Originally, I planned to discuss the topic of showing vs. telling for this blog post, but the very day I sat down to write it, my friend and mentor Cecil Murphey began a six-part series on that very subject. I knew I couldn’t compete with his excellent training, so I decided to point you in his direction with a hearty recommendation, and write about something else instead. You can subscribe to his blog, so you won't miss a single post.
Today, let’s talk about hooks – those opening lines that grab a reader’s (and editor’s) attention and makes them want to read more.
In 90% of the novels I’ve edited, and even one I’ve written, the words on paper started before the actual story began. The author usually introduces the character or the setting as a prelude to the action of the story.
We get the action rolling in our head, and think it’s necessary to bring the reader along with us. But we’re wrong. The reader wants to plop down in her recliner and start the story, right in the middle of the action, not spend a couple of pages getting ready to read. In today’s climate of instant gratification, you’ve got to hook the reader from the beginning, and keep them hooked.
Two ways to hook your reader:
• Dialogue. Just make sure it’s not a conversation between a dozen people the reader needs to know to understand.
• Information. Make the reader ask a question. You want them asking things like “Why?”, “What happened?” or “What’s next?” Or even, “WHAT?”
I pulled some novels off my shelf of favorites, and here are their opening lines:
Show business and death don’t mix. Unfortunately, I discovered this while hosting a TV cooking show. – Tough Cookie by Diane Mott Davidson
When the mood strikes me, the moon is just right, and the ocean behind my home is calm and calling me, I obey it and come. Just like Mama taught me to, quick and with no lip – I come, body naked, soul bared, water flowing ‘round my waist – and once again I am seventeen, innocent, unashamed. Not stuck in this sixty-some-odd-year-old body that plumps and hangs whichever way it pleases. – Trouble the Water by Nicole Seitz
I’ve always said the Lord had to drag me kicking and screaming to His altar, but once I got there I pitched a tent, unrolled my sleeping bag, and made myself at home. Anyone less patient than the Almighty would have zipped up that sleeping bag, sewn the top shut, and tossed me into the Dumpster in the back parking lot. – Just As I Am by Virginia Smith
That sunny September day was full of surprises. The first came when, after my realization that the sedan was still right side up and the windshield and windows intact, I turned off the ignition and turned to look in the back seat. – Some Buried Caesar (Nero Wolfe Mysteries) by Rex Stout
Don’t these make you ask questions? Make you want to continue reading?
Now it's your turn. We’d love for you to share your opening lines with us. Just leave 50 words or less of your opening, and we’ll critique them. To make for easy reading, please format it like this:
Your first name
Genre of novel
Working Title of Novel
The first 50 words or less of your novel’s first chapter.
We’ll let you know whether it hooked us, or whether it needs some work.