“The Burning,” by Eudora Welty

Opening Hook Paragraph:
 
Delilah was dancing up to the front with a message; that was how she happened to be the one to see. A horse was coming in the house, by the front door. The door had been shoved wide open. And all behind the horse, a crowd with a long tail of dust was coming after, all the way up the road from the front gate between the cedar trees.
 
(My mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist, or main character, is named, and you see what happens through her eyes. You soon realize that Delilah is a slave, and the incredible hook is her picture of Sherman’s men coming to burn the plantation house. There is no mention or the date. In the simplest language, Delilah’s own language, the action moves forward with no comment from the author. You, the reader, draw your own conclusions.
 
(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

The Murderer’s Equation: The Energy Equation of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The topic line is sure to provoke head scratching—it is drawn from engineering where energy is conserved or lost to entropy.  Allow that the word entropy is not one that either an engineer, writer, or reader aspires to, so all groups would be better served if they understood the dynamics of the energy flow going up the ladder.

Motivation is the well from which the murderer’s principle energy is drawn.  In all worlds, engineering and art, motivation is about energy’s source and energy’s intended use.  Energy is transferred, but its waste through neglect in the writer’s or the engineer’s craft is rarely acceptable.

What is the energy equation?

total energy = energy taken – energy used – energy lost = 0

where both the engineer and the author seek to achieve:

energy taken = energy used

energy lost = 0

How does this translate into the murderer’s ladder—rung-by-rung?

What is the murderer’s equation?

murderer’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

As can be seen, the well of energy is deepened by rungs 2, 3, and 4; but they account for little of the total energy available to the murderer which is found at the first rung of motivation.  Temptation (rung 2) and opportunity (rung 4) are driven by chance.  The energy from these rungs are sparks compared to rung 1’s flame of motivation.  Planning (rung 3) solidifies motive, and is a greater energy contributor than rungs 2 and 4, but it is still a small amount as plans do not have the same passionate energy as does motivation.

So, what happens when we look at this part of the equation:

– 5 … – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10

Each of these rungs on the ladder drain energy that could have been spent at rung 6, the murder, where the natural source of energy is intended to being consumed.  Rung 5 is the murderer’s energy expended because the murderer did not simply thrust the knife on the first opportunity (skipping over opportunity, rung 5, and plunging on).  Rung 5 drains the energy available to perform the murder.  In all regards this amount is negligible, but can be monumental in a hesitant (under-motivated) murderer.  This hesitation, of course, could make its own story.

For some motivations, the revenge story for instance, there should be no energy available for rungs 7, 8, 9, and 10—as passions would dominate all action, and passion would be completely drained at the ultimate act at rung 6.  The passion of revenge needs no escape, no containment of evidence, no false suspect.  Thus, the revenge story would have only 5 rungs, not 10.  This would be our equation, then:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 … – 6 = 0

However, if this is more than a story, such as a revenge epic, then an epic is larger than a single act of murder.    An epic spans time or place and consists of many actions with many sources of motivation.  This would be the story of a serial murderer.  A simple serial revenge (Hatfields vs. McCoys) might look like:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where three murders are performed after three visits to the well of motivation—and presuming surplus energy was drawn to contend with the authorities after this string of murders.  Consider that the murderer is going to the well absolutely exhausted the second and third time.

As a twist, consider the psycho’s serial murder equation:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where the psycho’s motivation comes from murders which build a surplus of energy used in subsequent murders.  The psycho’s energy does not flag because the act of murder is their second source for energy.  However, all serializations come to an end.

This structure also suggests how complex plots can be energized, and that through successive murders, the psycho might reach for stronger victims of higher energy need.  So, returning above to the psycho’s serial murder equation, the first murder had a reserve of energy afterward.  The second murder did too.  Those two reserves of energy were sufficient to accomplish the third, but the consequences were inevitable.

“Anna Teller,” by Jo Sinclair

Opening Paragraph:

Anna Teller was the only refugee on the plane from Munich to New York.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph is one sentence only, and a short sentence at that. The protagonist is named, the setting is given, and the small hook is a statement that contrasts Anna with all the other passengers.

The second paragraph describes the passengers who keep glancing at Anna because she is so obviously different. The third paragraph presents an objective description of Anna as seen by these passengers. Next, the action begins, with dialogue. This is a craftsmanlike way of starting a novel.

Glance back at this short first paragraph and notice how uncluttered it is. Only a few selected facts are given.

“The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

The high, grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.  On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.  On the broad, level land floor the gang plows bit deep and left the black earth shining like metal where the shares bad cut.  On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December.  The thick willow scrub along the river flamed with sharp and positive yellow leaves.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph takes you to the Salinas Valley—in California, if you know your Steinbeck, the time is winter, specifically December.  You may decide that this description is gray and dull.  Still, note the yellow stubble as well as the willow scrub with yellow leaves.  In spite of the gray environment, something flames up, perhaps within the protagonist, who enters the story in the fourth paragraph.

The Plan, the third rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The plan is the structuring of motivation to use the components of temptation to anticipate probable opportunity.

The plan needs to cover the who, what, where, why, and when of action.

The who: the antagonist and temptable characters.

The why and what: found where the motivations of the antagonist and tempted characters converge.

The where and when: as observed in the temptation

What is needed next is an opportunity that looks much like the temptation that was offered in rung 2.

The antagonist is under a modest stress of optimism where temptation proves there are opportunities.  Thus, at the elemental level, planning engages the emotion of joy.

The First Irretrievable Step, the fifth rung of the Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the first irretrievable step?

This is the point within the time-line where the antagonist’s action cannot be taken back.

This step may not involve the actual commission of the act necessary to supply the needs of the antagonist’s motivation.  However, this step, if observed, will reveal motivation or the goal behind motivation.

The first irretrievable step contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: All the characters are in their societal roles.

The what: All have convergent motivations.

The where: Here.  The stage is set.

The when: Now.  The curtain is about to rise.

The why: Pain is still near and relief might be achievable.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to engage the plan fully.

The antagonist is under the greatest stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either joy or fear.

“The Gold of Troy,” by Robert Payne

Opening Paragraph:

During the seventies and eighties of the last century an old gray-haired scholar, wearing a high collar and a sun helmet, was to be seen wandering over the ruins of an obscure mound in Asia Minor.  He was short and wiry, with dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, a heavy nose, and a sensual mouth; there was something of the peasant about him, something too of the Lubeck merchants who were  his ancestors.  He spoke in a high-pitched voice, dressed shabbily, walked with a curious gliding motion, and always carried in his coat pocket a dog-eared paper-bound edition of the Iliad or the Odyssey.  To the friendly inquirer he would explain that he had uncovered the ancient city of Troy and found in its walls a secret treasure hoard of gold, which he kept securely locked in his house in Athens.  He believed that the ashes of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire, and the golden death masks of Agamemnon and many  other Greek heroes were in his possession, and it is just possible that his claims were justified.  Until he was long past middle age he never touched a spade, but during the last seventeen years of his life he excavated continually.  The most unscientific of archeologists, he founded the modern science of archeology.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Let me note here that this biography won critical acclaim as well as a place on best-seller lists.  Best sellers, good, bad, or indifferent, usually have one thing in common: they have a mass appeal; that is, the average reader finds them interesting enough to recommend them to friends.

It is at once evident that this is not a jazzed-up biographical novel based on more imagination than facts.  The opening paragraph, long and detailed, gives the impression that here is a book based on good, solid material.  The author presents his protagonist in an interesting way.  The mention of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire and the death masks of Agamemnon echo in our minds like the opening bars of a song remembered from our childhood.  The author captures our attention and succeeds in luring us on to read further.

The Cover Up, the eighth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9. The false suspect
8. The cover up
7. The flight
6. The actual killing
5. The first irretrievable step
4. The opportunity
3. The plan
2. Temptation
1. Motivation

What is the cover up?

This is work on diminishing all connections of the antagonist to the crime.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to cover up the crime and its association to them will undoubtedly include personal characteristics that conflict with the details offered in the cover up.

The cover up contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and characters in pursuit.

The what: Examining the evidence.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for evidential distancing.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to frame a character as suspect.

The antagonist is under a high stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages fear.

The Fourth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” by Brian Moore

Opening Paragraph:

The first thing Miss Judith Hearne unpacked in her new lodgings was the silver-framed photograph of her aunt. The place for her aunt, ever since the sad day of the funeral, was on the mantelpiece of whatever bed-sitting-room Miss Hearne happened to be living in. As she put her up now, the photograph eyes were stern and questioning, sharing Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about the condition of the bed springs, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Here we have Miss Hearne, probably nearing middle age. The setting is a shabby lodging house in Belfast. And the very small hook is Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about her new lodgings.

In reading novels you’ll find that writers apparently do not feel the need to capture the reader’s interest at once with a hook. The novel reader is a leisurely reader, and he will usually give you a chapter before he decides either to go on reading or to toss your book aside. In this opening paragraph about Miss Hearne the author emphasizes the aunt’s photograph, and for a reason. At the very end of the novel Miss Hearne moves into another lodging, and the first thing she does is to put this photograph on her new mantel. This is what writers call the circle pattern; the novel ends where it began, and the reader gets the impression of life going on as before for Miss Hearne.

Case of the Missing Cover-Up

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.  
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

First, is a cover-up necessary?  Not for the assassin.  The false suspect provides enough distraction for a clean getaway.  No other details need addressing.

 

Case of the Missing Flight

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.  
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What kind of murderer does not resort to flight?  This doesn’t include the subterfuge of going to jail on a lesser crime.  No, this has remoteness built in so that flying away is unnecessary.  Does that mean the murderer sticks with the corpse?

No, this could fit the role of the master criminal murderer accomplishing murder to their plan through others.

Removing the element of remoteness, necessarily brings the murderer back into the same room with the corpse, but with the murderer now straightening up—scene building—and roping in the False Suspect (now very necessary).

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block

Opening Paragraph:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street.  Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day.  Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax.  First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook.  Though this reads like fiction, it is fact.

Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given.  There are two reasons for this.  His name is given in the title.  He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces.  He is a man hiding from retribution.

The Fifth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“Red Sky at Morning,” by Richard Bradford

Descriptive Paragraph:

It snowed for three days in early November, and the people of Sagrado put their cars in garages and walked everywhere.  Amadeo, who came in from Rio Conejo every morning in the pickup, put snow chains on the rear tires and loaded the truck with three hundred pounds of concrete blocks to get traction.  An entire family of Navajo Indians froze to death in a drafty hogan near Beclabito, where the temperature went to 46 below one night.  Forest rangers on snowshoes hiked up to Bernal Peak and announced that the 117 inches of snowpack promised a good spring runoff ….

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This opening of a chapter in a novel is presented here for a purpose.  Instead of a static passage describing the New Mexican town of Sagrado under snow (Santa Fe?), the author shows action, what the local people did as a result of a sudden change of weather.

San Francisco Writers Conference

Another story worthy of mention is when I was briskly walking down Sutter Street to the conference at 7:45am Sunday morning. I was able to walk at my usual boyish pace where I could arrive at each corner as the light was about to change in my favor. I had done this hundreds of times while on TI, and the knack was with me.

When I stepped across Powell street, the sound of the ringing cable line beneath the street brought back memories of weekend Liberty getting underway.

I slowed to “smell the roses” so to speak. My pace altered. Soon, I stood at a corner next to a pan-handler.
“Cold day to start your job,” I said.
“I gotta do it so’s I can go to McDonald’s for breakfast.”

My partner had stuffed my pockets with bite-sized portions of some energy bar and a length of jerky. I pulled them all out and gave them to him. He thanked me. Then, as I turned to catch the changing light, he added:

“My doctor wants me to get rid of my accordion.”

I was hooked (as only an author can be). I turned away from the corner to re-join him. We were the only people on those cold streets’ intersection.

“How’s that?” I asked.
“I had hip surgery, and he doesn’t want me hauling a 50 pound accordion around. I busk on this corner. That accordion is Italian made with silver and precious woods.” He then did an impression of lugging it along the sidewalk with a distinct strain on his hip.

I took every bill out of my pocket ($20-$50) and placed it in his hand.

We were both struggling artists, even if our situations were different.

“The Snake,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

It was almost dark when young Dr. Phillips swung his sack to his shoulder and left the tide pool.  He climbed over the rocks and squashed along the street in his rubber boots.  The street lights were on by the time he arrived at his little commercial laboratory on the cannery street of Monterey.  It was a tight little building, standing partly on piers over the bay water and partly on land.  On both sides the big corrugated-iron sardine canneries crowded in on it.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the setting shows the protagonist as part of his environment.  A further step gives us his name, and we learn that he is young.  By implication we gather that Dr.  Phillips is not a medical man but a scientist who runs a commercial laboratory on cannery row; therefore, he is no doubt a marine biologist.

Notice that he is in action.  We glimpse the tide pool and the rocks on the beach.  We do not see the town itself until the protagonist arrives at his laboratory.  The time element is mentioned twice, but not by clock.  This gives the impression that Dr. Phillips is a man who works until it is too dark to see.  Notice, too, the active verbs climb and squash, both used without adverbs.

Case of the Missing Temptation

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.  
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without temptation?  Every detective moves forward on the motive of the criminal, just as they count off their suspicions in that the suspect had the motive, means, and opportunity (fled the scene, resisted arrest, etc.).

This a professional murderer.  The temptation is anticipated by the motive (the need for money), and the remaining ladder steps (at least to actual murder) are expected to be performed professionally (and even the problems that may crop up during and after).

How is the professional murderer distinct from the psychotic murderer?  The professional may be psychotic; but the psychotic is not professional.

If the absence of temptation so closely hews to psychology, it could also be the hallmark of the romantic murderer.  However, this would an obsessive, romantic murderer.

“Girl in White” by Adela Rogers St. Johns

Opening Paragraph:

Heading down the corridor to the elevator, Scotty Dakers kept her thoughts away from what the doctor had said, what Ingles, the head nurse, had said. She forced herself to concentrate on the numbers on the doors she had to pass. Number 517 had been little Mrs. Halles, who had actually walked the sixth day after a fusion operation; 509 was old Robertson with all his money, whom Doctor Luke had dragged miraculously back to life; 501 was where they’d finally told Mitch Delberg the truth.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph warrants examination. The protagonist’s name, Scotty Dakers, might be either masculine or feminine; but the author does not keep us guessing. “Scotty Dakers kept her thoughts … She forced herself … “ We are with our heroine walking down a corridor. The mention of a doctor and a head nurse and numbered rooms all indicate a hospital. Scotty’s knowledge of the patients behind each door further indicates that Scotty must be a nurse. What was said to Mitch Delberg, the patient in Room 501, is the hook. Notice that there is a minimum of what we call author’s statement, direct statement. Mrs. St. Johns does not tell us that Scotty is a nurse on Ward C of St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco. Instead, she enters the mind of her protagonist, and does so at a definite moment in time. Scotty’s thoughts ring true. Reader identification is immediate. If Scotty already knows something of importance to the story, the reader is told what it is. If Scotty learns something, the reader learns it at the same time. Not once is the reader jerked out of the consciousness of Scotty. Identification is complete, and satisfying.

San Francisco Writers Conference

While attending the San Francisco Writers Conference last week, I went out to Treasure Island with my partner to show her the view of The City. Unfortunately, the entire length of the Avenue of the Palms was closed, and a high fence put up along the shore to obscure the view. It looks like the tear-down to create plush condos is proceeding with the vengeance of a Real Estate Mogul.

The story of the ride to this shot is worth sharing.

While in conversation with my cabbie, he said he was Filipino, and had arrived in The City in 1972 (the same time I left to join the USS Holland). He mentioned his rent for an apartment at the time was $400/month. I can attest to having to move to Hayward to afford the same sized apartment for $180.
Given the cost, and his challenging situation (looking for work to pay that cost), I asked why he moved here?
“It’s my home.”
“I thought you said you were born in the PI?”
“I was, and so was my father, but grandfather was an Army Cavalry man who fought in the insurrection (still going on, by the way). “Grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier.”

This brought me deep satisfaction to have heard his personal story of connection.

“The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse,” by William Saroyan

Opening paragraph:

One day back there in the good old days when I was nine and the world was full of every imaginable kind of magnificence, and life was still a delightful and mysterious dream, my cousin Mourad, who was considered crazy by everybody who knew him except me, came to my house at four in the morning and woke me up by tapping on the window of my room.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice that this paragraph presents the three fundamentals in one long sentence. It also tells us that this story will be like the simple tale told aloud in the first person. Simple only on the surface, however, this viewpoint in reality is difficult to carry through with complete success. The limitations and weaknesses inherent in all first-person narratives may be why so many readers dislike this viewpoint, and why some editors greet its use with dismay. (See chapter on Point of View.) If you have the deftness and charm of a William Saroyan, or the sophistication and ironic wit of a Somerset Maugham, go ahead and try your hand at a first-person story. Otherwise wait until you become a craftsman.

“The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles,” by Edmund Wilson

Opening Paragraph:

In the days when I lived in Hecate County, I had an uncomfortable neighbor, a man named Asa M.  Stryker.  He had at one time, he told me, taught chemistry in some sorry-sounding college in Pennsylvania, but he now lived on a little money which he had been “lucky enough to inherit.”  I had the feeling about him that somewhere in his background was defeat or frustration or disgrace.  He was a bachelor and kept two servants—a cook and a man around the place.  I never knew anyone to visit him, though he would occasionally go away for short periods—when, he would tell me, he was visiting relatives.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) The point of view in this story is the one so often used by Somerset Maugham.  It is the viewpoint of an observer, the “I” person, who tells us about the protagonist, an interesting friend or acquaintance.  We never enter the mind of the main character.  We merely see him in action and hear him talk, all of this interpreted for us by the observer, who is not even named.

“A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner

Opening Hook Paragraph:

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the author names his protagonist, or main character, who has just died.  Then he throws out a hook to arouse our curiosity about her.  We, too, now want a glimpse inside Miss Emily’s house.  And we get that glimpse—and never forget what we see.

“Boy Crazy,” by John De Meyer

False Hooks in opening paragraphs:

Walter Fenton squinted sleepily as the morning sun flooded through his bedroom window. He stretched up to pull the shade down. Then his mouth fell open in astonishment, What he saw out on the lake he could hardly believe. He shook his wife Emily.

My Mentor, Howard Pease goes on to explain what he means by False Hook:

Our protagonist is Walter Fenton. The setting is a house near a lake, and the time is an early morning of bright sunlight. Next comes the hook, questionable on two counts. First, the statement His mouth fell open is so trite, so old-hat, that it should never be used today. Second, the sentence “What he saw out on the lake he could hardly believe” shows the author hiding information in a desperate effort to rouse interest. Instead, it is likely to rouse irritation. Such a hook is like a child’s excited announcement, “I’ve got a secret!” after which he teases you until you beg him to tell. The revelation is always a disappointment, because by then your expectations are too high.

The Tenth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity

3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“The Ambassadors,” by Henry James

Opening paragraph:

Strether called, his second morning in Paris, on the bankers, in the Rue Scribe, to whom his letter of credit was addressed, and he made this visit attended by Waymarsh, in whose company he had crossed from London two days before.

As this comes from chapter five’s opening paragraph and lacks a hook, I included it as an example of a long sentence.  It is exposition, but it puts a lot of water over the dam to then move into the story line.

The First Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does the motivation step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

If you have arrived here from the Murderer’s Ladder, then motivation could easily be anticipated as being revenge driven.  However, this does not remove that same possible drive from other characters—especially the murderer’s henchmen.

Alternatively, motivation could be inspired out of compassion … from the murderer, the murderer’s henchmen, the murdered, the investigator, others, or all.  That is to say that motivation is individual and could be as similar or as different as those individuals.  None have been put to the test of their motivation, that remains at the next step of Temptation.

As a general observation, however, most motivations can be examined and unwound to simpler motivations that arrived early in the character’s life.

“A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell

Opening Paragraph:

When Martha Hale opened the storm door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head, her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away—it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.

According to my Mentor, Howard Pease, this satisfies 3 requirements:

1. Name your protagonist, your main character.

2. Mention setting, so the reader will immediately know the story’s background: a farm, a city street, a boardinghouse, a hotel, a plane. The time element is often included as an important part of the setting—the time of year, the time of day.

3. Throw out a small hook to catch the reader’s interest.

“Power of Attorney” by Louis Auchincloss

Opening Paragraph:

No one of his law partners or clients, or even friends who considered themselves closest to him, knew the secret of Morris Madison. They saw a tall, thin, tax expert, at the height of his career in his early fifties … They suspected all kinds of lacks in his life, besides the obvious ones of a wife and children, and in the free fashion of a psychiatrically minded era they attributed his reserve and good manners to every kind of frustration and insecurity. But none of them suspected that he had a passion.

(My mentor Howard Pease continutes) Notice that the first sentence—again the author telling—catches our interest. Next comes a brief description of the protagonist, plus his place in life, and his age. Then we learn what his friends think of him. The final sentence, like the first, is a hook to hold our interest and lure us into reading the next paragraph. In this second paragraph, when the action begins, author’s statement shifts to the viewpoint located in the consciousness of the protagonist; and this Jamesian viewpoint continues throughout the story.

“A Cold Potato,” by Peter De Vries

Dialog:

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.  “Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response, but he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.  “Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.  Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.  “They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!”  Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Now, there is nothing wrong with this paragraphing—or, rather, lack of paragraphing—if you are quick at getting the idea that it is Alice who is doing all the talking.  However, let’s see what happens when we use the Henry James method.

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.

“Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response.

But he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.

“Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.

Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.

“They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!” Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

In using this method of paragraphing dialogue and using it consistently, the reader soon learns to know when one character stops talking and/or acting, and when another character begins.  From the reader’s viewpoint, this is a distinct gain.

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway

Opening Hook Paragraph:

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph, like Faulkner’s, consists of one sentence only.  While Faulkner’s is made up of fifty-seven words, Hemingway’s is twenty-four.  Yet note the carefully selected information in Hemingway’s sentence.  He does not overload it with facts.  Indeed, he suggests more than he states.  He deliberately chooses to limit himself by using the objective viewpoint. (More about this in the next chapter.) The curtain has gone up on his drama.  Like a theater audience we see the characters, watch their actions and hear what they say.  The author may suggest and give hints, but there is no delving into the mind of anyone, no effort made here to have us identify ourselves with anyone.

This one-sentence paragraph gives us the time of day, and the characters are mentioned, though they remain unnamed and unnumbered.  The word tent tells us that this is an outdoor story, and the double green fly and dining tent suggest wealth.  Knowing Hemingway and his fondness for big game hunts, we suspect that these people are on a safari.  Then comes the hook: they are pretending that nothing has happened.