Friday, May 1, 2009

Book Hooks Day 4

How else to create a hook for your book?

Start with action. "Action" does not necessarily mean a gunfight, a fistfight, or an explosion. Action means starting your book or story at a compelling place, in a scene, with something at stake for your characters.

Look closely and you may find that you have pages of material that should not be in the beginning. They fill in some important blanks for readers, but that backstory can safely be moved to somewhere after your opening.

“Uh – hem.” Yup, that was me. The first time I took my pages to a NHRWA critique session, I found out that the action of my story actually started on page four, so I moved it up to page one.

The key is to start your story with a riveting moment that grabs the reader by the shirtfront and does not let him or her turn away.

Example: “Twelve hundred pounds of charging horseflesh hit the wooden railings chest high and somersaulted into the north stands. Faces frozen with horror moved in desperate slow motion to get out of the path of the crazed beast.”

The first lines of Cut Throat by Lyndon Stacey a horse has crashed through the gate protecting the crowd and someone is going to get hurt.

Now that's some action!

A general rule is to never put dialogue or straight description in your opening lines. Dialogue is fine in the first scene. Many experts agree that first scenes without dialogue do not achieve their potential.

"Why is that?"

The most compelling reading material involves tension between people, and people usually talk to each other. However, if your very first lines are dialogue, it is impossible for the reader to understand who is speaking right off the bat. It would be like walking in on the middle of a conversation between two people at a party and trying to decipher what they are discussing.

“I think she is a very attractive girl.” “Yes, but can she sing.” You do not have a clue about who they are or who they are talking about.

Similarly, the use of description right up front will not pull your reader into the story. Not because it confuses or disorients the reader like dialogue, but because description can be dull and it does not tell the reader anything about the story itself.

If (and this is a big IF) the setting is somehow crucial to your first scene and you feel you must start there, limit it to one or two sentences and then get right into the meat of the scene. There will be time for description later.

Example: Death was not taking a holiday. New york may have been decked out in its glitter and glamour, madly festooned in December of 2059, but Santa Claus was dead. And a couple of his elves weren’t looking so good. ~from "Creation in Death" by JD Robb

Your homework, should you choose to accept it is. . .

Exercise: Write two different opening hooks. They can be just a paragraph or a page. But remember, you are to hook that reader and make them want more.

At least one of the opening hooks has to have action in the opening paragraph.

Have fun!


Ceri Hebert May 1, 2009 at 8:29 PM  


If it weren’t for the infant in the back seat, Alexa Moynihan would’ve let her rage push her on at breakneck speed down the highway. It was funny, in a not so funny way, that the closer she got to this Noah person the more the white-hot anger inside her boiled over. She figured that it would’ve cooled some since finding the note in her sister’s room after the funeral last week, but it just blistered inside her, a rage tinged with pain. She kept her foot lightly on the gas pedal though, keeping the white rental car just three miles an hour over the posted speed limit on the winding New Hampshire road. She didn’t want to get stopped by a cop, didn’t want to lose anytime in reaching her goal. Or target.

Ceri Hebert May 2, 2009 at 6:41 AM  


She tumbled endlessly until she didn't know what direction was up. Her leg hit something sharp and hard, scraping away flesh. Which way was up? Which way to air? She opened her mouth to scream but swallowed a mouthful of icy, briny sea water instead.

So, this was death. She'd always hoped it would come on stealthily, take her without her even knowing it. Not like this, not with this endless spinning, this deep, slicing cold. This wasn't death. This was a descent into Hell.

Denise May 2, 2009 at 8:50 AM  

Great writing! I especially like the opening line of #2. Without the rest of it, the reader is wondering where is she tumbling and why.

Nice job!

Ceri Hebert May 3, 2009 at 7:24 AM  

I'm going to post another one. Sorry, can't resist. I love this one...



Iona Killian didn’t have an ounce of it in her blood, not one square inch of it in her body and she wasn’t at all ashamed to admit it.

When she left home on that balmy June evening at the age of sixteen, her mother yelled out the screen door that she was a taker and would always be. Never mind any of the other sins that had been committed inside those walls. What she was was all that mattered. A user and a taker. It was a hell of a badge to wear, but Iona knew that her mother was right and she didn’t apologize for it. After all, wasn’t that what she was taught to be? The only way to get what she wanted, what she needed.

Denise May 4, 2009 at 6:07 AM  

Ceri -

Terrific opener on #3! The whole thing makes you want to know more about Iona.


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