So that’s what the hook in a story is all about.

Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart prove that an unforgettable scene needs both a woman and a man.
Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart prove that an unforgettable scene needs both a woman and a man.


I watch a lot of suns rise on the far side of the lake at my home in Hideaway.

I wish I didn’t. I wish I were asleep.

But time is the only gift we have, and I don’t want to waste either time or my gifts, so I sit in the dark of the morning and watch the world wake up. It does so slowly.

On good mornings, the Muse leaves me alone. I have thoughts, good and bad, but they sift through my brain at a leisurely pace. On bad days, the Muse beats the sun up.

He says he simply drops by to visit. He’s lying.

The Muse is there to finish off the coffee, sweep the crumbs from the table, and hurry me back to work. His schedule is pretty brutal.

Maybe the best book ever written on the art of writing.
Maybe the best book ever written on the art of writing.

I need a scene rattling around in my head by 5:30. That’s what he tells me. I need to have a conversation with my lead character by six o’clock just so I have an idea of what will be happening during the next thousand words or so.

It’s always a short conversation. Mainly he wants to know if I have any plans to kill him off by noon.

“I think you should,” the Muse says.

“Why?” I want to know.

“He saved a girl’s life in chapter three,” the Muse says.

“He did.”

“He was in her bedroom drinking wine by chapter five,” the Muse says.

“He was.”

“She was in his arms by chapter seven,” the Muse says.

“Cheek to cheek,” I tell him.

“He kisses her once,” the Muse says.

“Once is enough,” I say.

“Then he walks out the door.”

“He has a job to do.”

“Does he leave to save the Western civilized world?” the Muse wants to know.

“He doesn’t.”

“Then I don’t think the job’s as important as the girl?” the Muse says.

“It is to the hero,” I say.

“That’s why the hero’s got to go,” the Muse says.

“Maybe you should spend some time with the girl,” I tell the Muse.

“I did.”

“And what did she tell you?”

“The hero’s got to go.” The Muse shrugs. “She thinks you need to bring in a real, red-blooded, hot and passionate American Romeo,” he says.

SecretsOfThe-LowerPix“What about the story?” I ask.

“She doesn’t give a damn about the story,” the Muse says.

“The hero stays.” I am adamant.

“Then you’ll lose the girl,” the Muse says.

“That happens to me a lot,” I say.

We watch the sun crease the sky. It’s no higher than the bottom limb of the oak tree, nothing more than a thin red line cutting through a thunderhead.

The morning promises rain. The morning is making false promises again. It does that a lot in Texas.

“What are you working on?” the Muse asks.

“I’ve just re-written and changed the hook.”

“That’s back at the beginning, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

“That’s like starting over.”

“More or less.”

“Why are you worried so much about the hook?” the Muse asks.

“I listened to a couple of pretty good writers this week,” I say.

“Who were they?”

“Caryl and Ron McAdoo,” I tell him. “They have a book deal with Simon and Schuster, and they quoted an agent who made a lot of sense.”

“What’d he say?”

“He said you better write the first sentence strong enough to persuade an agent or a reader to read the first paragraph,” I explain. “The first paragraph had better be good enough make them read the first page. If you don’t, the game’s over. They will set the book aside or throw it away and never read any more of it.”

“If that happens, you’ve just wasted the next hundred thousand words,” the Muse says.

“That’s about it.”

He pauses as a hint of daylight works its way across the lake.

“Did he tell you what the hook was?” the Muse asks.

“He did.” A slight wind ripples the water. “Ron quoted Lajos Egris,” I say. “He’s probably written the best book on writing there is – The Art of Dramatic Writing. And Egris says this about the opening of a book.: It should be a decision that leads to a crisis or a crisis that leads to a decision.”

“I can buy that,” the Muse says.

I nod.

“So how did you change your opening?” he asks.

I read the opening:  He saw the world come to an end on the far side of her eyes before he felt the ground trembling beneath his feet. Her eyes turned from hazel to a deep purple, and in an instant changed to molten pools of black obsidian. He didn’t see the flames, but he smelled them, sharp and pungent like campfire ashes on a morning coated with ice and isolation.

The night ended with neither a whimper nor a scream, but with the sound of a final and ragged breath that reached like a poor man’s eulogy toward a broken night sky, lit by a thousand Roman candles, and they grabbed him by the throat and drew him angrily into a foreign and distant place where the silence was as cold and oppressive as the dark.

“Well, at least you put a girl in it,” the Muse says.

“I thought she belonged,” I say.

“Is she dead?” the Muse asks.

I shrug. “I don’t know,” I say.

“If she is, then I’m not reading the book,” the Muse says.

“She’s not dead yet.”

The Muse grins. “How about the hero?” he asks.

“What can I say?” I tell him. “He’s the hero.”

“Do me a favor,” he says.

“What’s that?”

“If you have to make a decision between the two, I’d rather keep the girl and lose the hero.”

“What about the sequel?”

“If you kill the girl,” he says, “there won’t be a sequel.”

He walked away and faded into a streak of sunlight cutting through the oaks. I closed my eyes and saw the face of the girl. I suddenly had no idea what my hero looked like.

Maybe it was better that way.

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