Nov 12, 2009

Opening lines and hooks.

 The first line of your narrative is your connection with the reader. You want to make an impact, build an interest so the reader commits to the narrative. Like all relationships, there will be ups and downs. Your narrative will require quick moving/action scenes but also need to give your reader a rest with easier paced sections and ways to pass on necessary information.  Make sure your reader has a strong investment in the narrative so they will see you through the slow times.  Fashion of narrative styles have evolved along with the medium and technology that delivers them. Today readers want the story to start moving straight away, and it's harder to hold their attention for long. Many experts are suggesting that the way we read is changing, see this great article: Does the Brain like E-books?So when we hear of opening hooks in novels today, the need has developed to have intermittent hooks throughout your narrative There are different techniques you can use for a begining paragraph, the main key is to give the reader just enough information to let them know this is the type of story they would enjoy reading, but not too much, they'll have to read more to find out what's going on.   Lets look at a few examples: Mark Twain started Buck Fanshaw's Funeral with:Somebody has said that in order to know a community, one must observe the style of its funerals and know what manner of men they bury with most ceremony.It's intriguing enough, but two paragraphs down is where I think Twain would begin his tale today:On the inquest it was shown that Buck Fanshaw, in the delirium of a waisting typhoid fever, had taken arsenic, shot himself through the body, cut his throat, and jumped out of a four-story window and broken his neck - and after due deliberation, the jury, sad and tearful, but with intelligence unblinded by its sorrow, brought in a verdict of death "by the visitation of God." Von Fiend's children's book Ock, the story of a young vampire, begins:Ock's place is hard to miss. It's the scary mansion, just outside of town. When you start getting the creeps, you know you're getting close. Those styles peak the curiosity of the reader, but there are other ways to build a relationship. Try putting the reader into the 'place' of your novel quickly so they immediately picture where they are.Cornelia Funke paints a vivid picture in the opening of Dragon Rider:All was still in the valley of the dragons. Mist had drifted in from the sea nearby and was clinging to the mountains. Birds twittered uncertainly in the foggy damp, and clouds hid the sun.The reader has an immediate phsyical sense of connection with the setting. Another thing to remember is: Make sure you live up to your promises!  I recently bought a book based solely on the opening line:When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. Okay, this may reveal some Freudian state of mind about me. But the point is, I found the rest of Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon, a bit of a let down. For starters, killing her mother did not come easy at all, the actual act took a lot of effort, was clumsy and there were severe repercussions. Don't lie to your reader.  Stephanie Meyer's 1st chapter of Twilight begins with:My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees... Not very thrilling (especially for a thriller), and there are many chapters to come before things get exciting. So how did she get a commitment from so many young readers known for their short attention spans?  A great preface:I'd never given much thought to how I would die- though I'd had reason enough in the last few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this. Here's my go, this is how I began Dog Show Detective a story about an 11yr old girl who takes her dog to shows and solves mysteries:
Entering the Junior Handlers dog show competition would be difficult, it would take dedication and it might be embarrassing. But Kitty had no idea it would be dangerous. No, Kitty Walker did not expect her life would be threatened, Kitty had bigger worries.

Now I know its NaNoWriMo time, and that means don't fuss and edit, get the story down - plus you should already have a beginning by now. But think about starting a few key chapters with a great opening hook and keep a notebook of ideas for strong openings for when edit time comes around!


  1. Great post, Charmaine! I've seen you often on JF and thought I'd take a peek at your blog - good stuff! I know I'll be a new regular visitor.
    Shannon O'Donnell

  2. Thanks Shannon!
    I love the shared resources of blogs, they are a great distraction, um, I mean motivation for writing.