AJ Reads ‘Plot & Structure’: Chapter 4

There’s a book out there that’s all about hooking the reader in the beginning; and I do mean all. It’s an OK book, but it grates on my nerves.

This single chapter outdoes that book in every way.

I really wish I’d read this chapter before starting on NaNoWriMo. Even moreso than LOCK, this is excellent stuff about starting your book out right—that is, achieving the following trophies:

  • Hook the reader (if I hear that phrase one more time…)
  • Get the reader to bond with the main character (!)
  • Story::World.start()
  • Story::Tone.start()
  • Get the reader to go on
  • Present opposition (!)

I’ve marked with ! the elements I felt most interesting in this chapter. Not to say that the others aren’t important—for instance, Bell covers what makes a good opening line in detail, the different kinds of prologues, in medias res, not slowing down, and more I liked to hook the reader—but the character-based elements I found the most interesting.

Bonding with the reader via the main character doesn’t mean that your lead is necessarily a likeable person (although that helps), but that you’ve got an intriguing character that the reader wants to find out more about (whether morbidly so or not). I like the main possible methods:

  • Identification. Harry Potter, for instance, the plainest-named and the everyman in the wizarding world. Bella Swan, as much as she is a reader-insert with a fill-yourself-in quality to her.

  • Sympathy. Basically, any Roald Dahl book.

  • Likability. Very basic: the usual natural selflessness, desire to help others, etc.

  • Inner conflict. Not too sure on this one, but it does make sense that your character shouldn’t be able to fly through life without a care in the world.

I think I hit these for my characters. Once I’m cold to the manuscript, I’ll get to see whether I succeeded.

Then there’s the opposition. They must be as strong as, or stronger than, the lead. This simple concept was sorely missing from my story, which took a lot of punch right out of it, and eliminated interesting possibilities for toe-to-toe competition.

What I’ve done now in the planning stage is add two gods to Euanth so that he has a gang—however, they’re not going be dumb lackeys, but strong characters in their own right: Helene and Dione. Two females and a male to go up against two females and a male. ((Transgender, female to male, but still a male despite a particular set-back in his way.)) I like it.

I also love one of the final sentences of this chapter:

Any type of novel can hook a reader, set tone, give a sense of motion, connect us with a character, and set the weels in motion.

Ah, James Scott Bell. You make me swoon for this book.

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