Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beginnings . . . How to Hook Your Reader?

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As you read the following opening sentences to some great novels, don't just wonder who wrote them, but think of other questions that come to mind.



""Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."


"It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."


"The man was still smoldering when we came upon his body."


"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."


"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold."


Okay . . . did you come up with other questions besides the obvious ones of who wrote them? If not, read them again. I'll wait.
 
After your second reading, weren't you curious to know what had gone on before?

For instance in the first sentence you might wonder, why was this character dreaming about Manderley? 

In the next sentence you might ask, why does the narrator think a single man in possession of a good fortune wants a wife? 

The next, why was the man smoldering? 

And  the next, why were the Dursley's proud that they were normal?

Last, but not least, why was it important that the other side of the bed was cold?

All of these authors started their novels in the middle of something. This forms questions in the reader's mind. But that's not all a good opening does. A beginning needs to do three things:
  • clue the reader what kind of story this is going to be
  •  introduce and characterize the main character
  • hook the reader.
The first page of your novel has only a few seconds to sell the book, so you need to set the scene, show your character, and hook the reader fast. There's no better way to do all three than to plant your characters in the middle of a situation. 

 It's not easy. Many writers get stuck on that opening page and can hardly break away from it. If your opening is giving you fits, leave it for a while. Continue to write your book. You might want to even finish your manuscript, then go back and write the first page again. This way you can tie the beginning directly to the climax, which is a great thing to do!
 
In case you're wondering who wrote which sentences and the titles of their books, here they are.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." --Rebecca by Daphine DuMaurier

"It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." --Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

"The man was still smoldering when we came upon his body." --Master by Toni Sorenson

"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold." --The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

So, what are some opening sentences to your favorite novels that really hooked you?



10 comments:

  1. Nice post! I've been struggling with where to begin my book (I go back and forth pretty much every day), and thinking about the great hooks is really a good tip. :)

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  2. Rebecca,
    When I learned this concept, it helped me immensely. I'm only too happy to share it with others. Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  3. Great post. I, for one, always have to go back and rewrite my first paragraph after I finish the book... often the entire first chapter. I don't have a good idea of what is important in the first chapter until I finish the end, I think. :)

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  4. Jenn,
    You're not alone. I've done that many times. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. I spend a lot of time on the opening, coming back to it again and again as I edit. And sometimes even after I think I'm done - LOL.

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  6. Carol:

    You're not alone! Tis the life of a writer.

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  7. I've heard a lot about this since I began attending conferences and workshops last year. Before that, I didn't pay attention to the first line/paragraph/page, but now it's obvious. My favorite books do very well in this arena. :)

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  8. Ha! Some of my favorite books. And I totally missed Hunger Games, darn it! Love that book. Great post! I need to adapt the idea of the hook to attracting people to a new website to listen to songs. It will have to be visually interesting, I suppose. :)

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  9. MT,
    Great! I'm glad your favorite books do well in this area. Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  10. Victoria,
    You're so clever, I'm sure you'll think of a way to do it for songs. :)

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