Hook Me

This weekend I came across a great link. The Top Fifteen Worst Opening Lines to Romance Novels.  Although it was meant to be humorous, it got me thinking… How much do opening lines matter? Are they really as important as people claim? The reader needs to  get to know your characters before the book really takes off, right? Otherwise they won’t care what happens to them.

I have to confess, I struggle with this. It’s always a delicate balance between revealing enough about your characters so your reader can root for them and saying too much about their histories and dragging the story down. So, how do we find that balance?

I think writing those first few chapters can be like a baseball game. The fans have some expectations on how the game is going to proceed. If all of the players came out on the field and started telling you the details of their morning  it wouldn’t be very exciting, would it? I mean, is what they ate for breakfast really relevant to how they play the game?  In most cases, the answer is no.


On the other hand, if the fans were told that the team in red and white was the home team who just lost their tenth game last week… that on game day they were playing their long-time rivals. Then, on the first pitch, the home team sends the ball flying in the air, toward the center outfield…

Well now, isn’t that more interesting?

The same can be true for a book. As writers, we have to grab the reader’s attention with very few words.  It has been said time and time again that you have to start a book in the middle of the action. I believe that this is true — to a certain extent. You can’t bore the reader with backstory and expect him or her to remain with you to page twenty five where you finally get into the action. But the opposite is also true. You can’t start the story in the middle of the action and not tell the reader who your characters are. They don’t know your characters like you do. They’ll have no idea who to root for and end up putting the story down.

It’s all about finding the right balance between character and plot. You have to start off with a great first sentence that propells the reader into the first paragraph, then the first few pages, then the first chapter…you get the idea.

This brings me to my question of the week. I want to hear how people begin their stories.

If you are a reader, share with us the first line of the book you’re curently reading. Did it hook you? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?

If you are a writer, this is a chance to test out the first line of your current work in progress. Don’t be shy – tell us what you’ve got. Hook me!

10 Responses to “Hook Me”
  1. okay, this is the first line from my YA. (well two sentences)

    I thought it would hurt. Falling to earth.

    as a writer and a reader, first lines, first paragraphs are super important. There’s so much out there, you need to hook your reader right away. good post sue!

  2. Nathan H. says:

    The soul flies free on a desert road. The Mojave’s great expanse lifts one from the pent up world of self involvement, soaring over head, releasing one into a sea of insignificance.

    I am currently reading Crime and Punishment which does “hook you in” pretty quick by jumping straight into the story.

    ON an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge

  3. Suzanne Rock says:

    Juliana – I remember that opener. 🙂 Great way to start the story.

    Nathan – I love that first paragraph. What a wonderful image. I haven’t read Crime and Punishment in years, but I remember that opening scene. Great book. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great topic, Suzanne! I love Nathan’s and Julianna’s. Different voices, different styles, but both caught my attention.

    The opening line of my WIP:

    “It’s been five years,” Haversham said as if she hadn’t counted every minute of every hour in every day.

    I also think it’s important to have a great hook in the closing lines of your chapters as well. Something that keeps the pages turning.

    This is from the sequel to HUNGER:

    “I’m not going to hurt you, darlin’,” he promised, but he couldn’t keep his voice from sounding strained and low.
    “I won’t promise the same,” she replied.

    You can never be sure about why you go from unpubbed to pubbed, but I honestly think learning to used end of chapter hooks took my writing to the next level.

    Thanks for sharing guys!

  5. Sandi says:

    Great topic! Here’s the first paragraph to my current WIP:

    Blood everywhere.
    The abstract patterns from the violent spray dotted the rose-patterned paper of an unidentified drawing room, blending a macabre design with the sedate ordinary. A thick pool of ruby collected under the body of a blond-haired man, a dagger buried to the hilt in his chest, the inlaid jewels on the handle winked in the soft candlelight.

  6. Suzanne Rock says:

    I just realized I didn’t add anything to the mix!

    Here’s the opener from “Spyder’s Web”, which comes out from Loose ID June 30th:

    Every time I f***, someone dies.

    And my current work in progress, called “Under Fire” (currently still drafting)

    The warriors brought Kyra to the edge of the village, where her former lover, now her executioner, stood waiting.

  7. Suzanne Rock says:

    Barbara – oooh, I LOVE the five year opener. It really hooked me! i would have to agree about the ends of chapters needing hooks as well. I think that could be a whole ‘nother post, LOL.

    Sandi – I love it. What a wonderful description. I get such a great visual…Definately want to know what happened!

  8. Sandi,

    I love the blending of the normal room with the bloody imagery. Very good.

    And, Suzanne, you know I can’t wait to read SW. I’ve never seen a premise like it. What a perfect opening to start things off.

  9. Vanessa says:

    I saw this on an email from my crit group. Great Blog!

    Since I’m here, I’ll add my two cents.

    From what’s on my desk:
    “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain?” (Yup. MacBeth. I’m a dork.)

    From my current WIP:
    If she gripped the steering wheel any harder her fingerprints would be embossed in the leather.

  10. Suzanne Rock says:

    Thanks for stopping by Vanessa – great to see you here!

    And no, you’re not a dork for quoting MacBeth. Loved that story. 😉

    Nice opener from your WIP. Makes me wonder why she’s gripping the wheel. What happened???

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