Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Adavantage of Opening Story Questions About the Core Conflict

When you begin reading a novel, you begin a journey, not a bout of wandering. Opening story questions about the core conflict are like road signs that tell you whether you're headed toward Topeka or Timbuktu. Would you follow anybody on a journey if he didn't tell you where it lead? Of course not, because you know there are only bad reasons for him to withhold that information. At best, he does so for absurd, conceited reasons; at worst, he is a con artist.

In my opinion, contemporary authors undervalue these road signs. Business writers and technical writers learn the value of "stating the bottom line at the top" with an opening summary. Writing is like a trail, and an opening summary is like a compass heading that makes the trail much easier to follow, because it tremendously aids the reader in seeing what you're getting at. Long-range opening story questions about the core conflict are the fictional equivalent of that precious opening summary. Even if they are mysterious, they at least give the reader a heading. And she can always turn back to page one to get her bearings whenever she wonders what to make of the story. So, I think authors should strive for opening story questions about the core conflict.

But not at the price of selling the book. The aim of hooks is to hook the reader, so that is Job One. Try to make the bait irresistible. That's usually best done with catchy short-range story questions about exciting action or dialog in the opening scene. Which can hardly be about the core conflict, because you haven't set up the core conflict yet. But, whenever you resort to short-range hooks, remember to then start revealing the core conflict as soon as possible.

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