 in Portland, Oregon. This is the whole Six Core Competencies enchilada.
It’s life changing. Okay, it’s at least career changing. And, as I like to say, slightly disturbing.
Click HERE for more on that one.
Hope to see you there!
More deconstruction of “Bait and Switch” to come. If you’ve read the book and would like to chip in (on the hooks or anything else), we’d love to hear from you.