How to be a good hooker …

Hi everyone!

Harmony here 🙂

Well, I bet that title grabbed your attention, lols. As you might have guessed already, today’s post is all about hooks and how to grab the reader’s attention as early as possible.  🙂

Usually, I know within the first two-to-three pages whether or not I want to read a novel. If I’m bored alrimageseady, that is a sure sign to put the tome back on the shelf. Some hooks are better than others, and some are downright crass. Most publishers won’t look at a book beyond the beginning if the hook uses something as obvious as sex to interest the reader. I make no comment on this: it is just the way of the world.

Your strength of writing effects this too. If it is sloppy and full of errors, then you will have to produce an absolute masterpiece of imagination in order for a lot of readers to overcome this obstacle. It goes without saying that the best outcome is for every aspect of your writing to be that absolute masterpiece.

What you use as a hook can vary, and the important thing is to write creatively, not formulaically. You might use a particularly evocative scene. A character’s thoughts. Jump right into the action. Make a strong statement. It doesn’t matter, so long as it grabs your attention from the get-go. You can’t wait until halfway through the book before something interesting happens.

In my first book, The Battle for Brisingamen, I opened with a prologue that brought in an element from much later in the book. It got straight into dialogue between the two main antagonists. This allowed me to move into chapter one by introducing one of the protagonists and a bit of the history. You have to beware of too much backstory all in one go, though, and that is not just at the beginning of the book—it is the same wherever you are in the narrative. Backstory or information dumping will be a big turnoff for readers.

In my second book, The Glade, I opened with an arrest scene. This was quite a bit more dramatic than in my first book. Each has its own merits. In my third book, Elemental Earth, I didn’t open with any particular event. Which, again, was different to the previous two novels. Instead, I opened by showing the main character sitting at her school desk and whispering to her friend. The hook remained subtle and drew the reader in by inviting curiosity about the characters introduced right at the start. For instance: Why did Sarah think her hair was a good curtain to hide behind? Why was the new girl weird? … And that kind of thing.

As you can see from just the above three examples, we have three dimages-1ifferent ways of opening a book. You can go for subtle, or hit them with a sledgehammer, or a bit of intrigue. What you can’t do is to go for lots of backstory or information dumping right off the bat. Or too much flowery description … you know, like pages and pages of exactly what shade of green the grass is.

Think about what interests you when you begin a book. What is it that draws you in and invites you to read on? If you happen to read a range of different genres, look at what tends to work in each one. What devices do the authors use? What might you change, if anything? What do you like? What don’t you like? Use these observations to inform your writing.

First Five Lines

The first five lines of your book are, perhaps, some of the most important lines you will write in the whole novel. These opening five lines will be what pulls your reader in. Grab them right from the get go.

Think about your plot outline and summary. How do you want to open your story? What five lines would most interest you and capture your attention as a reader?

Here are some examples of first five lines. Some will pull you in, while others just won’t work that well for you. Be the judge yourself. What might you change? What is great?

1. Becca’s steps slowed as she approached Processing 117. The floodlights of the parking lot shone down on her, exposing her. Past the lot, the darkness threatened to close in. There was no other source of light nearby except for the dim glow of the streetlamps, nothing but trees for at least a mile in every direction. The concrete structure loomed taller than its five stories–maybe because of the invisible presence of the underground levels, or maybe because in a moment Becca was going to have to walk inside.

From The  Torturer’s Daughter by Zoe Cannon

2. The answer is yes. I will marry you. But before you make that commitment, you should know something about me. My name isn’t Mary. And I don’t work in a bank.

From an old First Five Friday blog post by me

3. When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

From The Hunger Games by  Suzanne Collins

4. My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favourite shirt—sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka. In the Olympic Penninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds.

From Twilight by Stephanie Meyers

5. Things aren’t always as they appear. One minute, I’m totally fine. The next, I’m hunched over and clutching my stomach in sheer agony. What the hell is happening to me? I have no idea.

From Honeymoon by James Patterson

Have a play about and write five first lines. These would be a great resource to keep in your ideas folder or living documents (for more on those, see Craig’s excellent post on The Care and Feeding of Living Documents).

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20 thoughts on “How to be a good hooker …

  1. The title of this post sucked me in as effectively as a good opening hook. Great post, Harmony.

    I’m a fan of this famous hook: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

    The other opening that always stuck with me is from The Outsiders: When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind—Paul Newman and a ride home. (I don’t know why this one always stuck with me, but I’ve remembered it since I opened the book oh-so-many years ago.)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Glad it grabbed you, Staci 🙂 Love those two opening lines. Often, subtlety grabs us more effectively than in-your-face drama/action/violence. The other night, I watched a movie that was supposed to be scary. Trouble was, they gave us too much. It would have been a lot more terrifying if they’d left it more ephemeral so our imaginations could conjure more. What came on the screen seemed way too concrete and quite a let-down.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post, Harmony! And it resonates strongly with me at the moment because I just gave up on reading a book that failed to grab my attention.

    I won’t mention the title, but the opening was ho-hum. I stuck with it, because the plot behind the book sounded good, but when I was 30% into the story and still waiting for something to happen (and plodding through paragraph after paragraph), I decided enough was enough! I hate a DNF book, but in this case, I had to abandon it.

    By contrast, I picked up THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT by Graham Moore, a book I’ve been eyeing for a long time. From the first line I was hooked. Check this out: “On the day that he would first meet Thomas Edison, Paul watched a man burn alive in the sky above Broadway.”

    Now, I am not ghoulish by any means, but that’s a heck of an opener. I’m only on chapter four and I can’t put the thing down. What a difference from the book I had to force myself to read!

    Opening hooks are important. And holding the reader’s interest afterward is equally critical. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Useful post for new as well as seasoned authors. I started Shadows of the Past with a Prologue, too. (Though there are opinions that we shouldn’t use Prologues anymore. I don’t see why.)
    I started at a pivotal plot point, right in action – the moment nun Genevieve, full of fear because of her running away and of the deaths that happened at the abbey, waits in hiding for Andrew’s arrival. This allowed me to hit the ground running and get the reader invested in the plot of the story right away.
    A beginning that my editor says is a NO-NO, involves the character just having a dream…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Carmens, for your lovely comment. Yes, I agree with your editor: Nothing annoys a reader more than to invest in an opening scene only to find it all a dream, lols. I, also, don’t see why prologues cannot be used. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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