Are You Hooked?

1085595_fish_bait_1Some years ago, I conducted a poll over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction to see what readers liked about the openings of several recently published books. It was a fun way of seeing what people are looking for in their openings.

Writers who have gone to conferences or read instruction books know the first few paragraphs create the all important “hook” to capture readers’ interest. Consequently, spending a little time reading and reacting to a variety of openings can be instructive. So I thought it was time to re-create that poll with a different set of books.

Without giving you book titles, genres, or authors, I’ll post the openings of a few books released either this year or last and let you vote on the ones that captured your interest. I’ll make it multiple choice so that you can choose more than one answer if several (or all) hook you. Then next week I’ll reveal the titles and authors.

The real help, however, will be from those who comment, telling why one and not another opening grabbed their attention.

So here we are, the first 50-75 words, in no special order:

Choice A – The door to the house was closed and locked and guarded by two men wearing uniforms unlike any Connor had ever seen. They were quiet. They held rifles and wore helmets that shadowed their faces. They stared out and didn’t move.

Connor watched from the yard next door, dark under the curtain of a hot September night. The town around him was still, suspended in the thick, stifling air, and he crept through it silently.

Choice B – I never believed in ghosts.

Until I saw one, face to face, when I was twelve.

It was the middle of the summer, one of those nights when the wind scratched tree branches against my window and the Pacific roared so loud I thought it was going to sweep my away. Something startled me awake, some shifting of our house, beam against beam, old wood crying out in the damp sea breeze.

Choice C – Tarnished snow sifted through the air, clinging to Ela Roch’s skin the instant she stepped outside. Warm snow.

Impossible.

She rubbed at the flakes on her bare forearm and watched them smear across her brown flesh like menacing shadows. Ashes. What was burning?

Unnerved, Ela scanned the plain mud-plastered stone houses honeycombed around the wide public square. Houses built one atop another within a vast, irregular, protective curtain wall, sheltering the city of Parne.

Choice D Dear Diary,

All I want is to be in charge of my own life and ice skate. Is that so much to ask? I mean I am fourteen. I think I can be in charge of something. It just isn’t fair. All I wan to do is ice skate. Sometimes things happen that have nothing to do with me, but they change things in my life. I don’t think that’s fair.

Choice E – Troy could finally relax.

His Maledore Vireo biplane dipped just under the clouds. It was still dark this early in the morning. The sky was a deep blue, and his only illumination was that given by the moon. It was plenty, though, to shed light on his gauges and instruments. The flash steam engine of his biplane was loud enough to reassure him it was properly working.

Choice F – The pine trees mocked his youth, their thin, green fingers fretting in the wind. If he didn’t move fast, they would betray him—he just knew it—and the deer would get away. . . again. Arvel wiped his brow, stole across an expanse of dead pine needles, and crouched behind a bush strangled by bindweek and its poisonous red berries.

Holding his breath, he nocked an arrow.

Three deer chewed and sniffed.

Choice G – Now my prince, in my former rendition, I spoke of Ephan’s deeds. Then you asked me to tell the tale again, and this time to tell you Psal’s story. I will play my part. But you must play your part as well. For you it is given the task of forgetting all you have heard of the previous tale and to keep your heart and mind on Psal. Can you do this?

Choice H – Reece Roth Spun at the sound–a dull scrape like log on log. But there was nothing behind him except a small pile of driftwood worn white by years of ocean rain and wind. A shadow flitted in the corner of his eye, but as he turned farther to his left, the darkness vanished.

His heart pumped faster as he took another quarter turn to complete the circle.

Choice I – What can I say? I’m a moron.

I knew better than to play ball in King Coat’s territory. Maybe I was looking for a fight, wanting to blow off steam after my “talk” with Principal McKaffey.

But there we were, me and three guys from the public school, playing two on two on the court in Alameda Park. It was around 2:20. The elementary schools hadn’t let out yet.

Choice J – The last time he saw his father alive, Jackson David Kendrick was only nine years old.

The gray light of dawn was seeping in between his bedroom curtains when Jack woke to find him standing in the doorway. Dr. David Kendrick was a willowy, spectacled anthropologist at the University of Chicago.

By the way, if you think you know who the author is, feel free to leave a comment and give us your guess. However, if you’ve read the book and actually KNOW who the author is, please limit your comment to a hint but don’t spoil the chance others have of guessing.

Remember, vote for all the beginnings that hooked you. The poll will remain open for a week.

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13 Comments

Filed under Beginnings

13 responses to “Are You Hooked?

  1. Oh good grief, i liked them all! I’m either really bad at knowing what to hook readers or I’ve read so many things that I allow the reader to take whatever route he/she wants to take. I’m thinking it’s the second.

  2. How fun. I think the first time I ever posted on your blog was the last time you ran one of these polls! Can’t wait to see where they all belong!

  3. Adam Walker

    What about a “none of the above” option?

  4. Adam, that would have been good. I always forget to include that option! I guess people who want to vote for none of the above can leave a comment.

    Becky

  5. Just wondering, Barbara, what about your choice grabbed your attention?

    Becky

  6. Polls are fun, aren’t they, April. I like to see what people choose. I like even more to take them apart and see what worked best. That’s what helps me as a writer.

    Glad this poll brought you back to comment land. 😀

    Becky

  7. Carole, you made a really good point–sometimes a reader needs to be patient. Yes, being hooked is good, but only if the author then gives you a reason to turn the page and read what comes next, and after that what comes next and so on. But part of reading is waiting for things to unfold naturally. It’s true, though, that in this media age, we seem to be less patient than we were before.

    Becky

  8. Literaturelady

    I enjoyed reading the openings and evaluating each one! But one factor in whether I’m hooked is also whether I’m already interested in the story from reading the blurb or a CSFF blog tour review about it. If I’m interested in the story as a whole, there’s a greater chance that I’ll keep going, however good or bad the opening line.
    With that in mind….
    Choice A–A mild hook, and if I were browsing in the bookstore, I might skim the next few pages (or just flip it and read the back!) to see if I was willing to invest more time. Or not, depending on how rushed I was.
    Choice B–I don’t like ghost stories, but this opening hooked me because of its upfront statement that is flatly contradicted in the next paragraph. Then the author explains how this came about. I like that technique!
    Choice C–The first two paragraphs hooked me (although I would have struck the word ‘impossible’; even southerners know the absurdity of warm snow!), but the fourth paragraph got confusing in its description. Going further would depend on how much time I had and whether I was interested in the story as a whole.
    Choice D–The whiny tone of the author turns me off. I might be interested if he (masculine for convenience’s sake!) was musing (instead of complaining) about things that have nothing to do with him, yet still affect him.
    Choice E–Nothing. Everything is going a little too well, and I’m not interested in planes. 🙂
    Choice F–Now this hooked me. I like the almost poetry of the threat in the pine trees, although I do wonder how they could betray him.
    Choice G–Interesting, but a little confusing, and unless I was already interested in the story, I probably wouldn’t keep going.
    Choice H–Nothing. No reason to care about this guy, and I can’t tell what he’s doing.
    Choice I–Okay, the narrator’s dry tone hooked me.
    Choice J–I might skim a few more paragraphs, but only because I was curious about what might happen next. Mere curiosity and investment in the story are two different things.

    This is a great exercise! Thanks for posting this!
    Blessings,
    Literaturelady

  9. Great comment, LitLady. I think this kind of feedback is especially valuable.

    I also agree with you that if I know the general story thread and like it, I’m willing to stay with a book even though the opening doesn’t necessarily grab me and hold me.

    Still, it’s good to consider what readers see if they’re coming to a manuscript cold. Stay tune for the author and title reveal. 😉

    Becky

  10. Pingback: Who Hooked You And How? | Rewrite, Reword, Rework

  11. I’m wondering how long a hooking paragraph is supposed to be. 50-75 words may not be enough 😉 Now, the first 100-125 words, maybe.

    That said, I’ve seen so many books which are good hooks and then nothing much after that.

  12. Thanks for your comment. You bring up a couple good points.

    If you notice, the two winning openings actually had multiple paragraphs and neither was over 75 words. Merrie’s first paragraph was five words, and RJ’s was eighteen.

    There’s really no hard and fast rule about how long a paragraph should be. It needs to be as long as it needs to be, really. That being said, if a paragraph went long, I’d wonder whether or not it a) should break or b) contains unnecessary material.

    I agree with you about sustaining openings. Great openings only work if they’re followed by a great second page which is followed by a great third, a great rest of the chapter, a great second chapter, and so on.

    Becky

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