Bad Advice for Writers

question-markI have a book on my tablet which is all about how to write the opening of your novel or story. The goal, of course, is to produce a hook which draws the reader in and gets them excited about your story right away.

It’s good advice. Except…it’s not.

See, the problem with a great hook is, you have to somehow follow that up with lots of other great hooks. You need a hook to get them into the story, then another to get them to the next act, and you need a great story question which is brought on by the inciting incident and/or first plot point, and you have to have a great hook halfway through the second act’s first half to hurl the reader on to the midpoint, which has to have a great hook to keep them going to the next hook…

One problem with advice like this is, in my not-so-expert view, that it causes writers to focus on a single aspect of their work. The author starts by decrying calling one’s manuscript a “piece” because the body of the work is a whole, not sections…and then proceeds to try and teach (as the writer has taught myriad students, so the claim states) writers to perfect…what?

The opening of the story, novel, book, story. A piece of it. Ironic, no? Of course, the author makes this point in the book, but the point is the same. The idea of focusing so intently on a single aspect of the story is a disastrous one, in my opinion. So many writers are still clawing like mewling piglets for the teat of the great Industry of Publishing and to lick the boots of the gatekeepers, this book finds broad audience still, even in our age of digital publishing and elimination of Gatekeepers and the Great Industry.

And that’s the second thing wrong with advice like this. It’s directed dead-on at the legacy publishing industry and their archaic “guidelines” and “rules” which, if you’ve paid any attention to the industry in the last 60 years, are completely subjective, capricious, arbitrary, and changing all the time. Just not as fast as the screw-job contracts they continue to trot out.

But for me, the same effort must go into each of the sections of the book, not just the opening. Yes, the opening is critical. The reader is going to stick with or toss aside the book based on what they initially see (provided, of course, you’ve enticed them to buy the thing in the first place with your description, cover, price point, and sample – which includes the beginning). The first few paragraphs or pages are critical. They can make or break the deal, I’m sure.

But the fact remains, if you write an outstanding opening, and the reader is hooked and buys the book, they will  discard it if the rest of the writing isn’t up to snuff. I’ve tossed aside physical and digital books because of lousy writing well into the work. I’m not unique. The problem of poor writing can’t – and I think shouldn’t – be masked by a great opening. If anything, that’s an even bigger betrayal of the reader’s trust.

But I am but one man with an opinion. What’s yours?


2 thoughts on “Bad Advice for Writers

  1. I try not to get fooled by a good opening. I usually browse a book starting in the middle. I read a random sample of it and see if I find it compelling. If I do then I’ll go back and read the first page. I agree: a book must offer more than a good start in order to be a good book.

    This particular how-to book offers a lot of good advice about the writing process, but the title of the thing focuses on the opening. And like you, I believe a great opening is a dirty trick played on a reader. So good on you for tricking the great opening! Beware, though — it doesn’t work in electronic books. Samples are generally the opening few percent of the book.

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