What is it about that first sentence, that first paragraph in a book that hooks you? What makes you want to keep reading?
I’m asking the question for a few reasons. First, every single book on writing that I’ve ever read makes a point of telling you to write a good hook. Second, every writer’s conference I’ve attended always has at least one workshop on The Hook. Third, it just makes sense. Trouble is, no one really tells you how to do it.
So . . .
I’ve been going through my substantial stockpile of books looking for the secret. Here are some examples of first lines from books on my shelf, waiting to be read:
1. Imagine you agree with me on this: how we “finish” is more important than how we “begin”.
2. Outside, rain drummed against the window.
3. My name is Anna and I shouldn’t be here.
4. T.S. Eliot was wrong.
5. I’m standing at the edge of existence.
6. The day’s so hot and dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust.
If all I had were those first lines to help me decide on a book, only #1, #3 and #5 would interest me enough to keep reading. And honestly, to have this many “good” ones in such a small selection is rare. I’ve found that just one book in ten might have a decent hook. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve started reading because the synopsis was interesting, but ended up throwing aside because the whole first chapter was dull enough to put me to sleep. The rest of the book might have been awesome, but I’ll never know if there’s nothing to hook me and keep me reading.
This is the reason I have labored over my first paragraph, first sentence, first word for months. I want those initial words to grab my reader and hold them tight so they don’t slip away before the story has even begun.
I don’t have a magic hook formula. I wish I did. All I can say is this: make sure your opening is intense enough to get your reader into the story before they finish the first page.
And don’t let them down in Chapter Two. Or Three.
Let me know how it goes.
One response to “The Hook”
Wendy, I went through the very same thing just a few weeks ago–I’ll call it hook anxiety–which compels me to respond to this post.
I took a different tack from you. Rather than consider hooks in novels yet to be read, I found twenty-five of my favorite novels around the house and recorded each of their first lines. Then I reviewed all of them in detail, recording why I thought they were or were not effective.
The reason why I chose the novels I did is because, regardless of the opening lines, I read them completely. And this gave me important perspective. Yes, the hook is important. But, honestly, it’s the rest of the novel that kept me engaged. If I’d decided, based on some of the first lines, not to finish reading the books just because the hook wasn’t effective, I’d have missed out on some great stories.
So, I’m going to give you the same advice I know you would have given me if I’d come to you with this very challenge. For now, land on an opening line and move on. It doesn’t have to be the best hook in the world. In fact, by the time you finish writing your novel, it may change many more times. And, even then, it may not be the best hook in the world.
The rest of your story deserves as least as much of your attention as the hook, and, if all you do is focus on your first line, you may never get to the rest of it (that’s just how frustrated I was getting). And that, my dear, would be a dreadful shame.
Make sense? I hope so.