The Lure of a Great Hook
Writing is something that has fascinated me for over forty years and I still find it amazing that it has done so. Other passions have come and gone, writing has kept me in its firm grip from the day that I first picked up a pen. I can remember being read Grimm’s Fairy Tales in one form or another and thinking the endings were dumb even though the beginnings had held great promise. Even then, I knew and understood that an incredible beginning was needed to make a story great.
Since those early years, I have learned the power of the hook as we writers call it. If you don’t get the readers with the first line, you may not get them at all. So let’s go over some hooks that have intrigued me over the years and I’ll give a few of my own for contrast.
Here’s my top ten list of best hooks in the world. See if you can guess who wrote them. The answers are listed below. They are, in no particular order:
1. Hunting vampires was a bitch.
2. He was running for his life.
3. It was a dark and stormy night.
4. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
5. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
6. Marley was dead: to begin with.
7. When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
8. It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.
9. Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet.
10. The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.
Each one of those hooks have special meaning for me as I read each of those books at a different time in my life, some for school and some for pleasure. Realize this list ebbs and flows like a river, changing with time and never standing still. What I find inspiring today, I might find dull and boring the next. Notice there is a mix of classic and contemporary pieces. Some are romance and some are not. But each of them have something so compelling which makes me want to read more. And read them I did, some more than once and a few of them I still read yearly if I can remember just where I left my latest copy. LOL!
What comprises a good hook? Notice that with the ones I listed, there is not one standard theme. Some come from a character’s point of view and some don’t, some involve something personal and some don’t. So just what is it?
There are some constant elements each and every hook must have. They are:
It must be compelling
Should be a beginning – The reason I say should here is because some books have started with the ending and been quite successful. The hook is still there, just not how you expect it.
It can start with dialogue.
It can start with action.
It could be a contrast or something totally unexpected.
It could be a character description or a description of a setting.
It could be a humorous question or exclamation or even a regular question or exclamation.
Let’s look at some of mine now and see just what I do. The first is from a novel called “Where’s My Underwear Anyway?” and it is a fun romp. It’s first direct, to the point and immediately brings you into the action.
“So…you really don’t know where your underwear might be?”
There are groups out that who say never start your novel with a question. But this question just begged for an answer. It puts the reader immediately on a quest for the missing underwear. It also brings to mind other questions: who has the underwear? how was the underwear lost? was the underwear misplaced?
Suddenly, a reader wants to know the answer to those questions.
Here’s another of my first lines. This is from a completed book which is part of the Blue Moon Magic world.
He had always been in this cage in one way or another. It was only recently they had decided to make it his permanent room.
Again, this one takes you immediately into a dilemma. You know someone is in a cage. You don’t know the how’s or the why’s but it just begs those questions.
Here’s another from my Santa’s Elves series. This is from last year’s book, An Elf’s Desire.
That human woman drove him crazy.
From just this first line, you know the person thinking is a man and that he isn’t human. Still, you wonder just what the human woman is doing to drive him crazy. It must be something good or he wouldn’t be thinking about it.
This last one is from another WIP called “Avenging Aingeal” and is a story of elemental magic.
No one knows where we came from really. We just…are. And there are so very few of us, roaming the earth, protecting the inhabitants these days.
This is from an omniscient POV but is still interesting in its own way. We want to know just who ‘they’ are and why we need protecting. Then one might want to know just how long have ‘they’ been protecting us because the way the sentence is constructed, it is implied that ‘they’ have been here for a long, long time. But one must read the story to know the all answers.
And this one has always been one of my personal favorites as it won quite a few contests with the most notable being at the Hawaii RWA conference. Leslie Wanger picked it as one of five from the whole room full of people.
“Damn, I’m going to lose another one.”
This from my complete book, Midnight Run about a woman off-road racer. It was my first book ever, all 72K of it. And it’s set on my computers in one form or another for the past 15 years at least. It has a great hook but a saggy middle with a kick-ass end. But that’s left for another blog.
And here are the answers to my original question.
1. Hunting vampires was a bitch. – Minion – L.A. Banks
2. He was running for his life. – Hot Ice – Nora Roberts
3. It was a dark and stormy night. – Paul Clifford – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
4. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. - Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
5. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. - Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
6. Marley was dead: to begin with. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
7. When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkein
8. It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance - Outlander – Diana Galbadon
9. Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet. - The Flame and the Flower – Kathleen Woodiweiss
10. The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
After all, isn’t that what a hook is meant to do? Make you as the reader want to read the book?
Lynn Crain is an award winning, multi-published author who normally lives in the southwest United States. For the next few years, she’s been transplanted to Vienna, Austria where she continues to write and learn. You can follow her adventures there in her blog, A Writer In Vienna (www.awriterinvienna.blogspot.com) or on twitter (www.twitter.com/oddlynn3) as well as her usual old hangouts. (www.lynncrain.com; www.lynncrain.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/oddlynn3)
Lynn Crain Bio/Links
Lynn Crain realized at an early age she wanted to write. She took the long way to that goal by doing a variety of things like nursing, geologist, technical writer and computer manager. Even though she is no longer in the medical field, Lynn has studied natural medicine and remedies for years. She is currently getting her Ph.D. in natural medicine with an emphasis on historical medicine and is still utterly fascinated with all things medical. During her free time she weaves fantasy, futuristic and paranormal tales as well as erotic stories for various publishers. She lives in the very hot southwest with her husband, son, one dog, three cats and a snake named Sandune. She is a past board member of the Romance Writers of America, past VP of EPIC and current EPPIEs Chairman for EPIC.
She loves hearing from her readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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