At the beginning of a novel or a chapter, a hook is like a fishing lure, it pulls you in, it makes you want to read more. It’s the first few words or sentences that pull the reader into the story and makes you buy THAT book, not another. Has anyone opened a book, read the first line and put back? Why? I’d guess it’s because the beginning doesn’t hook you, doesn’t promise you a good story or the kind of story you like.
But you knew this all of this. Let’s look at two opening hooks that work well.
SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS It Had to Be You “Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.”
ANN GEORGE Murder Boogies with Elvis “I was lying on my stomach under the kitchen sink, eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich and listening to Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ when icy cold hands grasped my ankles.”
These are great for two reasons. First, they make us wonder: Why would this woman bring a French poodle and her Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral? Who grabbed this woman’s ankles? We want to read on because we want to know WHY? Second, they work well for the genre. I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips women’s fiction and Ann George’s humorous mysteries. These opening lines promise that these are exactly the kind of books I love.
Don’t you hate it when authors use their own books as examples? I do, too, but I’m going to anyway. And I do have a good reason. This is the first line of my first Love Inspired, The Path to Love. “Francie Calhoun learned to pick pockets when she was five, mark cards at eight and how to hotwire a car years before she could get an driver’s license.” Does this opening make you wonder about this heroine? Do you wonder more because this sentence is the beginning of an inspirational novel? Often an opening that doesn’t promise what other books in the genre works well to catch the readers’ attention.
The second reason is because my original idea for a book usually comes as an opening line. My first idea for the beginning The Path to Love was, “Francie Calhoun met Jesus and the devil on the same afternoon.” I love that line-but as I wrote the story, it no longer fit. I had to cut it, completely. That hurt. But even if you have the best opening hook that has ever been published, if it doesn’t work with the novel, get rid of it.
Next month: hooks between chapters. An opening hook involves the reader in the story. Internal links keep the reader going. How do you do that?