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Your Book's Hinge

Editing

Neil Gaiman

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Paul Whybrow

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Opening lines are crucial and having a memorable closing line beats your story dribbling away to the final full stop like water down a plughole. It’s the same with captivating incidents, as anyone who’s queried a literary agent knows: what grabs the attention in the first three chapters?

But, what about a quotable phrase or crucial realisation at the midpoint? Something for the reader to hang their hat on and wonder how the story will resolve itself.

We all know the feeling of reaching the hump point, where all is downhill from now on...and, do I have enough room to resolve the intrigues I’ve set up? I aim for a word count of 80,000 words, which is typical for the crime genre, so at 40,000 words, I seek a way for my Cornish Detective to stop being a gatherer of information, to which he reacts, turning him into a proactive hunter in pursuit of his quarry.

As you speed towards the climax of your story, which had better be exciting, satisfying or shocking, glance over your shoulder at the tipping point that set you off. Did it work, was it plausible?

Famous midpoints include the stranded astronaut in Andy Weir’s The Martian realising supplies are going to be late reaching him, meaning he’ll die unless he comes up with ways of growing food. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen firms up the relationship between Mr Darcy and Lizzy by having him unexpectedly propose to her, which she refuses. Offred, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, realises that her inspirational friend Moira has been forced to compromise her independent ways by working as a prostitute in a brothel. Offred acknowledges that she too is trapped within the confines of the totalitarian state, so takes matters into her own hands.

As I’m writing the sixth story in my Cornish Detective series in chunks, I’ve been considering what will be the turning point, the hinge of the story. My protagonist Neil Kettle’s new romantic interest has a chequered past back in her homeland America, for she was duped into acting as a getaway driver for bank robbers. He finds out by a throwaway remark made by an FBI agent he knows.

This incident happened to someone I met in Atlanta, who thought she was just driving her drunken boyfriend and his two friends to withdraw money from the bank—which they did with guns—telling her to floor it when they dived back into the car holding bags of cash! They were never caught, but she remained haunted.

The hinge will be, does Neil turn her in? Or, even tell her that he knows? He doesn’t, but I’ve already established that he’s a free thinker. He chooses love over duty. Some secrets are best left in the cupboard.

In the previous story, a wealthy art gallery owner had killed three people, including his brother, to retain possession of his collection, which he revered as more important than people. He was the likeliest suspect, but it seemed too obvious. The hinge came when my detective visited Saint Ives to interview three local artists who’d had dealings with the art gallery owner and they confirmed how untrustworthy he was. Pretending to be a customer, the detective interviews him, realising the badmouthing is true, and that he cares about nothing but art. He’s so repellent a man, that Neil needs to take a swim in the sea to wash away the bad vibes.

What does your story hinge on?

iu


Nancy Byrd Turner - Wikipedia
 
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Editing

Neil Gaiman

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