Hooked: Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets them Go
(Writer’s Digest Books, 256pp)
Scope: Novel openings
Overview: You’ve heard it before: you’ve gotta hook the reader on page one, paragraph one, line one. Hooked by Les Edgerton shows the burgeoning writer how to do just that. Novels like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden open with entire chapters of setting and backstory. But times and literary tastes have changed, says the author. Readers expect movement and intrigue from the outset, to begin in the middle, right when the going gets good.
To guide the reader in creating an opening that pleases both modern readers and publishers alike, the author outlines ten components of a functional beginning and details each. He also includes chapters on great first lines, foreshadowing, and even a Q&A with agents and publishers to reveal what truly hooks (and repels) the powers that be. And though the book is ostensibly confined to beginnings, much of what the author says has value beyond chapter one. Here are some of the book’s highlights:
- “A hook is something that intrigues the reader, and it can be virtually anything that makes the reader want to read further.”
It doesn’t have to be a gimmick. It doesn’t need to be loud or melodramatic. Unique characters, tense situations, secrets, unsettled worlds, even incongruity in tone or syntax can spark a great opening.
- “What’s not done today is the immediate helping of backstory right after that (implied) “once upon a time.”
Books have changed; readers have changed. Start with action, movement, and conflict. Add in backstory on an as-needed basis only.
- “Summery doesn’t convince anyone of anything.”
If you want the reader to feel your character’s emotions and journey with them through the story you need to dramatize the important moments of your story. Scene, not summery.
- “The single biggest fault of most writers is that they simply don’t trust the reader’s intelligence to “get” what’s going on without providing lengthy backstory.”
Give your reader credit. She’s smarter than you think. Don’t patronize her with heaps of exposition. Clarity is important—some sense of setting and time—but the modern reader can intuit and lot from one or two carefully chosen details.
- “You don’t have to develop the whole of his characterization in the opening—just the single most important facet.”
The reader doesn’t need to know that your MC’s favorite food is anchovies, favorite color aqua, and favorite dance the polka all in the first chapter. Like with backstory, let his characterization unfold organically over time. And, whenever possible, do so via action.
- “Today’s description is short and sweet, and doesn’t interfere with the action and drama of the scene.”
Again, a few carefully chosen details is all you need.
- “There is simply no reason for a story to ever exist unless it’s about trouble.”
Keep conflict at the heart of your story. Begin with trouble and don’t let up until the end.
Got an opening line that really sinks a hook? My self-composed favorite: She would have to sew his eyelids shut. Share yours here in the comments.