Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Hook

I wrote a wonderful forest scene. The description was spot on.
The full branches of the maple trees created a cool green canopy over the neglected trail. A gentle breeze played through the leaves and made them dance ever so gracefully. The sun light, falling in broad shafts, pierced through the trees and bathed the ground in great golden pools. The fragrance of wild flowers and herbs filled the early spring air with a delicate perfume.
My critique partner, and several other readers, said it put them there but, it didn’t put them in the story. They didn’t like it, well, not for the opening paragraph. I thought it set the stage for the following action which was in contrast to the calm idyllic setting. Wrong. It didn’t grab them.
They pointed me to Noah Lukeman’s book, The First Five Pages. The sub-title was compelling, a writer’s guide to staying out of the rejection pile. Dutifully, I did my assigned reading. The essence of one point he made – the hook is more than a marketing tool to draw the reader in. It sets the tone of the story, the characters, the setting, the mood, and more. The care you take to the opening line should be the same care you give to the first paragraph, page, and chapter all the way through to the last sentence. But let’s get back to the opening sentence.
According to author, Barbara Dawson Smith, the common thread in most opening lines/paragraphs is change. Your hero or heroine’s current situation is about to change. Something has happened, or will happen that will result in dramatic consequences.  The author’s goal is to pique the reader’s curiosity, give them the promise of what they will find when they read your story.
Here are some opening sentences from some romance novels. One of them is from my debut novel scheduled for released on November 14. Does it hold up with the others?
  1. “As their elegant traveling chaise rocked and swayed along the rutted country road, Lady Anne Gilbert leaned her cheek against her husband’s shoulder and heaved a long, impatient sigh.”
  2. “How does a person reenter a life she left behind years earlier?”
  3. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
  4. “It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least not at first glance.”
  5. “The noon whistle blew and the saws stopped whining.”
  6. I should not have stayed away from the Manor so long. Something stirs.”
  7. “Who am I? And how, I wonder, will this story end?”
  8. “Dougles Montgomery sat in the back seat of the rental car, Robert and his pudgy thirteen-year-old daughter, Gloria, in the front.”
  9. “Cam called in markers, pulled strings, begged favors and threw money around in a dozen directions.”
  10. “They said he killed his first wife.”
  11. Come to me.”
  12. “There were pictures in the fire. Dragons.”
  13. “Fae archers stood at the Sidhe wall and trained their arrows toward the tree line as a slow, unseasonable frost overtook the branches.”
  14. “When the rumbling Cessna heaved into the sky, Kate Jansen completely lost her nerve.”
  15. “As darkness slowly fled from his eyes, the boy woke, his head aching and his body sore, as if he had been beaten.”
  16. “It is always a mistake to underestimate the possibilities of a train compartment.”
Contest: I love trivia. Guess the book title and author for each of these opening lines. See if you can guess the book title and author. I’ll post the answers next week. Have fun!


  1. Well yours stands the test Ruthie. I don't remember which it is! I do recognize a few of these lines, but author or title...sorry, mind's not that good anymore. lol

  2. Good mornin' Ruth!:)

    I enjoyed reading each one of them:) I'm not typically a romance gal, so I can't even begin to guess title's or authors...but, I can say which two were my favorites!
    "They say he killed his first wife,," and "Come to me".

    Both had me immediately. Can't tell I'm a thriller gal can ya?:)

    Great blog! Hope to goodness this thing takes the post, I've been having problems posting on blogs recently:)


  3. @Calisa Rhose

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. *Sigh* I am a romance gal but you bring up a good point. I think I'll get some additional first lines for those of you who enjoy other genres.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  4. @Loretta

    You chose two classics. After reading your comment and Calisa's I'll have some first lines from other genres for you next week along with this week's answers.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

  5. Great post. I love romance, but I'm terrible at remembering author names and titles. And I always enjoy the hook of a first line, both reading them and writing them.

  6. Recognized the Jane Austen, but that's about it. I've been writing and rewriting my first line/paragraph for a month now. Every day I look at it and decide it isn't good enough. Now I know it has to set the tone, so that's what I will aim for. Thanks, Ruth.

  7. @Christina Wolfer

    Researching this week's blog was interesting. I rummaged through books on my bookshelf and got caught up in rereading several and had to stop myself before I missed my purpose. Understanding the purpose of the hook then reading a good one was eye opening. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. @Sandy

    Ah, so you recognized Jane Austen. That's great. I think the important part of the first sentence is that it's the promise to the reader.

  9. Hey Ruth,
    Great blog post and very true about the hook. Thanks. Here are my answers for some of them.

    1 - Judith McNaught - My Love
    2 - Luanne Rice - Summer of Roses
    3 - Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice
    6 - Ruth Cassie - Knight of Runes
    12 - Nora Roberts - Valley of Silence
    14 - Lisa Verge Higgins - The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship

    Cathy Greenfeder

  10. I have, The First Five Pages. It's terrific.
    It cuts to the quick.I am not good at remembering first lines. Sorry.

    Thanks for a great post.

  11. @Cathy G.

    Glad you liked the post. You'll have to come back next week to see if you're answers are right. I hope you enjoyed the challenge.

  12. @Sandy L. Rowland

    I agree. The First Five Pages is one of my 'go to' resource books. Don't worry about the titles and authors. All will be revealed next week. Then you can decide if the opening sentence fulfilled the promise. Have a great week.

  13. 1. Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught

    2. Summer Roses by Luanne Rice

    3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    4. Outlander by Diane Gabaldon

    5. Morning Glory b;y LyVryle Spencer

    6. Unknown

    7. The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks

    8. Knight in Shining Armour by
    Judy Devreaux

    9. Sea Swept by Nora Roberts

    10. The Bride by Julie Garwood
    after Epilogue

    11. Unknown

    12. Valley of Silence by Nora

    13. Left for Undead by L A Banks

    14. The Proper Care and Maintenance
    of Friendship by Lisa Veage

    15. The Lost by Caridad Pineiro

    16. Tears of Pearl by Tasha

    I recognized 1, 3, 10, very memorable some of the others I thought were very interesting books when I looked them up. They definitely hooked me

  14. I felt like I was taking a test!
    1. Whitney, My Love: Judith McNaught
    2. Summer of Roses: Luanne Rice
    3. Pride & Prejudice: Jane Austen
    4. The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor: Sally Armstrong
    5. Morning Glory: LaVyrle Spencer
    6. Knight of Runes (I remembered this from class!) Ruth A. Casie
    7. The Notebook: Nicholas Sparks

    Whew! All I've got time for, but I'm going to research the rest. Favorite? "Come to me."

  15. @J. Coleman

    I hope you enjoyed your assignment. I went through the books that were on my bookshelf. "Come to me." Very compelling. You'd enjoy the story too.

  16. Great post Ruth! I must confess, there were only two on this list that I recognized!

    Furthermore, Jane Austin's opening line still stands the test of time.
    It is as intriguing today as it was then. A true testament to her readability.

    I am currently struggling with a Novella that I am writing and I am going to thank you heartily for pointing me in the right direction. I will be picking up Noah's book ASAP!

  17. @Lizzie Walker

    You can't go wrong with Noah's book. It's a great resource. I'm glad you liked the post.

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