Hook means “to take strong hold of; captivate.” When you open your favorite book, does that first sentence captivate you? Does it entice you or make you wonder or make you want to know what happens next? If so, then it’s hooked you. And that’s what you want from your opening line.
Now that you know the definition of a hook, how do you create one? Let’s examine a few opening lines from some well-known authors.
“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury begins Farenheit 451 with a phrase that contains surprise (burning isn’t usually viewed as pleasurable), danger (fires can get out of control), and unusual emotion (can you see the wicked grin on the speaker’s face as he watches the fire?). The reader gets something totally unexpected. Not bad for six words.
“You better not never tell nobody but God.” Alice Walker opens The Color Purple with surprise (you want to know what this character is hiding), emotion (do you sense the fear?), foreshadowing (something horrible is bound to happen if the person tells), and startling dialogue (the dialect gives the words additional flavor). Eight words this time. And what a result.
Sometimes the simplest lines are the most powerful.
“We have been lost to each other for so long.” Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent gives readers a softer, more lyrical tone:
“We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, . . .”
A beautiful beginning that shows longing and heartbreak and the sad plight of women. She worked on her opening until she established an emotional relationship with the reader.
If you’re thinking but I’m not Ray Bradbury or Alice Walker or Anita Diamant; I’ll never be able to write like that, don’t despair. Even the top authors work hard to craft remarkable language. “Revise,” Anita said in an interview. “Anything you write can be improved by another draft.” Jeffrey Archer writes numerous drafts. Up to seventeen of them for one book. All by hand.
Time and patience and inspiration allow great authors to achieve eloquent and emotional introductions. With a little effort, you, too, can craft a strong opening line.
Determine your strengths.
Analyze your writing. Do you use short sentences and powerful words? Then keep your hook simple. Go for the surprise, the danger, the totally unexpected. If you’re a literary writer and love flowing description, then an evocative or emotional setting like Anita Diamant’s opening is better suited to you.
Remember the fish. Schools of them swimming out there, just waiting for that perfect morsel of exciting writing. Wow your readers. Then keep going. Hook them at the end of the paragraph and again at the end of the page. The farther they get in your book, the more likely they are to buy.
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