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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hooking the Reader

We know that the first line of any work-in-progress should catch the reader's attention. We mustn't, however, lead the reader in a wrong direction. The hook must fit the story. A romance story needs one kind of opening; a science fiction plot calls for another.

The opening often introduces character(s) and/or setting. Something significant can lie in the first lne of the story. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (Tolstoy's Anna Karenina). The entire mood of the story can be set by the opening lines. A character's voice can be established in the very beginning. How can we possibly forget the opening lines of Nabokov's Lolita? "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." And check out Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. Brilliant.

The opening is determined by the genre and establishes the narrator's voice. Right away, we either trust or distrust the POV narrator.

By analyzing the way authors open their stories, we can collect our favorite hooks and learn what works and what doesn't.

According to Writer's Digest, there are seven ways to start:
1) A statement of external principle. This opening is characteristic of European classics le Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

2) A statement of simple fact. This is a hook without gimmicks. "I had a farm in Africa" (Dinesen's Out of AFrica) is a good example.

3) A statement of paired facts. "In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together." MCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter)

4) A statement of simple fact laced with significance. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is a tantalizing example – "Scarlett I'Hara was not beautiful ..."

5) A statement to introduce voice. See Nabokov's Lolita above.

6) A statement to establish mood. This is where the author sets an ominous tone for what follows. Vampire stories, horror and science fiction often use this hook. This is also used in tranquil period pieces.

7) A statement that serves as a frame. "Once upon a time" is the frame and the end will be "And they lived happily ever after."

See the February, 2011 issue of Writer's Digest for the complete article under how to write better. Collect good hooks. Analyze what works best for your favorite genre. In the competitive publishing world, a good hook that captures the reader's attention is a must.

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