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View Full Version : Is a first-chapter "hook" in a thriller novel ALWAYS necessary?


Juliotango
04-12-2005, 04:33 PM
I have recently completed a suspense novel. This is my second book. After sending to over three dozen agents, I have gotten nothing but rejections. I am not discouraged about this since obviously rejection is part of the business, but one of the things that has come up in the six or seven times that agents have written a personal response is that they say that I should begin my book with a "hook".

My novel begins by introducing the character, a teenaged boy who has supernatural powers. He is in the living room chatting with his father. I thought that I would introduce him first since much of the story centers around him, but according to those agents, this is not the ideal thing to do.

I personally like the idea of building up towards the introduction of the suspense, and introducing characters. I do not think my introduction of the main character is too long (only two thousand words), and in the second and third chapters already the suspense begins.

I guess part of it has to do with the fact that I would like to give my book a literary feel even though it's commercial fiction.

My question is, what do you guys think of the "always start your thriller/suspense novel with a hook" idea? Obviously there are many books out there that start out with a hook and then the rest of the novel is less than great. In those instances readers are left feeling cheated, something I wouldn't like to do.

Any ideas, opinions?

Inspired
04-12-2005, 04:36 PM
I'm not an expert in the thriller department, but if 6-7 agents offered you that advice, you need to seriously consider it.

Note On
04-12-2005, 04:46 PM
I think it's more efficient to introduce character and plot at the same time.

I don't think of it as a "hook." I think of it as not delaying the actual beginning of your story.

James D. Macdonald
04-12-2005, 04:55 PM
You need to give the reader a reason to turn the page.

TashaGoddard
04-12-2005, 04:59 PM
I've been having similar thoughts about my own WIP. When I started writing it, it did jump right in with a 'hook'. I then reread some of my favourite books in the genre and saw that some of them didn't really put the hook in until maybe a third of a way through and it still worked. So, I decided to rejig my outline to move the 'hook' on and character build in the first part. This was a mistake. For my WIP, anyway. It was basically just filler/back-story and there was no suspense at all. So I've now gone back to the original plan (more or less) and I think it's a lot better for it.

Having decided to do this, I thought some more about the books where the 'hook' was further in and none of them were the first book written by that particular author. They were all written after the author/s already had a good following. Which lead me to think that perhaps in a first novel, and probably quite a few after that, you do need to make sure the 'hook' is there at the beginning. Once you have a following, you can start experimenting a bit and your readers will know that you will deliver, so will keep reading (and hopefully still enjoying doing so) until the 'hook' does appear.

Of course, none of this is at all scientific, but those are the conlclusions I came to personally.

In addition to which, as Inspired said, if that many agents have mentioned it, it is definitely worth looking into rewriting. Try cutting out the introductory bit and see if it still works. Maybe it would be possible to move that scene further on in the book; or introduce the important information that appears there gradually.

Getting feedback rather than just a straight 'No thanks' is great and probably means that you are doing other things right. If you tweak it a bit in light of the comments you have received before next submitting it, you might well get a bite. Good luck!

KellyS.
04-12-2005, 05:09 PM
I wrote a "hook" chapter and then let some people look at it. I was told that not enough was said about the character and so on. I don't know if the people who read it normally read that genre. Maybe they don't and that's why they gave the reason they did. I would listen to the letters you received.


I've had no coffee, so feel free to ignore this.

Torin
04-12-2005, 05:19 PM
It's not just suspense novels that need a "hook". EVERY book has to capture the reader's interest very quickly or it's going to be left on the shelf at the bookstore. There has to be something to keep the reader interested and background description isn't it. And it doesn't have to be THE big point of the story, just something to make the reader turn the next page, and the next...

Good luck.

Torin

Jamesaritchie
04-12-2005, 06:19 PM
I have recently completed a suspense novel. This is my second book. After sending to over three dozen agents, I have gotten nothing but rejections. I am not discouraged about this since obviously rejection is part of the business, but one of the things that has come up in the six or seven times that agents have written a personal response is that they say that I should begin my book with a "hook".

My novel begins by introducing the character, a teenaged boy who has supernatural powers. He is in the living room chatting with his father. I thought that I would introduce him first since much of the story centers around him, but according to those agents, this is not the ideal thing to do.

I personally like the idea of building up towards the introduction of the suspense, and introducing characters. I do not think my introduction of the main character is too long (only two thousand words), and in the second and third chapters already the suspense begins.

I guess part of it has to do with the fact that I would like to give my book a literary feel even though it's commercial fiction.

My question is, what do you guys think of the "always start your thriller/suspense novel with a hook" idea? Obviously there are many books out there that start out with a hook and then the rest of the novel is less than great. In those instances readers are left feeling cheated, something I wouldn't like to do.

Any ideas, opinions?

If you're getting this many personal responses from agents it means you're doing something right. But, yes, you need to start the book quickly. I'm not sure a "hook" is necessary, but it's as good a word as any.

In newspaper parlance, something on the first page or two must make the reader ask who, what, when, where, or why. Which really means something must make the reader really want to know What Happens Next?

A hook is just anything that draws the reader in, that makes the reader turn the page. The hook is a question or a problem or a puzzle that intrigues the reader. Character alone doesn't usually do this, even in literary novels.

I don't think this means character should be ignored in the opening, character is important, it just means that character must be mixed with the question, the problem, or the puzzle.

The second or third chapter is way too late for most readers to wait for the suspense.

It reminds me of the old advice on how to write a good opening. When the first draft is finished, throw out the first two chapters and open with chapter three. Any needed information from the first two chapters can then be blended into the novel a little at a time.

I first heard this at least twenty years ago. From Lawrence Block, I thnk, though I could be wrong. It isn't always necessary, of course, but it's a good thing to check. First-time novelists are particularly prone to this problem, but even experienced novelists sometimes make the mistake of starting the novel too early, or of beginning with long, slow description, or with too much character and too little story.

I think story is really the key. It's the story the readers are looking for, and you have to let them know what the story is as soon as possible.

maestrowork
04-12-2005, 08:21 PM
Give them a hook, a reason to turn the pages early on. Then you can spend the next few chapters "developing" your characters.

veinglory
04-12-2005, 08:23 PM
Thriller genre books particulary need a hook, it's a part of the succes formula.

katiemac
04-12-2005, 09:13 PM
As a bit of an echo as to what other people are saying, it won't do you any good to develop your characters early on and build up suspense if the readers don't care about them yet. That's what the hook is for.

Some authors can get away with it. In this case, though, you should listen to the agents.

oswann
04-12-2005, 09:45 PM
[QUOTE=
It reminds me of the old advice on how to write a good opening. When the first draft is finished, throw out the first two chapters and open with chapter three. Any needed information from the first two chapters can then be blended into the novel a little at a time.
QUOTE]


This is true and I do it just about every time. Even if I think, this time I've nailed it, this opening is tight and as late as possible after about 10K words it's a pretty safe bet that I can scrap at least the first chapter.



Os.

Samuel Dark
04-12-2005, 09:46 PM
A hook is a MUST have for every novel. And this is why. Most of the time ,I decide whether or not I am going to buy a book based on if the FIRST chapter is thrilling enough. Even if the rest of the book is good -- like Ted Dekker's Blink is -- I may never read it unless it hooks me right then and there. (And, in Blink, it takes like 5 chapters to get good...yet my mom bought the book, and my friend begged me to read it, so I did). But what u are doing, I did in my book Rose Killer. Yet, I hooked the reader by starting out in the point of view of the killer, the switching to a cop. And, not realyl starting with action, but making it interesting enough to where the reader will want to read on. Thats my view. And thats final.

mdmkay
04-12-2005, 09:55 PM
How many times have you "lurked" around a bookstore or library and watched people shop for books? This is the usual sceries of events that I see before a person buys a book. 1) wandering around to find a title that looks interesting, and/or an author they know (for this circumstance we are going to go with the person looking for a good book that isn't by a particular author) 2) takes out the book to look at cover 3) reads the back or cover flap that describes book 4) flips to first chapter to start reading whether or not they "like" the author's voice and if the story interests them...........notice I said starts reading, not reading the whole chapter or several chapters. Based on the impression your book as only had several minutes to make on them they decide whether or not to purchase.

As writers we think this is an unfair assessment but unfortunatly it is the way of the world. I could be all wet but I don't really think so. We then turn around and gripe (me included) about editors that want to be pulled into the story immediatly when we the writers want them to know the background of the character or the set the scene first. There is always some middle ground somewhere we just have to be willing to find it.

Mdm Kay is now covering her head and running out of the room as the writers are throwing their manuscripts at her head screaming "traitor".

Zolah
04-12-2005, 10:33 PM
JulioTango, I appreciate your desire to introduce your characters and to give the book a literary feel. That's the way I always want to work myself. But there's a middle way which will enable you to do both.

Introduce your character, make us care about him, but add a hook to the end of the scene. If the character has supernatural powers that are going to be prominent, show them. Have something unexpected happen suddenly. And don't finish it off - show the shock and the horror, but not the resolution. Then you'll have given the readers a hint of character and a hook.

The other thing is, make that little character sketch as compelling as possible. Show us why this character is unique and interesting. Don't give into the temptation to make it all too cosy. Characters that are beautifully drawn and unexpected can really draw you into a narrative, so make that another kind of hook.

And well done on those personal responses. It sounds like you are well on your way!
:Clap:

James D. Macdonald
04-12-2005, 11:20 PM
Character is something that's revealed through action and dialog.

cwfgal
04-13-2005, 03:29 AM
Imagine yourself observing a bunch of people who are all standing around talking about themselves to the others, sharing personal tidbits, thoughts, anecdotes, etc. You, the observer, don't know any of them and you drift around listening to all of them. Which ones are going to stand out and interest you enough to stop drifting and stay with them? Will it be the ones talking about themselves and their lives, or the ones who are arguing vehemently over something? Will it be the one who wants to tell you his plans for tomorrow or the one who says he has just five minutes to live? Will it be the woman talking about the crazy things her kids do every day or the woman whose abusive husband just arrived and caught her there with her lover?

You need to make your character stand out right away but you also need to interest your readers enough to make them care about this character on some level. That's what your hook has to do...suck the reader into the vortex of your story and make them want to stay to see what happens next.

Beth

Zolah
04-13-2005, 03:32 AM
Very true, Uncle James. JulioTango can begin the process of establishing the protagonist's character through the dialogue in the opening scene, and use the 'hook' to reveal more about the character through his actions.
:Thumbs:

zornhau
04-13-2005, 03:02 PM
Read the thread on how people buy books, then consider that people on this board are more literary than the average punter.

karlitea
04-15-2005, 01:24 AM
In no means an expert, but here is my opinion (and it goes for most genres, not just thriller):

I think the end of every chapter should have a 'hook'. Consider it a transition to get your reader to keep going. You don't have to dangle your character over a cliff to have a hook, maybe just reveal something new, or add a conflict. Something to grab the reader's interest.

I also feel that the majority of your characterization should come as part of the action. Therefore, your chapter shouldn't be just about building your character but also plot development.

Also imperative is that first chapter... if you can't suck a reader into your storyline by the end of that chapter...your going to lose sales (from those who read the 1st in the store) and lose some readers (the less patient of us who are only willing to give a new author a chance if they catch our interest early on).

Course, that's just my opinion.

CACTUSWENDY
04-15-2005, 01:41 AM
:Sun: IMO only...I just finished a big named aurthor's book and had to wade almost 2/3 of the way through to get to the story. Considering the number of books he has produced I'm sure nobody gives him any problems with his timing or style anymore, but I doubt if I will ever buy another one of his.

I have a short attention span...(second childhood) and I have to have a hook or something to keep me turning the pages. Considering this is suppose to be a suspense story, I would agree with those that market this type. The fluff of development of characters will fill in as you move on. It's not necessary for me to understand the 'power' and such at the start, only that something has happened and I got to see it.

Again...IMO only....much success to you....:Sun: