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nocomposer
07-15-2014, 10:25 PM
I've read a lot of query letter advice, writing advice, etc, and one very important takeaway is [starting one's story off with a bang]. Hook them early. Get those pages turning.

This advice, coupled with a growing number of aspiring authors (and artists in general) who "want to make it", I think, is changing the way we tell stories which, in turn, is changing the way we think stories should be told.


Why should a story start with a hook? "Well, don't you want people to read it?!" Maybe so, but stories didn't always start with a hook, did they? At least not as big a hook. Some ambitious yet clumsy stories start with a hook so big that it's obviously meant to be a hook, which seems (to me) to be proof of the phenomenon.


I'm not saying I don't like stories that start with a hook--I start all my stories with a hook. But a lot of times--in TV shows, movies, and books--they're transparently formulaic. Desperate even.

Thoughts? Any good articles on the topic?

NRoach
07-15-2014, 10:30 PM
There needs to be something to make the reader want to read, but it needn't be something as ridiculous as "It was the day my Grandmother exploded".

It's the difference between a tug on the collar from someone with their bedroom eyes on full beam and being yanked off stage by a crook.

asroc
07-15-2014, 10:31 PM
I think most successful stories over time have started with something interesting, which is what I consider a hook. It doesn't have to be a murder or an explosion.

nocomposer
07-15-2014, 10:33 PM
So neither of you believe there is any such...trend of late?

KateJJ
07-15-2014, 10:47 PM
"Jacob Marley was dead to begin with"

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit"

"Call me Ishmael"

"You see, I had this space suit."

"Thunder and lightning, enter three witches"

All first lines (or in the last example, the stage directions for the opening act) from stories that are over 50 years old. The Heinlein example, from "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" is the most recent, the other books are much older. All hooks. All things I picked up as a kid and couldn't put down until I'd answered the question: what happens next.

Dennis E. Taylor
07-15-2014, 11:35 PM
"It was a dark and stormy night..." :ROFL:

nocomposer
07-15-2014, 11:43 PM
Good ones, Kate!

JustSarah
07-16-2014, 12:00 AM
Well I don't think they should "start with a bang." Though I would agree that the plot turn should be something big. I like to call it "awakening the sleeping giant." Even if that's a subtler form of a giant, if your of a more non-genre persuasion.

When I was reading Jude The Obscure, I noted there seemed to be a lot of exposition. Which felt a bit clunky. On the other hand, Little Brother seemed to be well executed.

Though that could be an era style, I guess.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-16-2014, 12:33 AM
Most books come with a hook in the back cover. So I don't think you need a huge bang in the first line, the first page, or even necessarily the first chapter. It can help, especially in certain genres, but you don't need it.

Jamesaritchie
07-16-2014, 02:26 AM
I've read a lot of query letter advice, writing advice, etc, and one very important takeaway is [starting one's story off with a bang]. Hook them early. Get those pages turning.

This advice, coupled with a growing number of aspiring authors (and artists in general) who "want to make it", I think, is changing the way we tell stories which, in turn, is changing the way we think stories should be told.


Why should a story start with a hook? "Well, don't you want people to read it?!" Maybe so, but stories didn't always start with a hook, did they? At least not as big a hook. Some ambitious yet clumsy stories start with a hook so big that it's obviously meant to be a hook, which seems (to me) to be proof of the phenomenon.


I'm not saying I don't like stories that start with a hook--I start all my stories with a hook. But a lot of times--in TV shows, movies, and books--they're transparently formulaic. Desperate even.

Thoughts? Any good articles on the topic?

Define "hook". I think the entire "hook" advice is not only overrated, but doesn't happen nearly as often in books and movies as it does in advice forums.

But I've read as many classic novels as anyone, and the only real change I see with most of them is the language used, not with hook/no hook.

The only reason so many stories now start with a "hook" is because so many new writers believe everything they read in advice forums. The published novel I read by most of the good writers seldom start with anything like what's called a "hook" on most advice forums.

And the first sentence has to do is make the reader want to read the second. This has been true since man started writing. Langauge changes, but I really see very little difference in openings between modern novels, and nineteenth century novels, other than how language is used.

Different genres call for different things, of course, but when writers have a poor opening, it isn't because there's no hook, it;s because there's nothing there to hold reader interest, or if there is, it's poorly written.

RedWombat
07-16-2014, 02:53 AM
But...but...WHAT ABOUT THE EXPLODING GRANDMOTHER!?

heza
07-16-2014, 02:56 AM
I think probably "tension" is a better term than "hook."

Little Ming
07-16-2014, 03:04 AM
Hook just means something interesting to keep the reader reading. It can be a beautiful description of a forest at dawn. Or it can be exploding grandmas. Whatever works for your story and makes the reader want more.

Ken
07-16-2014, 04:21 AM
the only hooks that really annoy me are ones that are so obviously orchestrated

e.g. starting chpt one with what happens (or should happen) in chpt 5 to get to the thrilling scene right at once and get the audience's attention (chpt 2 then becomes chpt 1)

probably a term for such stuff ?

a real turn off

Little Ming
07-16-2014, 04:32 AM
In Medias Res (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InMediasRes)?

Ken
07-16-2014, 04:43 AM
probably a term for such stuff ?


In Medias Res (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InMediasRes)?

neat

thnx for the info

Roxxsmom
07-16-2014, 05:26 AM
Looking at the opening lines of the last few novels I've read (and all are pretty recent, published within the past few years), I can't say any of the books open with the kind of hook you're describing. They seem to be either general background information that frames the story's beginning (when I was a girl, I..." kind of stuff), or a line describing some kind of action performed by a pov character (so and so closed his book and...), or even a description of a setting (the city of such and such was the...).

No exploding grandmothers or witty little lines that make me laugh, even.

I think one line hooks are a bit overstated for novels (queries and elevator pitches are another matter, of course). Those first line (or first three line contests) are fun, but I'm an amazingly picky reader, and I usually give a book at least a paragraph or two before I put it down.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-16-2014, 06:55 AM
In Medias Res (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InMediasRes)?


I don't mind in medias res in general; it's the version followed by a flashback that frustrates me. Starting in medias res in the classical sense doesn't involve the direct flashback scenes, it just involves skipping some exposition, which often works well and is not a cheap cop-out to having an interesting opening. Whenever someone pulls the preview version, I wanna slap 'em.

JustSarah
07-16-2014, 07:04 AM
But what if your work doesn't use exposition? I mean I know what it is, but I've only ever read about it.

I understand the reason for some hooks though. And if done well, can actually have their own reader interpretation.

RedWombat
07-16-2014, 07:16 AM
It was the day my grandmother exploded. Also the day of her eighteenth wedding.

Mom always said she'd get into trouble, carrying on with men like she did, but Gran liked men and men liked Gran. Problem was that she was a staunch Catholic and did not hold with foolin' around outside of marriage, so she dragged each one to the altar, sometimes a couple of times each. (She wasn't so good about divorcing them, but our parish priest had a soft spot for Gran and generally fudged the paperwork.)

The husbands were generally pretty good-natured about it--Gran being well-endowed in the charm department--but the last fellow was a small-time hit-man from Pittsburgh and it turned out his business associates weren't so good natured. I wouldn't think you could wire a bomb to a wedding cake, but mysterious are the ways of The Lord. Or the mob, anyhow.

The explosion was so loud it shorted out Uncle Willy's hearing aid and he kept saying "What? What? Is it the militias?" while bits of Gran, hit-man, wedding cake, and a discount wedding singer rained through the VFW dance hall. I turned to run, and that's when I saw the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life.

We took shelter under a table while the booby-trapped wedding presents exploded all over the VFW and this would be an awfully short story except that Uncle Willy was under the same table and that cut things short in the romance department...

(Sorry. Had a moment there...)

dondomat
07-16-2014, 07:19 AM
Define "hook". I think the entire "hook" advice is not only overrated, but doesn't happen nearly as often in books and movies as it does in advice forums.

But I've read as many classic novels as anyone, and the only real change I see with most of them is the language used, not with hook/no hook.

The only reason so many stories now start with a "hook" is because so many new writers believe everything they read in advice forums. The published novel I read by most of the good writers seldom start with anything like what's called a "hook" on most advice forums.

Not only the writers, a new crop of readers and editors and even agents also feel that by memorizing and parroting back the buzzwords of the day, including "opening hook", they have mastered their field. The less impressive the publisher and agency--the more they cling to the notion of a check-list that starts with "opening hook", progresses into various "show don't tells" and "no headhoppings", has a strong "I am not your lawyer--I am your real mother" undercurrent because "three dimensional characters" is taken to mean "soap opera", and ends with "cliffhanger", because "everything should be a serial".



But...but...WHAT ABOUT THE EXPLODING GRANDMOTHER!?

The exploding grandmother served her purpose: she established Mr. Iain Banks as the day's premier dark postmodernist, respected by the ivory tower denizens, and when he undertook to satisfy the inner kid and singlehandedly revive epic space sci-fi, he succeeded, and continued to publish a hight lit book one year and an epic space battle book the next year, and it's thanks to him today we have not only the space marine/space medieval empire 1950's/60's type of cliche space sci-fi, but also The New Wave of British Space Opera made up of amazing books by the likes of Alastair Reynolds and Ken Macleod and Neal Asher, because the publishing establishment believed this new approach to space sci-fi could work, because a super popular dark postmodernist did it first.

And this was the tale of the exploding grandmother. Moral: once you're accepted as the cream of your generation, you can do anything, including influencing whole genres into the direction you deem desirable.

Helix
07-16-2014, 07:22 AM
It was the day my grandmother exploded. Also the day of her eighteenth wedding.

Mom always said she'd get into trouble, carrying on with men like she did, but Gran liked men and men liked Gran. Problem was that she was a staunch Catholic and did not hold with foolin' around outside of marriage, so she dragged each one to the altar, sometimes a couple of times each. (She wasn't so good about divorcing them, but our parish priest had a soft spot for Gran and generally fudged the paperwork.)

The husbands were generally pretty good-natured about it--Gran being well-endowed in the charm department--but the last fellow was a small-time hit-man from Pittsburgh and it turned out his business associates weren't so good natured. I wouldn't think you could wire a bomb to a wedding cake, but mysterious are the ways of The Lord. Or the mob, anyhow.

The explosion was so loud it shorted out Uncle Willy's hearing aid and he kept saying "What? What? Is it the militias?" while bits of Gran, hit-man, wedding cake, and a discount wedding singer rained through the VFW dance hall. I turned to run, and that's when I saw the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life.

We took shelter under a table while the booby-trapped wedding presents exploded all over the VFW and this would be an awfully short story except that Uncle Willy was under the same table and that cut things short in the romance department...

(Sorry. Had a moment there...)

Now that's a hook! I have to read the rest.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-16-2014, 07:44 AM
Now that's a hook! I have to read the rest.


And here I thought it was flash fiction...

Liosse de Velishaf
07-16-2014, 07:57 AM
Not only the writers, a new crop of readers and editors and even agents also feel that by memorizing and parroting back the buzzwords of the day, including "opening hook", they have mastered their field. The less impressive the publisher and agency--the more they cling to the notion of a check-list that starts with "opening hook", progresses into various "show don't tells" and "no headhoppings", has a strong "I am not your lawyer--I am your real mother" undercurrent because "three dimensional characters" is taken to mean "soap opera", and ends with "cliffhanger", because "everything should be a serial".




The exploding grandmother served her purpose: she established Mr. Iain Banks as the day's premier dark postmodernist, respected by the ivory tower denizens, and when he undertook to satisfy the inner kid and singlehandedly revive epic space sci-fi, he succeeded, and continued to publish a hight lit book one year and an epic space battle book the next year, and it's thanks to him today we have not only the space marine/space medieval empire 1950's/60's type of cliche space sci-fi, but also The New Wave of British Space Opera made up of amazing books by the likes of Alastair Reynolds and Ken Macleod and Neal Asher, because the publishing establishment believed this new approach to space sci-fi could work, because a super popular dark postmodernist did it first.

And this was the tale of the exploding grandmother. Moral: once you're accepted as the cream of your generation, you can do anything, including influencing whole genres into the direction you deem desirable.


I guess I better write the next Wasp Factory before I start pumping out retro space opera and mage punk...

Shadow_Ferret
07-16-2014, 08:20 AM
You have to have something in that first page to get the reader to continue reading. Not necessarily a "hook" per se, but something. A unique character, an interesting setting, a writing style that draws them in... something.

Why? Because there is so much competition for the consumer's attention and dollar and much of it is of a passive nature where there is little effort required by the consumer to enjoy it. Reading is work. It requires your imagination to be in gear to "see" everything in the story. Television, movies, you can just veg out and let the story unfold before you. And games are something between the two, you need to be actively engaged to understand and solve the puzzles, but the consumer only minimally uses his imagination because games, too, are a visual medium and the characters are shown to you, the setting is shown to you.

dondomat
07-16-2014, 09:43 AM
The first line of The Transition by Ian Banks:

Apparently I am what is known as an Unreliable Narrator, though of course if you believe everything youíre told you deserve whatever you get.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-16-2014, 09:59 AM
You have to have something in that first page to get the reader to continue reading. Not necessarily a "hook" per se, but something. A unique character, an interesting setting, a writing style that draws them in... something.

Why? Because there is so much competition for the consumer's attention and dollar and much of it is of a passive nature where there is little effort required by the consumer to enjoy it. Reading is work. It requires your imagination to be in gear to "see" everything in the story. Television, movies, you can just veg out and let the story unfold before you. And games are something between the two, you need to be actively engaged to understand and solve the puzzles, but the consumer only minimally uses his imagination because games, too, are a visual medium and the characters are shown to you, the setting is shown to you.


This is all true, but I think many people over-estimate how hard you have to grab your reader.

A YA book sitting on my mantle begins with the MC ogling her coworker at the convenience store. There's nothing particularly incredible about the writing or the scene, and yet this book gets rave reviews from many people.

A second YA book opens with one of those cutesy lists show-casing the MC's voice (though it's nothing special) and a couple sentences about her friends. This book is less popular, but obviously still sold to a publisher and does about average in bookstores.

Many contemp YA or adult literary novels have rather slow openings.

Speculative fiction and action-adventure novels, by their very premises often tend to have more excitement on the first page, and high concept novels of any genre can often open with an in-your-face-exciting hook in the first sentence.


Different genres have different requirements for openings, although those can be subverted or ignored in a not insignificant number of cases.


I think there is more than one way to catch readers, and while first page and even first sentence hooks are common methods, you can use other techniques if you so choose. I mentioned back-cover blurbs earlier. Those can give you a certain amount of latitude with your target audience as far as when the excitement hits. The same goes for titles, or well-crafted reviews. Also blurbs by other authors, although the efficacy of those is less concretely established.

Hapax Legomenon
07-16-2014, 04:05 PM
I have read a significant number of drafts and published novels where I thought to the author, "woah, friend, you need to slow down."

I've never liked the "start with a bang," even in fantasy or science fiction. You end up having to backtrack so much.

quicklime
07-16-2014, 06:47 PM
So neither of you believe there is any such...trend of late?


I believe attention spans are getting shorter and you may need less pages about the garden, shaving, etc. before something more interesting comes along, but don't believe it is a phenomenon of reading, so much as less reading, more games, tv, etc.

WeaselFire
07-16-2014, 07:02 PM
This advice, coupled with a growing number of aspiring authors (and artists in general) who "want to make it", I think, is changing the way we tell stories which, in turn, is changing the way we think stories should be told.
Not as I see it. All the great stories from yesteryear seem to have a hook as well. Chaucer to Milton to Keats to Dickens to Longfellow. Even further, to Plato, Pliny and Confucius. Even the Bible, Torah, Koran and every other religious tome. Sun Tzu's title is even a hook, The Art of War.

Newer we have Hemmingway, Hammett, Spilane, Chandler, Fitzgerald and Macdonald. Steele, Evanovich, Grisham, Brown and Roberts. Even Twilight had a hook, though subtle.

So, I guess, I don't agree with the premise. Can't provide any insight for you, sorry.

Jeff

paddismac
07-16-2014, 07:48 PM
Define "hook". I think the entire "hook" advice is not only overrated, but doesn't happen nearly as often in books and movies as it does in advice forums.

But I've read as many classic novels as anyone, and the only real change I see with most of them is the language used, not with hook/no hook.

The only reason so many stories now start with a "hook" is because so many new writers believe everything they read in advice forums. The published novel I read by most of the good writers seldom start with anything like what's called a "hook" on most advice forums.

And the first sentence has to do is make the reader want to read the second. This has been true since man started writing. Langauge changes, but I really see very little difference in openings between modern novels, and nineteenth century novels, other than how language is used.

Different genres call for different things, of course, but when writers have a poor opening, it isn't because there's no hook, it;s because there's nothing there to hold reader interest, or if there is, it's poorly written.

I think I really have to agree with James on this. I see this "gotta have a hook" much more in forums than I do in actual practice. Maybe I prefer a different sort of reading material, but I can't honestly say that any of the books that I've read so far this year had anything resembling what a lot of people would consider an opening hook.

Every time I hear the phrase used, I think about movie trailers - the ones that have all of the great special effects. I really want to see that movie! Then I go, and find out pretty quickly that the only good thing about the movie was what was in the trailer (or the hook). A fantastic hook surrounded by 100 additional minutes of useless filler. But, hey, they got me to pay my money, and let's face it, not many people will demand a refund. I certainly hope that isn't the direction that publishing is headed. (My inner cynic is showing again.)

Laer Carroll
07-17-2014, 08:26 AM
There is no need for the very first sentence to jerk the reader into the story as if grabbed by a hook. Just that it pulls the reader in, perhaps ever so gently. Then the second must also continue this pulling process, and the third, etc. All the way to the very last.

Not that there is anything wrong with starting with a strong pull. Itís just not necessary. And the strongest pull will do no good if the remaining sentences of the story bore the reader.

Roxxsmom
07-17-2014, 10:50 AM
T
Speculative fiction and action-adventure novels, by their very premises often tend to have more excitement on the first page, and high concept novels of any genre can often open with an in-your-face-exciting hook in the first sentence.
.

Though not all opens with a combat scene, and indeed, a contextless combat scene where you have no idea of where and why this is happening can be offputting too.

There are also a surprising number of successful and well-regarded fantasy novels, including some that were written recently, that open pretty slowly. There are even some I thought were dull as dirt and couldn't get into at all, but that are popular overall.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-17-2014, 11:56 PM
Though not all opens with a combat scene, and indeed, a contextless combat scene where you have no idea of where and why this is happening can be offputting too.

There are also a surprising number of successful and well-regarded fantasy novels, including some that were written recently, that open pretty slowly. There are even some I thought were dull as dirt and couldn't get into at all, but that are popular overall.


I don't disagree with that, nor was I saying contextless combat scenes were the major hook which those genres could use that other couldn't.

But, for example, N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon uses the technique of opening with a scene involving the high concept behind the book, and many books even manage to squeeze theirs into the opening sentence.

dondomat
07-18-2014, 04:55 PM
The opening sentence--or paragraph--has to:
a) make you want to read on, to get more context
b) convince you the author knows what he's/she's doing
Every successful opening of a book is "a hook" in this sense, but not all of them are "I looked at the grenade rolling over and morphed into my alpha badger form."
Some can be
We were in class when the head-master came in, followed by a "new fellow," not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk.Others can be:
I looked past Wally Gibbons at the woman who had just come into the Cavalier Restaurant and felt the same as every other man in the place.And if enough people find the opening intriguing and the structure and rhythm--confidence inspiring--then it's a "hook", without the need for levitating ninja cyborgs to appear in sentence one.
Not that I mind levitating ninja cyborgs--far from it--just saying they don't have to be in every opening sentence.

Tazlima
07-18-2014, 05:47 PM
A memorable first line is definitely cool. I remember when I was a kid and read Little Women for the first time. My mother saw me with it and piped up, "'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' said Jo, lying on the rug."* She had read the book years before and that first line resonated with her so strongly that she still remembered it.

Yet, not every book has one. I'd be interested to see examples of wonderful stories that don't start with a hook.

I'll go first. Watership Down, possibly my all-time favorite novel, doesn't have a hook. The first line is

"The primroses were over."

The entire first paragraph describes a bunch of rabbits grazing peacefully.

Now by the end of the first chapter, a lot has happened, but if Adams had posted that first paragraph here, it would have been ripped to shreds.

I can see it now:
...All you've described is some plants and grazing rabbits. There's no conflict.
..."The warren was at peace?" That doesn't make me want to read on.
...this reads like a botany manual. You don't need to list so many types of plants, one or two would be plenty.

(For what it's worth, the last line in the book ends, "...as the primroses were just beginning to bloom," bringing the story full circle, but people who put the book down at the first paragraph would never learn that).

Yet, that first paragraph is crucial. It gives the readers a glimpse of just how much the rabbits are sacrificing when they decide to head off cross-country. They're not trapped in some post-apocalyptic wasteland where any change is bound to be an improvement. They're not going on some quest for an amazing treasure. They're leaving behind their families and a safe comfortable home because some scrawny nobody claims to have had a vision of "something bad coming." They're curious and feeling a bit adventurous, and that's about it.

What other awesome books don't have hooks?

*Note: All quotes here are from memory and may not be exact.

Hapax Legomenon
07-18-2014, 06:31 PM
I'm reading a book that does a terrible job with a hook.

It starts out with a fight/chase scene that actually occurs about 1/3rd into the book. There are a lot of parts of it you don't understand because they're explained later, and when you actually get to the part of the book where this chapter should have been, it feels like there's a hole, because you're supposed to remember what happened 130 pages ago precisely.

What's worse, the next two chapters, from different POVs, aren't exactly slow, either. Either of them would have been a good place to start the book, but no, the book had to go for the exciting scene torn out of the middle. And with all these reference we could not possibly understand, it really does feel like the scene was torn out of the middle -- I'm wondering if it was the editor's choice to do that rather than the author's.

dondomat
07-18-2014, 09:07 PM
On nonexistent hooks...

Turgenev's On the Eve (http://www.online-literature.com/turgenev/on-the-eve/1/)


On one of the hottest days of the summer of 1853, in the shade of a tall lime-tree on the bank of the river Moskva, not far from Kuntsovo, two young men were lying on the grass. These guys are students--one is in philosophy, the other in art. They discuss things slowly. Very slowly. It's like The Wind in the Willows without cute animals. Or any movement whatsoever. Then, at length, they start philosophizing:


'Have you noticed,' began Bersenyev, eking out his words with gesticulations, 'what a strange feeling nature produces in us? Everything in nature is so complete, so defined, I mean to say, so content with itself, and we understand that and admire it, and at the same time, in me at least, it always excites a kind of restlessness, a kind of uneasiness, even melancholy.
What is the meaning of it? Is it that in the face of nature we are more vividly conscious of all our incompleteness, our indefiniteness, or have we little of that content with which nature is satisfied, but something else--I mean to say, what we need, nature has not?'


'H'm,' replied Shubin, 'I'll tell you, Andrei Petrovitch, what all that comes from. You describe the sensations of a solitary man, who is not living but only looking on in ecstasy. Why look on? Live, yourself, and you will be all right. However much you knock at nature's door, she will never answer you in comprehensible words, because she is dumb. She will utter a musical sound, or a moan, like a harp string, but don't expect a song from her.
A living heart, now--that will give you your answer--especially a woman's heart. So, my dear fellow, I advise you to get yourself some one to share your heart, and all your distressing sensations will vanish at once.
"That's what we need," as you say. This agitation, and melancholy, all that, you know, is simply a hunger of a kindOnly then, when they go back from the river to the local settlement--do other characters begin to appear and the seeds of conflict are sown. Me, I love this.

And also Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov, (http://www.online-literature.com/view.php/brothers_karamazov/1?term=karamazov)which starts like this:

ALEXEY Fyodorovitch Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, a landowner well known in our district in his own day, and still remembered among us owing to his gloomy and tragic death, which happened thirteen years ago, and which I shall describe in its proper placeSo you want me to tell you something interesting about Karamazov? What's the rush? Sit down and listen to me retelling a banal family saga for three chapters, and then, maybe then, I'll start showing something interesting...

Well, on second thought, Dostoyevski's is a pretty trashy thriller beginning, for the time.

Ah, the 19th century:D

Axordil
07-18-2014, 10:40 PM
My take (and much of this has been said, but not all together in one convenient ready-to-cook package):

1) If you do not have a publishing track record to speak of, you need to get a reader interested fast. Readers are willing to cut more slack if they've enjoyed someone's work in the past, because they trust the author to some extent. New authors have yet to earn that trust.

2) First sentences can be big--but has anyone here ever put a book down after one sentence? (I exclude ones that actively offend sensibilities in some way.) A hook doesn't have to be the first sentence, or perhaps even the first paragraph, but by the end of the first page, a new author should give a reader a reason to turn it and not simply put the book down/click the next one. That's a decision point. So is the end of the first scene, or even the end of the first chapter if they're short enough.

3) It doesn't have to be action. It can be suspense. It can be a question, overt or implied, that lodges in a reader's head. It can even be prose of such staggering power or loveliness a reader feels compelled to keep going. Whatever approach, it has to engage someone.

4) What works for one genre may not work for others. Then again, it might. :D

Bolero
07-19-2014, 12:56 AM
But...but...WHAT ABOUT THE EXPLODING GRANDMOTHER!?

From memory, its the opening line of "The Crow Road". (Or maybe you know that and I'm not getting your joke :) never know around here.)

I like your version too. :)

And on the original subject I think there are openings, openings with hooks, and openings with very quotable first lines

"It was the best of times and the worst of times"
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a wife."

And that is even harder to do than a hook.

In media res, yes. Forced cleverness, no. (As other people have already said.) Jane Austin wrote other books, but none of them have the first line quoted in that way, ditto Dickens.

Laer Carroll
07-21-2014, 02:22 AM
As others have pointed out, the hook doesn’t have to be the size of a ship’s anchor. It can be subtle. To work it only needs to entice a reader to read beyond the hook.

I’ve noticed at least three kinds of hook: those about action, characters, or setting.


A shot rang out. Sanshr ducked behind a dumpster, drew her chazer, and lofted a spybot high into the night sky.
Jessica Santos was tiny, beautiful, and had a mischievous air. Donnie thought life with her would always be interesting, but perhaps never comfortable.
Green Valley looked like every person’s idea of home. Or so thought Alyse as she drew her motorcycle to a halt high above it in a rocky pass.

I like hooks which are immediately followed by some context for it. Especially ones which introduce at least one important character (maybe but not necessarily the main character).

Hooks can also combine more than one type of hook, and include context.

Cheerleader Bethany Rossiter died the first time on a football field one day before her sixteenth birthday.