I generally don’t care for “craft books” about writing. Most of them seem written more to show off the erudition and insights of the authors than to build the skills of the writers who read them for help. There are a few exceptions, and they’re all books that I’ve found I can put to work in my own pages. Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction is, of course, the classic. Her book takes a lot of work to use properly, but the payoff is high and any deficiencies in results are mine, not hers. David Michael Kaplan’s Revision is another favorite. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch is another. Last year’s big favorite, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, is a lively read, but not as practical as I’d like. The latest, and the best of them all in my estimation, is Les Edgerton’s Hooked.
Edgerton’s last, Finding Your Voice, is high on my list of useful works as well, but Hooked surpasses even that one. Why? Because it does what so many other books preach but do not practice: Edgerton doesn’t just tell, he shows. He lays out the component parts of a strong opening, illustrates how they interrelate via wonderfully concrete examples from film and literature, and explains how to sequence the parts for maximum effect.
In the course of his presentation about openings, Edgerton actually gets deep into the structure of story and novel. Thus, contrary to most of life’s experiences, reading Hooked offers rewards far beyond those promised on the cover. It’s not write-by-the-numbers, but it’s the most nuts and bolts writing book you’ll ever encounter and probably the closest thing to a novelist’s handbook it’s possible to write. It’s worth a hundred MFA workshops, and I can’t imagine why any writer wouldn’t have it on his or her shelf.