Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Teaching to learn - Opening hooks

Writing advise abounds on blogs, in bookstores, on forums. There isn't any problem finding information. There is a problem sifting through it to find something digestible that applies to what you're working on.

Quite a while back I ran across an editor's ten point checklist on eharlequin. Pearls of wisdom directly from the fingertips of an editor. While the checklist is helpful - I thought it'd be worthwhile to discuss the how to of each item.

Number one on the list - an opening hook that makes you want to read on.

Examples from the first six of the already read pile ( that I read them rather than tossing them aside as unworthy gives them an average or better overall rating - see I do have standards).

1) The Lady was small and fragile, but with the tall knight standing before her, her frailty was much more apparent.

What works? Instantly we have a heroine. We know it is a historical romance. Knight gives us a general time frame. There's an implication of abuse or a possible underdog theme.

2) What had he gotten himself into?

Curiosity piqued, the reader reads on. What else is accomplished? The hero has an active voice in the story. The opening is in his POV all the better to introduce the heroine, whose story this is. This technique took me ages to catch onto. Books that appealed because of their strong heroes were actually told primarily from the heroine's POV. His tone is reluctant, another plus who wants an easy hero?.

3) The vision came without warning, a door bursting open in her mind.

The tone is set an action story with a strong paranormal element. There's an implication of unwillingness on the heroine's part - a reluctant adventurer.

4) What the hell am I doing here?

Another reluctant participant, more than reluctant, actively opposed to the romantic adventure. Conflict shouts from the first sentence.

5) Christie sat in the far corner of her living room with her back jammed against the wall.

There's a picture of a heroine under siege or at least being threatened, questions are raised without being asked.

6) Detective Joseph Shanan hated rain.

Provocative, possibly sympathetic depending on how the reader feels about rain and detectives. An odd detail to begin with and that too tells the reader something about the story - that it's likely to be quirky and charming.

What do these openings have in common?

Each one reaches out to the reader offering an invitation to read on and an instant connection to the special world of the story. The information is offered subtly, a crook of the finger, a raised eyebrow, a gaze held for extra seconds. The invitation issued is different in every example (these aren't from the same lines or sub-genres, though each is a romance).

There's more - each of these opening sentences was followed by an equally compelling second sentence, a well crafted third sentences and so on. That's the real secret - writing each sentence to make the reader want to read the next.

How is this accomplished? With a delicate invitation to meet a character, step into a new world, feel the chill of danger, a bubble of excitement, a smile or a sigh. Or a shout of alarm or squeal of fear. There is no one way.

Here's the first sentence from the current WIP -

Brianna Taylor held her breath, trying to slow the jackhammer in her chest.

Perfect? No, not yet, but as good as I can make it right this second. How about you? All those who write - go ahead and post your first lines. I'd love to continure the discussion.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right away, your first line gives the reader a lot. Her name, the fear, and a question. What is she afraid of? Fear is a captivating emotion. Strong, compelling. In fiction, it's one of the best emotions to keep the reader turning pages. Therefore, I think you have a great first line. It doesn't have to say everything, just enough to make you want to find out everything else. :)

Here's my first line: Not nearly as dramatic.
Cassie Morgan lay in bed another minute, listening to the water run, imagining what she could not see behind the closed bathroom door and fantasizing.

This line tells the reader her name, gives them a sense of place and time, a sense that it could be sexually evocative, and a question. What or who is behind the bathroom door?
It's not a strong emotional opening, but it does offer some information and leave some questions for the reader to read on.
I'm interested to see other's take on it, and on yours, and what they have in their opening lines.
Sheila :)

8:51 AM  
Blogger Evanne said...


I love Cassie Morgan's first line, it hints at erotica and tells us quite a bit about Cassie in that wonderful subtle way all the really good writers manage. She fantasizes, she's sensual, honest with herself and probably frustrated. The line accomplishes it's job - it makes me want to read one.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Annie Dean said...

"She'd call The Average Girl's Guide to Getting Laid."

That's the opening line to the same-titled novel my agent is currently shopping around. The rest of the chapter can be found on my site under Hot Reads.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Annie Dean said...

Oops, I left out a word.

"She'd call it The Average Girl's Guide to Getting Laid."

8:48 AM  
Blogger Evanne said...

Hi Annie, nice job on a provocative opening. Before looking at the rest of the entry it sounds like romantic comedy one of my favorite escapes.

Glad you stopped by to play. :)

1:31 PM  

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