Friday, December 10, 2010

Craft Book of the Month: The First Five Pages

When I lived in Japan one of my mentors introduced me to the phrase 師走(Shiwasu). It's the old Japanese name for December and literally means "teachers running." The idea was that December was so busy that even such an exalted personage as a teacher would be seen running about.

My December is certainly beginning to feel a bit 師走(Shiwasu). Which means that blog posts may be a bit erratic in the next couple of weeks. However, I do need to honor my promise to you all to press on with my examination of the Craft Book of the Month--and this week's episode is about Hooks.

Noah Lukeman is a tough taskmaster, and his chapter 14 (Hooks) is no exception. Here, in the clearest of terms, he shows that he is interested in showing the distinction between someone writing for money and a writer. After he points out that Ovid said one should wait nine years after finishing one's work before seeking publication, Lukeman asks:
Does the intensity of the hook end with one line? One paragraph? One page? Of course, an opening line is a special thing, and it is nearly impossible to maintain its intensity for an entire text--yet we can look to see if there is at least some sustenance, if some traces remain. I am often amazed by how many manuscripts begin with good first lines--and good openings in general--and then fall apart; it is actually rare to see the intensity found in a first (or last) line maintained throughout a manuscript.
Lukeman cautions us against thinking that a hook has to be an intense opening line. He claims that
what is impressive to the professional reader is not initial intensity but maintained intensity... I often find that manuscripts with more subdued openings tend to be the best... These writers don't write an opening for the sake of an opening, but for the sake of the story that follows.
In closing the chapter with his usual exercises, Lukeman asks us to
pretend the paragraph at hand, no matter where it falls in the book, is the opening of your novel; pretend the paragraph's closing is your book's finale.
Writing like this will allow for greater focus and intensity throughout the novel. For,as Noah Lukeman says, "everything in writing is cumulative."

I hope you are not running like a teacher this December. There will be more Noah Lukeman next week.


  1. I will have to add this one to my vocabulary, it is so visual. I love it.
    I am not a professional reader, but I love a good opening paragraph. But so true you lose me as a reader if you go soft in the SO many current books do. The last book that I TRULY loved from beginning to end was..The Art Of Racing In the Rain...
    Most books break down like he how do they all get published? Tastes I guess different tastes...
    I am currently working on a story with a witch in opening wonderful I read it all the time..But it is hard to continue that pacing and intensity...maybe that is my intense..I will think on this thank you Michael...have a wonderful running like a teacher...
    Have you read the book DARE TO BE A GREAT WRITER by Leonard Bishop? It's a good one too

  2. Thanks for the book tip, Suz. I'm always on the look out for good books on writing!


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