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Hooking the Reader: Love at First Sight

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Do you believe in love at first sight? I don’t, but that’s not actually important for this discussion. We’ve discussed openings here several times:

Famous First Lines
Not-so-Famous First Lines
What’s the Big Deal about First Lines?
A Last Word about First Lines
Critical Reading: The First Date

So I’m not actually going to go into a lot of detail about first lines or opening hooks. Just remember that a great opening line, followed by a great opening paragraph, followed by a great opening page . . . will hook the reader’s interest—be it an editor, agent, or consumer.

    “We have a choice. You can begin with a flash fire in the kitchen that endangers the entire house (melodrama), or you can put a pot on the boil, bubbling and simmering, as you show your characters acting in a situation that is slowly alarming, a conflict developing into the big event that will hold the reader curious, concerned, perhaps even enthralled, gripped as if glued to your story for its duration” (Stein, How to Grow a Novel, pg. 33)

Give your readers a character or a situation that they’re going to love at first sight. Yesterday, most of us said that one of the things we hope most for, when we pick up a book to read, is to get lost in it.

For Discussion:
You have won a gift certificate for two books. All you have to base your choice on is the first page of each book. No title, no front cover image, no backcover blurb. What will you be looking for to help you make your choice? Should you be able to determine what genre the book is from the first page? What would make you not choose it?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 6:49 am

    Voice–Does the character pull at me and make me want to know more. That can be enough to hook me most of the time. If it has a historical aspect, that’ll be the next thing to hook me. If I get to the last line on the page and want to turn it, know what comes next, then I’ll probably pick it up too 🙂

    Description will totally turn me off. I skim descriptions in books, I write as little description as I can get away with, and if I pick up a book that starts with it I’m likely to tune it out and move on.

    Speaking of opening lines I like the opening to my most recent project: “Right then and there I decided I hated blue buses.”

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  2. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 8:57 am

    I’m with Jennifer, a long passage of description will turn me off right away. If I turn to the first page and there are large paragraphs, I’m not likely to wade through them. Something small and snappy to get my attention will draw me further inside the book.

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  3. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 10:05 am

    Well, I love description, but not in great chunks.

    I’d be looking for those elements Jennifer mentioned, character voice and setting. Also clarity; I certainly don’t want to have to reread a sentence on the opening page to figure out what’s being communicated.

    But one of the top things I’m looking for is an author’s use of language. I want it to be deeper, higher, more thorough and precise than my own writing. Maybe lyrical. Maybe quirky. Maybe intelligent or more erudite. Not that I want to be running to the dictionary ever other page (though a few times per novel is pretty cool; I love learning new words), but I want to feel a certain writerly yearning toward improving my own use of language when I read, and to feel I’m in safe hands with the writer.

    So a good opening for me does double duty: it sucks me into the story world, engaging my sympathy with a character, and it promises I’ll be a better writer myself, for having read it.

    That seems an awful lot to ask! *s*

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  4. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 11:13 am

    I think I got a little overinspired yesterday and redid the first four chapters of my latest WIP. They moved too slowly anyway.

    There has to be some description in the first page or two, though preferably not more than a sentence or two at a time. But the writer has to give some idea where/when this is taking place. Unless it’s just taking place in a vacuum.

    Other than that, as the pp have mentioned, when we’re just looking at the language, the language is going to be what matters. I love what Lori had to say—and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

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  5. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 2:07 pm

    I want to be able to identify the genre in the first page. Something about the first paragraph should grab my interest. It doesn’t have to be fancy, though I love a good turn of phrase, but it does have to be interesting.

    And I want it to be consistent. I don’t like to feel betrayed when an author proports a work to be oen thing and it turns out to be another. I want a payoff at the end that is worthy of a smash-bang opening.

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  6. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 2:36 pm

    I should be able to determine the genre because I hate reading only to have my expectations missed.

    I want to meet the main characters, the setting, and have a sense of the conflict, either internal or external. Because then I have a sense of where the story might be headed, although I’m open to surprise if done well.

    I’m not big on action openings that don’t ground me in the story — who, what, where, when, and why — before taking me on a rollarcoaster ride. I get frustrated and find myself paging to find the answers before I can settle in to enjoy the story.

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  7. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 2:43 pm

    I think what I want to see most on the first page of a book is that I’m in good hands with the author. That I’m not going to be at a loss to understand what’s going on, or that I’m not going to find myself disappointed halfway through the novel because the writing just isn’t up-to-snuff.

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  8. Wednesday, March 19, 2008 3:46 pm

    I like to see at least a hint of conflict, something that will entice me to read on and find out how an issue will be resolved. Description is good if it is important to the plot or immediate conflict, but otherwise, give me description in little drops, not bucketfulls.

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  9. Thursday, March 20, 2008 9:27 am

    I don’t want a lot of description that just “sets the scene” and doesn’t give me a real hint of conflict or introduces the main character(s). I want to meet a character that raises my curiousity, that intrigues me , that I want to learn more about…a quirky, unusual, intriguing “voice” that makes me want to keep turning pages and learning more.

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  10. Friday, March 21, 2008 9:46 pm

    I wouldn’t (exactly) have to know what genre it is from the first page, but that page shouldn’t imply one thing without making good on the promise.

    If there was any swearing, sexuality or violence on that first page I’d know the author considered them important, and that I wouldn’t want to spend much time with his/her work.

    I’ve frequently put away a (library) book I’ve read the first page or two of, mainly because I get a creepy feeling, or my story instinct tells me I don’t want to spend hours with this book.

    I’ve come to trust the feeling. If I have the whole book I’ll take a few more tastes at random points, and I’ve always been confirmed in my first feeling.

    Since my (fiction) reading focus is mainly YA and Fantasy– because of my writing– I feel I can’t bee too careful. There is some weird and unhealthy stuff out there.

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  11. Sunday, March 23, 2008 11:53 am

    I like to be plopped into the middle of the action. Open it with a bang! Hence why I like arguments as openings in my own stuff. 😀 Give me a reason to root for them to win, some injustice that they’re fighting against- whether it be societal expectations or a grievous crime that’s been committed.

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