It was a dark and stormy night.

» Posted on Mar 10, 2006 in Blog | 4 comments

I think this is the Snoopy famous opening for his book he was writing in his comic strip which brings me to my topic–opening hooks. How important is it to grab the reader in the first line or at least in the first paragraph or page? Very important. Many people will read the first page or so, and if the story doesn’t grab them, they will put the book back on the shelf and not buy it.

When I began writing back in the dark ages, we had stories that took longer to develop. We often would introduce one of the main characters then the other before we brought them together. That has shifted to faster openings. Editors are looking for the hero and heroine to get together right away in the story. For most stories that is fine, but there are still some stories that it wouldn’t work as well for.

Here are some opening lines of books I really enjoyed reading:
From the prologue to Amazonia by James Rollins:
“Padre Garcia Luiz Batista was struggling with his hoe, tilling weeds from the mission’s garden, when the stranger strumbled out of the jungle.”
In case you are a reader that doesn’t really count the prologue as the first true chapter, this is from chapter one:
“The anaconda held the small Indian girl wrapped in its heavy coils, dragging her toward the river.”

From those two sentences you can tell this will be an action packed adventure and it was. It is one of my favorite books. Did I tell you I love books about the jungle?
Another first line from one of James Rollins’ books (Excavation) is:
“There was no escape.”
Now I would have to read further to find out no escape from where.

Another book I really enjoyed is Tami Hoag’s A Thin Dark Line. Its opening line is:
“Red is the color of violent death.”
Great opening line and definitely sets the tone for the rest of the book.

So my questions to you are:
What are you favorite opening lines?
Does an opening have to have a hook to keep you reading?
What do you look for in an opening (first few pages)?
When do you put a book down? I usually will read a book cover to cover even if it is slow because I learn from both. Lately because my time is more limited, I don’t do that as much. So I need to be grabbed by the end of the first chapter or two. How about you?

4 Comments

  1. I think it’s of vital importance. TV, video and the internet have changed the world. Add that to fast food and rampant ADD, and you have a society of instant gratfication.

    People want their entertainment delievered hot and fast. Most would rather watch the movie than read the book. If we don’t hook them with on the first page, we’ve lost them.

  2. I’m one of those who wants something highly intriguing on the first page, first paragraph. I am not patient enough to wait a whole chapter for something interesting to happen. I don’t care about backstory. I don’t care about descriptions (unless you’re a master of fascinating description that nails a character). I want conflict ASAP and something weird the sooner the better.

    I am a product of the tv generation. The only books with a slower pace that I will be patient with are books with prose so scintillating it verges on poetry.

    Otherwise, give me story or give me a character like no other, and give it to me quick.

    I wrote a blog entry on Hooks. It’s here: Hook, hook, hook your reader. Drag them down the page scarily, warily, merrily, airily…

    A couple of the examples are:
    know an old couple who live near hell.
    (Gene Wolfe, BED AND BREAKFAST, 1995)

    Cassie Raintree was dying of cancer every afternoon at 2:30.
    (James W. Hall, BONES OF CORAL, 1991)

    One of my fave novels of all time starts like this: “The idiot lived in a black and grey world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and flickering of fear.”
    (More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon)

    There is no way I can stop reading that. I need to know who this “idiot” is and why he’s hungry and afraid. And that first segment of this tripartite novel is one of the most gorgeous examples of fine prose and unusual characters that I have ever, ever read. It’s a keeper!

    Mir
    http://mirathon.blogspot.com
    http://onceuponanovel.blogspot.com

    Mir

  3. I’m a HUGE advocate of opening hooks. I probably spend more time on my opening sentence than any other sentence in the book. Though I love one liners and tend to do that in my own writing. I love opening hooks that leave me with questions. Intriquing stuff that makes me want to keep reading. I’m also huge on chapter ending hooks, and writing each chapter as if it were your first chapter. I like description that sets me “there” with the characters, but when I have to crawl through half a page of setting description to figure out a vague idea of who and what the story is about, I tend to want to skim. I can only think of about five books that I absolutely could NOT finish, and only one that actually made a significant dent in the wall. Great opening hook but every character died except the heroine, and the author had really done a superb job of making me care about these people. Then they died. Then the book ended. And I was depressed for a week. LOL! Real life has too much of that. I felt tricked I guess. So hook us, but don’t reel us in then slaughter us. LOL. Margaret doesn’t do that by the way. Her books are always uplifting.

    Squirl

  4. While I appreciate a great opening line, I won’t not buy a book just because I don’t like the opening. On the other hand, a great opening might be the thing that pushes me over the edge into buying when I’m struggling to decide. But more often than not, I buy on back-cover blurb.

    Once I start reading, I’ll usually give the author until about a third of the way through before I throw the book at the wall in disgust!

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