Posted by: Kathleen Mix | August 15, 2013

Leading with a Hook

This past weekend I signed books at the Hanover Book Festival in nearby Mechanicsville Virginia. I also presented a writers’ workshop on narrative hooks.
A narrative hook is the fascinating or intriguing opening of a novel that draws readers into the story. A good hook raises questions a reader wants answered, so they continue reading to find out who, why, what, or how.
Who is this interesting character? Why would he do something like that? What’s this all about? What will happen next? How could someone be murdered like that? Will this person get what she wants, succeed in her quest, find love, live or die?
One of my favorite opening lines is from A Theory of Relativity by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
She starts with:

They died instantly.

Those three words send readers off on a four-hundred-page search for answers and resolution.
I love the classic line from Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.

Writers are often told to begin their story at a moment of change. Kafka must have taken that advice to heart.
Julia Harper let readers know from the start that Hot would be a fun and interesting read. She opened with:

In Turner Hastings’ opinion, the bank robbery didn’t go truly bad until Yoda shot out the skylight. Which was not to say that the robbery hadn’t had its problems up until that point.

When I’m browsing in a bookstore, titles and cover art draw my attention. If the back cover copy piques my interest, I turn to the first page. Like most readers, unless page one grabs me and pulls me into the story, I put the book down and look for something else.
My screening process is typical. So when I start my own books, I agonize over the first line, the first paragraph, and the first page. I spend weeks or months writing and rewriting my opening, hoping to create an intriguing hook.
My work-in-progress is no exception. After weeks without changing a word, I revised page one yesterday. Is my first line a keeper? Please tell me.
Are you intrigued by:

Death slithered into the bedroom, passed Simon Griswald by, and with fangs bared, inched toward the frail young woman on the bed.

Or should I continue hunting for a better hook?


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