M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hard Hook, Soft Hook

The Read ... presented a different opening hook than the ones I've found in more recent books -- a soft hook.  I think I mentioned I found a used copy of Dorothy Gilman's Kaleidoscope published back in 2002 [maybe her last published book].  Now, I never cared much for her Mrs. Pollifax spy character but read the first The Clairvoyant Countess (Madame Karitska) several times.  [My favorite book of hers is The Nun in the Closet.]

More important, Ms. Gilman was chosen as this year's Grand Master (2010) at the Edgar Awards.  All in all, I'd say this is an author to pay attention to.  That said, I must say, Gilman's books don't fit the mold of the books I've been buying lately.

The hook feels passive when compared to current openings.  "Madame Karitska, leaving the shabby brownstone on Eighth Street, gave only a cursory glance at the sign in the first-floor window that read MADAME KARITSKA, READINGS.  It was ironic, she thought as she stepped into the bright noon sunshine, how a talent that had earned her whippings as a child, and for which she had never before accepted money, had led her so firmly to this street a year ago, and to this brownstone, to place the sign in the window that at last admitted her gift of clairvoyance."

A lot of info was packed in there, but I wonder if a working editor would sharpen the old red pencil and trim/change the opening paragraph.

More important than the opening hook being softer is the fact the structure of the whole book differs.  Today, publishing blogs from all sectors mention story arcs.  Imagine a covered esplanade with arches letting in the sunshine leading you from one point to another.

Gilman works with entwined threads of vignettes of Madame Karitska's clients, some pertinent to the continuing story and some one time happenings.  I often felt like Gilman was trailing a number of red herrings behind her.  Teasing the reader to guess which vignette adds pertinent plot info and which just adds color to the skein. 

I wonder if the book could still be published -- even though I enjoyed it immensely.  No danger made the reader care about the main character.  No plot offered a great puzzle to solve.  Indeed, Karitska is mostly a passive observer -- though she does get her ankle kicked by one of the villains in the book when he is arrested.  Karitska supplies the information, and the police solve the crimes.  The book, in this sense, almost feels like real life.

Progress ... Have been working on motivations.  Ye New Critiquer faulted me [rightly] for being too obtuse.  Now I've been going back and revising ... mostly beginning chapters.  For Kaffy Anne [Voices of Ghost Creek], I've been foreshadowing her ability to sense ghosts.  For Britt [There Be Demons], I've been adding more indications about what she wants to happen [and ain't].

For Emma, her expectations of bad luck are delivered right in the first chapter without anyone telling me I need to do more.

Trivia ... Bid for a critique on Nashville Relief.  Someone bid $5.00 higher minutes before midnight ended the auction.  I think I was asleep.  ...  Little green demon's saying:  Now you can keep your charity closer to home.


Linda L. Henk said...

The red pencil. My advisor in grad school used his pencil without hesitation. I haven't thought of that until now. I'm going to check out some of your fiction reads...been reading too much nonfiction of late.

Margo Berendsen said...

Where have I been? I have never heard of Dorothy Gilmore before. As usual you provide interesting insights.

And I love how you describe story-arcs: "Imagine a covered esplanade with arches letting in the sunshine leading you from one point to another."

Would you consider an Agatha Christy book as having a story arc? Miss Marple pretty much stays the same. I haven't read these in a long time, but I was just trying to think of successful books that don't have the prescribed arc.

Kay said...

I'll have to look at an Agatha Christie novel. It's been so long since I've read one. But, I'd think it'd still have some sort of story arc to it.