Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writer's Wednesday: Hooking Your Reader; Hook, Line and Sinker



I’ve always been told it starts the first line up to the first paragraph to hook your readers’ interest to continue reading your short story or novel. And it’s so true. It’s like going fishing, you throw out the hook and snatch the reader, but if you don’t intrigue them right then and there, they’ll get away. And by the way, hooking your readers can work for your nonfiction book or memoir too.

A hook line takes a story full of complex plotlines and ideas, making it into simple sentence that can be quickly and easily conveyed to a wide range of people. The hook line is your first pitch in getting someone interested in your book. It can also be used as the first line in your query letter, hooking the agent or editor to read the rest of the letter and requesting information. When a prospective agent or editor asks you what your book is about, your hook line is your answer. It also makes it simple for when people asked you what your book is about.


Elements of a hook line can be about your main character and what is his/her main goal or interest. It can start off with conflict—like what is the conflict your character faces or maybe who’s the villain. Or distinction, with what makes your book different then all the rest, or what unique element of your story that makes it stand out? Then you can use setting, letting the reader know right off the bat that something is happening in Victorian England or down in Hell. Last but definitely not least, action. Action always draws the reader in.

Some hook lines, including from some from my own works:

 "Bottled Spirits" (published in Buzzymag): The trapped souls always cried loudest at night.
"Spectre Dreams and Visitations" from Spectre Nightmares and Visitations: The perfume of old books rose up in the air from the volumes on a table at the yard sale.
Haunted Richmond II: It is said you can't go home again. 

Virginia's Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Other Haunted Locations: History has a way of causing hauntings.

Night Calls by Katherine Eliska Kimbriel: I wasn't there when Papa killed the wolf.
The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason: His footsteps were soundless, but Victoria felt him moving.
Deadtown by Nancy Holzner: TWO RULES I LIVE BY: NEVER ADMIT TO BEING A SHAPESHIFTER on a first, second, or third date with a human. And never, ever bring along a zombie apprentice wannabe on a demon kill. (Sorry, but had to add the second great hooking second in!)
Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt: "There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances," my Aunt Adelaide had said.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: In a holr in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
The Ridge by Michael Koryta: Kevin Kimble made the drive to the prison before dawn, as he always did, the mountains falling away as dark silhouettes in the rearview mirror.
"The Lone Death of the Last Ranger" by David Ulanski in Werewolves: Dead Moon Rising anthology: They ate 'em. They ate my friends."
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon: A screaming comes across the sky.
1984 by George Orwell:  It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
City of Glass by Paul Auster:  It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. 
Neuromancer by William Gibson: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: All this happened, more or less.
The Crow Road by Iain M. Banks: It was the day my grandmother exploded.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson: Diaries are kept by men: strong brushstrokes on smooth mulberry paper, gathered into sheaves and tied with ribbon and placed in a lacquered box.
The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft: When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of Aylesbury Pike just beyond Dean's Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: It was a pleasure to burn.
Blood Rites by Jim Butcher: The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault.
The Gunslinger by Stephen King: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie: All children, except one, grow up.
Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles : I come from a family with a lot of dead people.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury: The seller of the lightening rods arrived just ahead of the storm.

What are your favorite hook first lines of a book or short story?

3 comments:

Hamel Moric said...

Anne Rice's Call to Heaven "Guido Maffeo was castrated when he was six years old and sent to study with the finest singing masters in Naples."

stevevernonstoryteller said...

Richard Stark's FIREBREAK (2001)

"When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man."

Mary Frances Roya said...

Wow! You guys are good.

"I swear to you," he promised, "they aren't taking me alive. I'm sorry, Lisa, sorrier than you'll ever know." by Colleen Thompson