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Monday, August 22, 2016

Setting the Hook

Fishing is not my thing. But it’s a good analogy for story writing. We want to hook the readers then reel them in. As a reader, I want that. Get my attention with the cover and the blurb, but hook me with the first sentence.


The idea for this post came from the program at my writers’ meeting (Mid-Michigan RWA chapter) on Saturday. About once a year, we critique. This time, members sent in three-page beginnings to be read aloud then critiqued. Some stories were pretty rough, but others grabbed our interest from the first sentence.



That first sentence sets the tone for the book and should make the reader ask questions. Here’s an example from Marilyn Baron’s Sixth Sense:  Beauregard Lee Jackson Hale was a shit magnet.

My first question is why does he attract shit? My second is who would saddle anyone with such a long name? Considering the name, the setting has to be in the south.


Here’s another example from Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie: Sophie Dempsey didn’t like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her ’86 Civic, broke her sister’s sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions about people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.

If I hadn’t read anything by Ms. Crusie, I’d get a good idea from that first sentence that the story will be humorous with a sarcastic bent. Considering the cars, I know the story is contemporary. My question: why did the narrator dislike the town before the accident?

This is the most absurd thing I’ve ever done as assistant planetary agent for Loxton Galactic Trading—standing in as a bridesmaid in a borrowed puce dress because some other girl failed to show up. ~ Escape From Zulaire by Veronica Scott

The word puce gets me right away. Something about that word conjures up Regency or Victorian times. Yet, “planetary agent” and “Galactic Trading” tells me the story takes place in the future. My questions: why does she have to stand in for a bridesmaid? Is it part of her job (since she mentions it)? And why is it the most absurd thing she’s ever done? That doesn’t sound very absurd. Is her life that mundane?

I saved the best (and most recognizable) first sentence for last. From Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier:  Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

What or where is Manderley? Why would the narrator dream about going there? What significance does Manderley have?

A first sentence sets the tone of the story. It reveals the author’s voice. It can give the location or time period or both. Most importantly, it piques the reader’s interest enough to keep reading.

Check out the first sentences of your favorite books. Do they do that? Share with the rest of us.

*book cover images from Amazon.com



14 comments:

  1. Great post! These are wonderful examples of intro lines - and authors who maintain that hook throughout the book. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ashantay. Some lines stick with me long after I finished the book.

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  2. Your post is spot on. No wonder we all struggle to come up with just the right first line. My husband's favorite of mine is "Virgin?" from THE MARRIAGE TRAP. And REBECCA is an awesome book.

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    1. That is a great 1st line, Marissa. I love Rebecca. Probably read it a dozen times besides watching the movie.

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  3. Enjoyed the post! I like to try to come up with first lines that hook, but I don't always succeed. These are some great examples. Yes, I love Rebecca too! I recently found a hard-back copy at a vintage mall, and I bought it. I'm trying to decide whether to make it part of a giveaway for our gothic stories or keep it for myself! :)

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    1. I still have a hardback copy of Rebecca. I think I got it in my teens. That would make a great giveaway.

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  4. I love opening lines. My favorite one is from Pride and Prejudice. You have some great examples here. I really enjoyed this post, especially the line from Marilyn Baron's book.

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    1. Thanks, Kara. Marilyn will be here on Friday with info about her newest book.

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  5. Fantasric, Diane, doubly so since you used my personal favorite from Rebecca. Lots of great advice!

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  6. Oh, the first sentence is SO important! And also darn hard to write. :) I usually go through a dozen renditions before I get one that works!

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    1. You are so right, Alyssa. 1st sentences are very hard to write.

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  7. Amen about that hook. I always say a good first sentence does three things: shows us the protagonist, reveals the setting, and leaves us asking a question. I could write these kinds of sentences all day, but I suppose it's important to write the rest of the book too, eh?

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    1. LOL, Crystal. Yeah, you do have to finish the book. Thanks for stopping by.

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