Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hooks, Lines and Sinkers: how to hook and reel in readers.


Janet here. We work long and hard to get that perfect hook to open our book—that first line that we write and rewrite to reach perfection. But do we pay as much attention to all the other opening lines in our chapters and scenes? We need to open with a hook that keeps the reader turning pages. The challenge is a book may have 30-60 scenes.

Often writers open a scene/chapter with the Point of View character’s name. That’s fine, but we want to vary our openings to prevent the sameness from getting boring.

Writers also use opening lines to establish day and setting for the reader, but if overdone this technique risks reading like a dated journal.
So how can we vary our opening lines enough to hook our readers and keep them turning pages?
.
I found some opening lines in my books that I’m proud of, but I was surprised how often I’d written opening lines that were deadly dull, what I’ll call sinkers. By sinkers I mean lines that fail to hook, lines that sink into oblivion. An example of a sinker from my debut, Courting Miss Adelaide, Sept. 2008: Charles walked the few blocks to the Ledger, his stride brisk. I lost an opportunity to grab readers, especially when a few sentences later Charles learns a woman had apparently hung herself. That piece of news is central to the plot and would’ve hooked the reader far better.
I want to make the point that trying to write brilliant opening lines every time might keep us from getting the book written. LOL Worse, we could try so hard to write a hook that all that cleverness could get annoying.

As I looked at my opening lines, I was also surprised to see that the second line often hooked me more than the first. If I’d flipped the two sentences, I’d have a stronger hook. Or in this example from Wanted: A Family, March 2011, I could’ve simply omitted the first sentence:
Jake sat in Callie’s parlor holding Elise’s baby against his chest. Inside the blanket, the poor little thing drew her knees up, screeching like an alley cat in a midnight skirmish. And Jake didn’t know the first thing about comforting her.
I didn’t need that first mundane sentence. A small tweak to the second line establishes the POV character and grabs the reader far better:
Inside the blanket, Elise’s baby drew her knees up, screeching like an alley cat in a midnight skirmish. And Jake didn’t know the first thing about comforting her.
This exercise made me see that a hooky opening line might not stand alone. The good news—it doesn’t have to. We can either write a second line to establish the POV character and the setting. Or we can tweak that hooky opening line by adding the POV character’s name later in the sentence.
I looked at opening lines that drew me and found several techniques to reel in the reader. While the POV character name and setting may also be given, these sentences pop off the page as they add conflict, raise the stakes, establish tension and emotion.
·         Start with dialogue
“I don’t like you.” The pale blue eyes staring at Elizabeth were defiant, strong, so like her father, and not about to be dissuaded by a scorched bowl of soup. Janet Dean, The Substitute Bride, LIH, Feb. 2010.
"Jason," Melanie yelled, as she caught her son by his shirt collar. "Stay back!" Audra Harders, Rocky Mountain Hero, LI, Jan. 2011.
"I can't find Sally." Ruth Logan Herne, A Family to Cherish, Men of Allegany County, LI, June 2012.  

“I’ll kill him!” His words issued forth in a strangled rasp, spewing from lips as parched as his tongue, which cleaved to his throat like adhesive. Julie Lessman, A Passion Redeemed, Revell, 2008
·         Start with action
Heart in his throat, Jamison pulled to the curb and hit the ground running, weapon in one hand, MagLite in the other. Debby Giusti, The Colonel’s Daughter, LIS, Aug. 2012. 
  • Start with one of the five senses
Even from yards away, the odor hit Elizabeth harder than a belch from Reginald Parks. Janet Dean, The Substitute Bride, LIH, Feb. 2010
From the look on her face, you’d have thought he’d asked her to help him dispose of a body. Glynna Kaye, Second Chance Courtship, LI, February 2011.
The hospital smelled like a mix of cleaning products and rubbing alcohol as Michele stepped into the elevator ahead of Jamison. Debby Giusti, The Colonel’s Daughter, LIS, Aug 2012.
 ·         Start with setting
I’m not talking about “in the parlor.” I’m talking about using description of setting to hook the reader by evoking emotion, establishing mood, or raising questions.  
The sun shot rays of light into David Wellman’s office, shouting the start of a new day and grating against his every nerve. Janet Dean, Last Minute Bride, Brides of the West, LIH, April 2012.
From under the leafy sugar maple, Katherine watched Andrew and Randy huddle on the dock like a pair of conspirators. Cara James, A Path of Love, Aug. 2012.
·         Start with physical reactions
Katherine's heart tightened, and for a split second she froze, staring as the train hurtled down upon them.  Cara James, A Path of Love, Aug. 2012.


I will not throw up … I will not throw up ... Julie Lessman, A Light in the Window: An Irish-Christmas Love Story.

·         Start with conflict  
Just what he didn’t need. A shadow from his past. One with big, sparkling brown eyes looking at him like he walked on water. Glynna Kaye, High Country Hearts, LI, March 2012. 
Outside the parsonage, her new husband turned to Elizabeth, the chill in his steely gray-blue eyes raising goose bumps on her arms. Janet Dean, The Substitute Bride, LIH, May 2010.
·         Start with romance 
Romance doesn’t have to be a kiss or touch, though it can be. Use openings to show the POV character’s interest in the other protagonist.
The fishing poles were a ruse. Janet Dean, Wanted: A Family, LIH, Mar. 2011.  

Jake’s invitation to go fishing was just an excuse to spend time with Callie. The second line establishes his POV. Not that Jake would admit as much to Callie. 
·         Start with mystery or a vague reference.
It was time. Janet Dean, An Inconvenient Match, LIH, Jan. 2012.
If you’ve read my post on bugaboos, you know too many it was/there was constructions bug me. Used sparingly they can be effective and raise questions.
Fifty-two hundred dollars.
Cam added the hard knot of financial anxiety alongside five years of guilt and figured he deserved both. Ruth Logan Herne, A Family to Cherish, LI, June 2012.
Ruthy's excerpt would fit equally well under introspection/sequel. But that dollar amount was mysterious enough to make me want to know more. Ruthy added the second sentence to show how the money impacted the POV character.
·         Start with humor 
Like every other time when she'd had dealings with her husband, right from the moment she'd found him feverish in an army hospital in Georgia, Callie had to do all the thinking. Mary Connealy, Over the Edge, Aug. 2012.

“I smell smoke. Are you burning the candle at both ends again, Mitch Dennehy?” Julie Lessman, A Passion Redeemed, Revell, 2008

Seth hadn’t gotten a minute alone with his wife since—he paused. Had he ever gotten a minute alone with her? At least when she was fully conscious? Mary Connealy, Over the Edge, Aug. 2012. The punch line here is the last sentence, but the earlier ones build toward it and are all humorous.  
Geraldine Whitehall was dying. Again.  Janet Dean, Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, LIH, May 2009.
·         Start with introspection/sequel
Last evening, the mood between Elise and David had gone from congenial to chillier than homemade ice cream and had given Elise just as big a headache. Janet Dean, Last Minute Bride, Brides of the West, LIH, April 2012.
·         Start with unspoken prayer  

      Lord, what do you want from me? Audra Harders, Rocky Mountain Hero, LI, Jan. 2011. 
·         Start with a thought
Debby Giusti: "Opening with a thought that questions tugs me in."
Why did Michele continue to get under his skin? The Colonel’s Daughter, LIS, Aug. 2012.
I’m sure you could find other types of opening lines than those I list here. When we use opening lines effectively, they give the reader way more than who, when and where, and keep them turning pages.
The following Seekers shared their take on opening lines and gave some examples of what they mean from their books.
Tina Radcliff:  "I started to analyze my chapter openings and discovered I either use action or dialogue to open chapters. Or both." Her excerpt that follows uses the action and dialogue but also humor: 
Ryan pushed open the door to the clinic back room and headed to the sink.
“Hey there, Doc, what’s got you grinning like your hog won a blue ribbon?” -Oklahoma Reunion, LI, October 2011. 
Pam Hillman: “I’m revising to avoid openings with the POV character’s name and show in this example how to flip what you’ve already written to start with dialogue instead.”
Slade hefted his saddle onto his horse’s back, his gaze meeting Buck’s. “I’ve got to go into town and get a few supplies. You feel up to going?”
“I’m heading into town.” Slade hefted his saddle onto his horse’s back, glancing at Buck. “You want to go?”
Here Pam adds a sentence to keep from starting with the hero’s name. Both excerpts are from a work in progress.
The creaking of saddle leather broke the silence, but for once the men were silent. Slade slouched in the saddle and let his gelding find his own way back to the ranch.
Ruth Logan Herne: “I try to vary whose POV will end and start chapters so we end up with a good mix of stuff, kind of like campfire stew! Throw it all in the pot, see what happens.” In this excerpt Ruthy uses internal thought that makes the reader want to know more.
            You can do this.
              Eyeing the short walkway leading from her car to Heather's door, Meredith wasn't so sure. A Family to Cherish, Men of Allegany County, June 2012.  
Myra Johnson: “I've actually selected endings and beginnings that tie together, which is one technique I use regularly.” 
[End scene]She watched him watching her lips, and her world shifted. Everything . . . everything was about to change forever. [Next scene, in hero's POV] If you do this, it changes everything.
[End chapter] She cleared her throat, gaze locked on her folded hands. "I think it's safe to say you've found what you were looking for."
[Next chapter] Nathan had found what he was looking for, all right. Didn't take much convincing to realize he was falling deeper in love every day. 
Thanks to the Seekers for sharing some of their tips and opening lines.
Share an opening line from a chapter and scene that you’re proud of and the technique you used. I'm guessing you'll see more than the twelve I’ve listed here. For those leaving a comment, I’m giving away a copy of the winner’s choice of one of my books. 

I brought dessert pizza, a cookie dough crust with cream cheese and fruit. It’s as attractive as it is tasty and guaranteed to grab your attention as much as those opening lines. 

119 comments:

Helen Gray said...

Coffee pot's set.

Don't know that this is a great opening line, but it's what I found quickly.

Callie hacked at the frogs while cleaning them, giddiness making her reckless. The look on Trace’s face when he slipped into the water and she laughed at him had been priceless.

Looking forward to seeing you gals again next month.

Helen

Melissa Jagears said...

Man, I looked through the first 4 chapters of my WIP and I'm the boring as all get-out start with POV character name and a setting clue.

I see several where switching sentence number 1 and 2 could be better. I think I'll look at that from now on in editing phase.

Here's two from a manuscript that are "start with conflicts"??? that don't start with the POV character's name and I thought were "hooky"

The infant’s blue face gulped soundlessly.

Pain jolted through Julia’s arm sockets and then she crashed into a wall.

Sharyn Kopf said...

At the moment, the first chapter of my contemporary women's fiction novel starts:

I am more single today than I have ever been.

But since I'm only about 1/4 of the way into the first draft, that could definitely change!

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!


That's a scream of happiness.

I had the 'start with dialogue' and was enjoying the little snippets of the other books... and THEN you went further.

Five senses, action, setting.... OOOOOh.


I just love Seekerville. You guys are like a free writing class. And I don't even have to spit out my gum.

Thanks, Janet.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Oh, examples... Let's see.

Action: Jay stuffed the knit cap in his pocket and strode toward the corner, dodging skateboarders and losse knit groups of goth teens.

Dialogue:

As soon as they hit the fresh air, she whirled on him. “What do you want me to do? You were as committed to this as I was, and now you say we should just drop it?”
He shook his head, black hair ruffling in the winter wind. The snow reflected the sunlight onto his face, casting into half shadows the serious expression he almost never wore.

Senses:
Jay tried to block out the whoops and hollers of the kids. He searched her face, trying to decide what else she was trying to say. Or not say.



Now I want to go back over everything!

Ausjenny said...

I read a book recently Zero visibility by Sharon Dunn and she had good hooks. having got the book nearby but it was the last book I read before I collapsed and I ended it around 2am in the morning cos I just could not put it down. she had me hooked from the first sentence and kept me hooked. Mind you being a cold night and book set in freezing conditions added to it.

Bridgett Henson said...

Oh the shame!!! About half of my scene openings begin with POV character names.
I'm with you Virginia. I love the free writing lessons at Seekerville.
Here's some examples from my(I thought was polished) WIP.

Action:
He kicked the door three times while buttoning his shirt.

Dialogue: “Hey! Wake up!” Ray’s voice interrupted a wonderful dream of jade eyes and golden hair.

Internal thought: How could she have been so stupid? Joni slipped off the bed and walked down the hall. Somebody has some explaining to do.

Mystery:
No one would welcome visitors at this hour. It was past midnight.

Debra E. Marvin said...

My first thought went to this chapter opener:

James ran the point of the blade under the delicate skin, exposing the small, warm piece of flesh. With a second careful move, he lifted it from the fragile bones and dropped the full filet from knife-edge to his upturned mouth, groaning with the satisfaction of a man who’d found bliss.

(he's eating a kippered herring, by the way) Because my story is suspense, I liked the idea of using "blade" and "flesh" in an unexpected context.

These were great examples, Janet! I have a tendency to be so deep in the POV's head that I forget to let everyone else know where we are.

Jackie said...

Thanks for sharing this.

I always learn something at Seekerville.
I thought we just needed hooks at the end of the chapter. Seriously!
Except for the beginning of a story which of course you need a great hook.
But this is the first time I considered I needed to hook the reader into the beginning of the chapter.

Thanks again!
Jackie L.

Susan Hollaway said...

Great post! Lots of good stuff! Thanks for sharing.

Rose said...

Janet,

I love this post, and it gives me something to think about while revising my WIP.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning Seekerville!!

Thanks for the coffee, Helen.

Your opening line hooked me. I can see that gal hacking at the frogs. And know immediately Callie is no ordinary woman.

Great to know you're coming to ACFW! Can't wait to see everyone!!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Morning Melissa! Your opening lines have a huge sense of urgency and worry that hooks the reader! Excellent.

I'm not saying to never start with the hero/heroine's name but to mix it up. Fun that like me you found the second line could be more hooky.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Sharyn! I'm grinning at your women's fiction opener. Loads of women could relate. Great job. Wishing you all the best with the next 3/4s of the book!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Virginia, thanks bunches! Seekers love to share our thoughts on writing. Much we've learned the hard way. Much we're still learning. And we learn from you all, too!

LOL about the gum. Anyone remember that stuff stuck under tables and desks? On your shoes?

Janet

Debra Clopton said...

Great post Janet! I love hooks :) I also loved seeing all the pictures of you gals. Missed seeing you at RWA hopefully at ACFW.

I enjoyed reading all the examples everyone gave--great job.

Nancy Kimball said...

Hi Janet!
I'm grabbing some of that dessert pizza. =)
The opening of my first MS is still my favorite. Internal monologue from my POV character (the hero of the novel).

My mother is a liar.

I'm going to have to do a check for how varied my scene openings are. I like to establish setting and POV character in the first sentence too. Thanks for this!

Janet Dean said...

Virginia, your opening lines give rich detail. Your dialogue gives a strong sense of the conflict. The ending of your senses example is hooky too. Great job!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Jenny, nothing better than a book you can't put down. Though a great read may not give you the rest you need. How are you feeling?

Can't quite picture cold weather after a very hot summer, but the days are getting shorter. Fall is on its way.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Bridgett! I'd say you're mixing things up pretty well if only half of your scene openings start with names.

You've made me want to know why your hero is kicking the door and who Joni is about to confront and why. Excellent examples of openings that plant questions in the readers minds.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mercy, Debra, your line had me cringing! Hate to say what I thought this guy was doing. LOL Your example shows how important word choice is.

In deep POV your characters will reveal the setting through their eyes, filtering everything through their attitudes and struggles.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Thanks Jackie! We need to hook readers with every scene. Every chapter. Make it hard for them to lay down our books. But having said that, I've discovered through this post that I need to work harder.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Welcome Sharon! If you have some tips on writing openers, please share.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Morning Rose. Great point that we look at this stuff during revisions. Though once we get the feel for writing hooky opening lines, they might come naturally off our fingertips. Hoping so!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Debra, great to see you here!! I'm coming to ACFW and can't wait to see you! How are things in Mule Hollow? :-) Talk about a popular series!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Morning Nancy! Whoa! I love that opening line. You're establishing the trouble. Bringing questions to your readers' minds. Excellent.

Have fun playing with your opening lines!

Janet

Julie Hilton Steele said...

I am with everyone. I want to go back over everything!

I noticed my chapters open with dialogue consistently. Hmmm.

“Hey, Joe, you made the papers!” Joe’s best friend, Gavin Davis, waved The Washington Times, handed Joe his coffee, and sat down on his desk. Joe was in no mood to thank him for the coffee or the paper. His own copy was spread out before him.

Now looking at this opener through the lens of your post! Have my homework assignment for the morning. Thanks!

Speaking of Courting Miss Adelaide, I was kind of surprised you mentioned it. Does this mean I read your book because of Adelaide's hat on the cover? :-)

Peace, Julie

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Janet, Loved the photos. You all will be together again soon as September will be here before you know it.

Great hook tips also. I'm going to use them while going through my requested manuscript.

Yum the dessert pizza is to die for.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

When Janet asked for snippets for this, it was a true eye-opener for me.

It's way too easy to fall into repetitive habits!!!!

Janet, thank you for this smack upside the head. Melissa, I agree, this is something to check for when editing.

Doh! Good job, Janet-O!

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Janet, what fun, FUN post!! It was a blast reading all these great opening lines and WOW, I never put that much thought into my first lines, but you wrote a thesis here on how to do that, a definite keeper!!

And, SHARYN!!! Your line of "I am more single today than I have ever been" REALLLLY packs a double wallop for me ... made me stop and think and go deep, just in one line. GREAT JOB!!

BRIDGET'S LINE OF "He kicked the door three times while buttoning his shirt" is sooooo fun and multi-dimentsional, saying SO much in so little words. To have a guy angry enough to kick a door three times, and yet still calmly buttoning his shirt is GREAT depth in characterization!!

Hugs,
Julie

Julie Lessman said...

NANCY!!! "My mother is a liar." BRILLIANT opening, my friend!!! Lots of shock value and deep meaning and foreshadowing going on there, girl -- GREAT JOB!!!

Honestly, Janet, this is a true printer-offer, and one EVERYONE should use to go through each of their first lines in their books.

Hugs,
Julie

Jan Drexler said...

Virginia's right - this place is like a free writing class!

I scanned my manuscript and found that although I used the POV character's name to start about 1/2 of the scenes, I also used dialogue a lot-

“Levi Zook is here.” Lovina spoke low, into Ellie’s ear, but every woman in the crowded kitchen heard her.



And then there was one scene where the dialogue is in a mini-flashback. Now that I think about it, that might not have been the best way to start a scene -

“Walkin’s for chumps.”
Kavanaugh’s words echoed in Bram’s mind with every step he took toward the Stoltzfus farm on Tuesday morning.



There were a few I started with a description of setting -

A red sliver of sunrise pierced through the clinging mist of pre-dawn coolness, promising another hot, dry day. Bram glanced at the sky above. The early morning gray had given way to clear blue in a sweep from east to west. Not a cloud in sight. A good Saturday morning for a barn raising.



And a couple that started with introspection -

A scared rabbit, that’s what he was.
A few months ago, he would have gone after that Packard. His own car would have followed that rat to his hole and finished this business and that would have been the end of it. But here he was, stuck in this backward place…
Bram slammed his hand against the side of the buggy in frustration, making Partner jump into a panicked gallop.



I know I'm going to be more aware of how I open scenes from now on, though! Thanks, Janet :)

Marianne said...

Just reading your 'hooks' makes me want the whole book! Soon i'll be reading all these books while looking for all this stuff...but i'll still be reading for pleasure. Maybe my reviews will perk up, though!
Thanks for another great post

Janet Dean said...

Hi Peaceful Julie! How's the pain?

Dialogue is a great way to open a scene. I love your example. Thanks for sharing.

I'm sure you read Courting Miss Adelaide for the excellent opening lines. Snort. The cover didn't hurt either.

Janet

Tina Radcliffe said...

Hooks aside, I am loving these black dresses in the pictures. May I borrow? We should do a dress borrow for conferences. It would save money.

Janet Dean said...

Sandra, I'm with you! I cannot wait to gather at ACFW! And yes, the conference will be here before we know it. Just like my entire life. LOL

Praying for your insight as you polish your requested manuscript.

Janet

Tina Radcliffe said...

Debra Marvin, at first I thought it was Hannibal Lector you were talking about. Excellent!!!!

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, you weren't the only one getting an eye opener with this post. I was not thrilled with tons of my openings, which proves the main thing is to write a great story. Still, I'll be working hard at stronger scene hooks.

Janet

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Janet! I just saw that you finaled in the Maggies!!! Congratulations!!! Hope you win!!! :-)
This is a good reminder to me to check my opening lines when I revise. I really need to do that.
Loved the pics of you Seekers! Can't wait to see you all in Sept!!!

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Julie! Love your comments about all the shared great opening lines!

I looked at opening lines of The Bride Wore Spurs, my latest book. I'm hoping I'm getting better at this. But when we care about our stories as much as we all do here in Seekerville, there's always room for improvement.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Jan, your openings dragged me in! You gave a lovely variety of techniques. My favorite: A scared rabbit, that's what he was. That led into some great conflict lines. Excellent. Thanks for sharing.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Marianne! I am delighted the opening lines made you want to read the books. Proof that they worked. Thanks! Appreciate your support of books!

Janet

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Thanks for asking about the pain, Janet. I am working through it! No other choice. Focusing on writing is helping.

I just can't believe Courting was that far back!

When is The Bride Wore Spurs coming out?

Peace, Julie

Janet Dean said...

Tina, great idea to swap conference attire! I have a closet full of black fancy dresses, long and not so long. Can't call them short as they're not. Pick one. Two. :-) One day I may shock myself by wearing red.

Janet

Jeanne T said...

Love and NEEDED this post today, Janet! I'm going to have to be quick, but I can hardly wait to come back later and read more opening lines.

So far, here are two that I hope are good.

"She never should have gone after him."

"What was it about Charity that made him feel sixteen? Billy's hands sweated under the table when he watched her walk into their favorite pizza place."

Thanks for the affirmation that sometimes a second line is okay to add to/fill in the hook.

Okay, off to buy food for my starving family. Thanks, Janet!!

Mary Connealy said...

I'm browsing around at some chapter openings on my wip.

Dare’s head bounced off a rock.

Glynna hurt so bad the next morning when she woke up it was like she'd taken a beating. She knew what that felt like.

“So Dare slept all morning?” Luke asked as he rose from the kitchen table. “Why’d he come if he was feeling puny?”

Glynna road side by side with Dare. In fact, she might’ve been just a pace ahead of Dr. Grouch

Dare lost track of the days. He barely noticed daylight and dark. He ate when he could. Slept when he collapsed, tended the living and laid out the dead.

Dare found out exactly why Glynna’s children didn’t want her to open a diner. He found it out right along with the rest of the town. Glynna Greer couldn’t cook worth a hoot.


The next morning when he stepped out of the sharp, buffeting wind and into Glynna’s diner Dare almost tripped over his own feet.
He was here expecting burned eggs, hard bread and bitter coffee…just like every morning. Instead, he stepped into a room that smelled like heaven. The place was packed, even for Glynna, who always did a bustling business.
Men were actually swallowing the coffee with not a single shudder. Dare saw the eggs.
They were yellow. Dare didn’t think Glynna knew how to do that.

Glynna Kaye said...

I LOVE reading everyone's scene hooks this morning! It's so easy to fall into the "samey same same" stuff, so it's fun--and challenging--to vary them.

Clari Dees said...

This is so much fun. I loved the examples of the hooks. I'll be referring back to this when I start editing my WIP.

Here's the opening line (currently) of my WIP showing setting.

Sleet rattled against the sides of the little house, wrapping it in a frigid blanket.

Second chapter using dialogue.

“Dear God, it’s too nasty outside to go for a doctor. Show me how to help this man.”

Another chapter opening with dialogue and the senses.

Aaahh!”
Cold, wet snow slapped the back of Rose’s neck and slithered down her spine. The sensation of melting ice crystals on warm flesh caused gooseflesh to erupt all over.

I've already found chapters and scenes I want to tweak now using my newfound powers of hooks and lines. :-) Thank you for giving us the tools to write better!

Janet Dean said...

Thanks Melanie! I'm very excited about the Maggie final. I'm hoping to attend M&M. Are you going?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Julie, I'm sorry. Proud of you for hanging in.

I don't know the release month of The Bride Wore Spurs but sometime next year.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Morning Jeanne T! Thanks for the hooky opening lines! Excellent. I feel for Billy. His reaction to the heroine is such fun and builds empathy with readers. Wouldn't we all like to make a man sweat just by walking into a room? Sigh.

Hope to see you after you get the shopping done.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Wonderful opening lines, Mary! They definitely make me want to read the book!

My favorite line isn't humorous like many but its powerful: Dare lost track of the days. He barely noticed daylight and dark. He ate when he could. Slept when he collapsed, tended the living and laid out the dead.

Wow.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Glynna! Variety does spice up our books. I'm really enjoying all the examples. Fun to see what a creative bunch hangs out in Seekerville.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Clari Dees, your excellent examples are making me run for a sweater. :-) Love the ice down the heroine's neck. Now I'm wondering where it came from...the eaves or a snowball.

Janet

Kav said...

Love this post and all the comments with great hooks. Alas I can't share because...gulp...my computer died and all my hooks with it!!!!

Can I just take the time to admonish everyone to save save save and save again???? I didn't. Luckily the store will be able to transfer my docs to my new laptop which I may get next week. Haven't figured things out yet. But it's going to cost me $80 for them to do the transfer. Grrr. And it's not like this hasn't happened to me before!!!! I am such a slow learner! And destitute without my computer. I've stooped to booking computer time at the public library for a while. :-(

Debra E. Marvin said...

Yes. Mary's "Dare" lines are so compelling.

Can you believe I've never had dessert pizza before?

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great post and such good timing. Just started editing a ms and wasn't thrilled with the opening. Now I've got lots of good ideas!

I think my opening is something like this:

Today would be a monumental day!

The nerves in Brianna O'Leary's stomach reminded her of that.


Question for all you talented ladies - How many scenes should be in a chapter? Is 3 or 4 scenes too many?

Cheers,
Sue

Susan Anne Mason said...

Kav,

Just read your comment. So sorry about your computer.

I've just started using "DROPBOX" for backing up my documents and it's great (and free!) You can access them on-line from any computer, so all you'd have to do when you got a new computer is bring up your dropbox file and copy everything over! Just did that with my new laptop.

Hope that helps someone!

Sue

Digging for Pearls said...

Great lines ladies. :)

Blessings,
Jodie Wolfe

Janet Dean said...

Kav, I'm so sorry about your computer woes! Relieved to hear your books are retrievable. I have a free Internet site called Dropbox that saves my stuff every night. I have a zip drive and CDs for each book and still feel nervous.

Hugs, Janet

Janet Dean said...

Debra, I've never made dessert pizza but think its yummy. Fruit, cream cheese and a cookie crust. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sue! The monumental day opening tugs us in. The heroine's reaction makes us feel for her, too. Excellent!

Janet

Kav said...

Oooh, thank,s for that tip about Dropbox Susan and Janet. I'd never heard of that --- and it would be a great way to take my writing with me between home and various work computers. Of course, I had to lose my laptop when I'm off work so don't even have the advantage of that computer.

And can I just say that some people who use public library computers don't seem fond of bathing? I'm putting Vics in my nose before I come back tomorrow. Ugh. The things I'm willing do to for a Seekerville fix!!!!

Janet Dean said...

Sue, forgot to say that I've never had a rule about the number of scenes and never had an editor mention the number. I usually have two or three scenes per chapter, even four. Of late, I tend to write shorter scenes.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jodie! Thanks for your sweet words and for stopping by.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

LOL Kav! We should have a Seekerville contest for the one who has gone to the greatest agony or inconvenience to visit Seekerville. :-)

Janet

Clari Dees said...

Janet, you're good! There is a question of whether the snow came from the eaves or a snowball. ;-)

Kav! I'm sooo sorry about your computer, and having to use the library computers. As a librarian whose desk sits close to the patron computers... No. They don't believe in bathing! I feel for you. I have a very strong scented jar candle on my desk that I open whenever someone with real bad body odor comes in.

Janet Dean said...

Ah, your poor heroine has no idea what's waylaid her. Fun, Clari!

Janet

pol said...

Hello Seekervile gals, wow you all are great with your books and now I know why, you share all your knowledge and help one another. I learn new things each time I stop by and the coffee isnt bad either Helen.
I love to read and I love descriptive lines that hit you and make you take a second or maybe even a third look . getting into a story and living with the characters is what reading is all about and I love it.
thanks guys.
Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

Janet Dean said...

Paula, you have made my day, dear reader! We do try to share craft and bolster each other so we can tell our stories, but what would we do without people like you who love a line so much you reread it.

Bless you!
Janet

Debby Giusti said...

Great blog, Janet!

I usually include the POV character's name in the opening sentence because I like to anchor the reader right from the beginning. But your blog provided other examples that were so effective, and I now plan to mix my openings up a bit and see if I can't place that character tag a bit deeper into the opening.

Loved reading the lines from the various stories. Often the writer's voice was so strong that I didn't need to read the name to identify the author.

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

All the below are great ideas that have one thing in common:

Start with dialogue
Start with action
Start with one of the five senses
Start with setting
Start with physical reactions
Start with conflict
Start with romance
Start with mystery or a vague reference
Start with humor
Start with introspection/sequel.
Start with unspoken prayer
Start with a thought



They all provide what I call a ‘reward for reading’ – that is, they each give an incentive to keep reading. I think a ‘hook’ is too limiting an image. A hook is sharp, intrusive, dangerous, even mean-spirited. Expand the image and the ideas will come flowing in.

Think of a magnet gently pulling the reader into the story. Think of bread crumbs, peck by delicious peck, leading the way into the story. Think of a siren call attracting the reader home by its sheer beauty of expression. Think of a thousand anticipatory events the reader looks forward to seeing resolved.

Do this for unlimited idea generation. Really -- try it! Just for fun I listed some ideas below that instantaneously came to mind when I changed the model.

Start with:

A riddle: “What’s black and white and red all over?” That’s what the wounded nun asked me as I kneed down beside her. (A Vampire Comedy).

An inspiration: Rex painted beautiful pictures with a paint brush held in his mouth. I could do this thing for him. It was worth any risk. (The Price of Vulnerability).

A motivation: I could make $100,000 more by losing this fight. Besides, I probably couldn't beat this bum anyway. So what was the problem? (Someone Up There Doesn’t Like Me).

A confession: “I killed Sidney but I didn’t shoot the sheriff.” (The Singing Cowboy)

A surprise: “Hi, Dad. You don’t know me but I’m your daughter.” (The Bossy Hidden Child)

A decision: “Should I marry Lizzy or her daughter?” (In Praise of Older Women)

A lament: “I should have shot her more than once.” (You Only Live Twice)

A paradox: She only showed her love by hating me (You Always Hurt the One You Love)

A snarky: Alison brightened the room by leaving it. (All My Exes Live in Texas).


I know. I’m having too much fun but seriously: if you change the image of what you are looking for, you can actually open the flood gates of creativity. Thanks: it was very insightful seeing the commonality between the items you listed in your post.



Vince

Myra Johnson said...

I'm glad I read this post before opening my wip this afternoon, Janet! You've got me thinking a lot harder about the opening lines of each scene. Great examples from all the authors!!!

Nancy Kimball said...

Julie, thank you. It took me so long to get there with that scene and MS. It's funny because one of my first beta readers called saw me and instead of saying "Hello" said "My mother is a liar." I knew he'd started reading. (And remembered it!)

Janet, it makes sense more than I thought about before this post that the scene needs a good strong opening hook (or Vince reader reward) as well and it's not less important because it's not first.

Crazy how the second sentence in the scenes I've looked at are the hooks. Where the meat and potatoes are, and will very little tweaking or even a flip are stronger. This is from the second to last chapter of my WIP. (Pardon first draft ugliness)

Before:
Drusus prayed to God her voice was truly in his ears and not coming from his tortured mind. Trapped in this black, watery tomb, his last memory of the woman he loved more than life collapsing in his arms played over and over. Long after his mind had been able to endure it.

After:
Trapped in this black, watery tomb, Drusus’ last memory of the woman he loved collapsing in his arms played over and over. Long after he’d been able to endure it.

I didn't even need the first sentence (though I really liked it, I'd rather show it and let the astute reader reward themselves then spoon-feed them he can't tell if he's gone crazy or she survived and has come to rescue him.)

GREAT POST JANET. I have something else to add to the polish list for this MS. =)

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Rich in detail??

Does that mean... wordy???


Just kidding.

Wow, there are so many things I want to comment on here.

VINCE: Thanks for that handy list. JUst pasted into a reference page,

MARY Connealy... Those were beautiful.

Nancy Kimball... Loved that redo. Makes me want to revise. Even though I'd rather poke out my own eyes than revise.

Debra Marvin... I almost stopped reading because I thought it was horror and my stomach was turning. HA! Nice...

Janet Dean said...

Debby, anchoring the reader is vital. But we have a couple of sentences to do that. Or so I hope. :-) Your examples in the post are great. Obviously you're mixing it up.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Vince I love your comment! I'm copying and printing it, especially value your point about hooks. You said: A hook is sharp, intrusive, dangerous, even mean-spirited. This resonates when I think of watching someone digging a hook out of a poor fish's mouth. Rewards for reading is more humane.

Think of a magnet gently pulling the reader into the story. Think of bread crumbs, peck by delicious peck, leading the way into the story. Think of a siren call attracting the reader home by its sheer beauty of expression. Think of a thousand anticipatory events the reader looks forward to seeing resolved.

You not only have great wisdom you state it beautifully! Thanks!

Btw, nothing wrong with having fun in Seekerville! :-)

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Myra, you make an important point. We need to be aware of opening lines, not held hostage by them.
:-) The worst part, I can forget to be aware.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Nancy, the line where your hero prays the voice he hears is really the love of his life is great. Put it second if you prefer. Actually both sentences reward. Nothing dull about either.

Now I want to know what his watery tomb refers to. Tortured hero is stamped all over your lines. Poor guy.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Virginia, wordy to me is using unnecessary words that clutter the page, but don't add anything. Now I don't mean paragraphs and paragraphs of details that could be boiled down to a few select phrases or sentences. But important details establish setting, add emotion, bond readers to characters.

Janet

PatriciaW said...

Who knew there were so many variations of openings?

So naturally I look at the three chapters I'm preparing for submission.

1 - Physical reaction
2 - Action
3 - Dialogue

Feeling pretty good about that. Not sure if they're very hooky, but not bad.

Jeanne T said...

Janet--LOVING the first lines. :) It's so fun to see the variety and ways you all draw readers in. As I'm revising my wip, I plan to re-do a variety of my first lines. They need it. Now I have lots of tips to help. Thanks!

SUSAN--Can I just say it? I LOVE Dropbox. I use it all the time to back up my stuff, and I can use it anywhere. So glad you mentioned it.

KAV--I'm so sorry about your computer. I've had some issues this year too, but not as serious as yours sound.

Helen Gray said...

Just to prove that I don't always DISAPPEAR during the day, I'm back with another first line.

“Hot diggety! I feel great tonight.” The wooden head of the small figure swung around in a survey of the audience in the theater.

I AM NOT A VAMPIRE!!!

Debra E. Marvin said...

No Virginia Mary Ginny, not horror but it got your attention!

Vince. oooh, what a list of examples!

Janet - you had me at cream cheese...

Janet Dean said...

Hi Patricia W! Nice variety of openings. Great job!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hello Jeanne T. Glad you enjoyed all the opening lines in the post. Have fun revising yours!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Helen, we're glad you're back! Your line intrigues me. Tell us more about this wooden head actor. :-)

Janet

Piper Huguley said...

Janet,

Thanks for the post--it is going to the printer for sure. Congrats for the Maggie nom; hope you come to M&M so that I can say hello to you in person.


Please put me in the clean cat dish (or whatever you have to draw from), for the newest one only. As an aspiring LIH writer, I possess and have enjoyed all of your titles so far. Don't be so hard on yourself for Courting Miss Adelaide--it was great!

Piper

Janet Dean said...

Debra, your comment about cream cheese made me grin. I love the stuff. Sweetened, plain, mixed with minced black olives, onions. Not healthy, I'm sure, but if we use 1/3 less fat?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Piper, you're the sweetest! I love the story, but some of the opening scene lines could've been more riveting. :-) Still, I doubt anyone writes a perfect book.

Can't wait to meet you at M&M!! I registered and booked the hotel this afternoon. Anyone else going?

Janet

Ganise said...

Yes, ma'am , right on for bringing the pizza and everything else!

Excellent post with great points, Janet

I'm particularly agreeing with you on coming up with different approaches when it comes to opening lines. I find that there's a lot of clichés in those.

However, the examples ( and the advices) that you've shared are VERY good!
Courting Miss Adelaide sounds interesting, I looked it up earlier. :-)

Nancy... 'My mother is liar' *chills* This is goood. I'm looking foward to reading your published works.

Welcome back, Kav!

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

Ganise said...

Oh.my.word.
Sorry, I'm seeing more lines that hook here!

Whoo-hoo!

Helen... it's actually exciting!

'I am more single today than I have ever been'- Sharon Kopf

'As soon as they hit the fresh air, she whirled on him. “What do you want me to do? You were as committed to this as I was, and now you say we should just drop it?”' - Virginia Carmichael Munoz

Bridget.. I actually exclaimed positively at yours. Are you published??

Debra... Oh. *serious chills*!

Everybody else.. *applauses and the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the background for you*

Ausjenny said...

Janet, I am improving (I keep telling myself I am). I have been able to sleep in a little it was 7am this morning which is good. I tire at night. Finished a book yesterday but it took 8 days. I did read for about 20 mins last night which is the first time for about 3 weeks. lights still our soon after 8.30pm. I am able to do more work but by night I am just so tired still.
I keep getting told I went through alot and the body is still recovering its 6 weeks tomorrow. Today I have my computer class in Microsoft publisher this afternoon so hoping to last the whole 3 hours this week.
I ran into one of the nurses who was with me yesterday who is a christian and she was saying with

Ausjenny said...

sorry hit the wrong button,

she was saying with all I went through and with the amount of blood loss its not surprising I am still tired and recovering. She also prayed for me when I was not doing to well and she didn't think I would remember that. (I think that was after I fainted.)

Ganise said...

Oh, my, God please help, Kav!

And Julie Steele H. Been praying!

Nancy C said...

Thanks for raising my awareness, Janet.

I looked through my WIP. I noticed I tend toward either dialogue or short sentences, sometimes fragments. Here are a few chapter openers:

> So there she was!

> "I want to talk to you, Gray."

> Mercy but the woman could scream.

> He was up to something.

I was sort-of pleased with how I was doing until I came up against this:

> The breakfast room was Ross's favorite room in the house.

But at least thanks to your post, I already have ideas about how to improve that opener and quite a few others :-)

Nancy C

Nancy C said...

What fun to read all these opening lines in the comments! Thanks for sharing, everyone.

Nancy C

Ganise said...

Let's make that more precise, Julie H.S. I said one (and saying another one) for you and I'm hoping and KNOW that God is working in your favour.

So fun reading through this, thank you Janet!

Mary Connealy said...

Just having fun. Hectic day and I'm finally sitting down with nothing pressing me.

Another chapter ending and beginning hook from Over the Edge.

The horse from Colorado City stopped and she saw a man’s legs and backside as he swung down from a pretty gray. The edges of her vision darkened until it was like looking through a long, narrow tunnel.
Then the man turned.
It was Seth Kincaid.
Alive and well. He’d have been better off dead.
She could arrange that.
She still had her gun.


Chapter Two
Seth saw the stagecoach driver lying halfway in the bushes on the side of the trail. He’d ridden right past him. Seth wheeled around to go help.
A bullet whizzed out the window of the stage and missed him by little more than a foot. Seth drew his six-gun.
“Seth Kincaid you get back here and let me shoot you, you low-down skunk.”
A woman.
A woman who knew his name.
A woman who knew his name and wanted to kill him.
He’d never had much luck with women.

Mary Connealy said...

Seth jerked in surprise. "Uh…Callie?"
She lifted her eyelids as if they weighted a pound apiece. "What?"
"What's his name again?"
There was too long a silence. Finally she said, "His name…your son's name…is Connor. And you're lucky I'm too weak to kill you, Seth Kincaid." Her eyes went shut.
Seth decided not to ask any more questions. "Hi, Connor."
The boy gave him a reckless grin that scared Seth just because he thought he understood it completely. Seth Kincaid had sown the wind. Now, with his son’s help, he was going to reap the whirlwind.
A scary thought, but life would never be dull. Seth hated dull. He smiled. "You and me, Little Man, are going to have us some fun. You're really gonna like my cavern."


Chapter Four
Callie's eyes flickered open and in the dim light she saw a roof over her head. A roof that wasn't carried along on wheels.
She'd been a long time traveling.
Connor!
She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and it all came back to her like a closed fist.
The pain was a big ol' reminder.
Then a face popped up right over her head, which she'd never managed to get raised.
"You've got a lot of nerve being alive, Seth Kincaid."

Mary Connealy said...

Chapter Six
Callie kept moving just because it had been bred in the bone from growing up in Texas.
Every breath, every step, every move hurt. None of that stopped her.

Mary Connealy said...

Like every other time when she'd had dealings with her husband, right from the moment she'd found him feverish in an army hospital in Georgia, Callie had to do all the thinking.
And considering her blood loss from yesterday, thinking was quite a chore. But she could see clear as the sunrise that Seth wasn't up to it.

Mary Connealy said...

There was a sort of ring around Callie.
Seth could almost see the donut. Callie was the donut hole and then there was the donut, a ring around her he couldn’t enter, but he was right outside the donut, leading the little band of traveling Kincaids when the trail was narrow. Riding alongside Callie when the trail was wide, ready to jump in if she collapsed.
Every time he got a little too close—say into the eatin’ part of the donut—she's snarl at him. He didn't mind that so much, kinda fun, but he could see being mad tired her out.
He said, “A donut would taste good about now.”
“What?” Callie asked from behind him.
He turned and smiled. “Nothing.”
She muttered, but he didn’t want to know what she was saying so he didn't ask.

Clari Dees said...

Argh! Mary! You're killing me! I don't have my copy of Over the Edge yet.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Ganise! Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post and all the shared opening lines. Great job all!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Jenny, I'm so thankful for that nurse and the doctors who took care of you. We can see that from your comments that you're improving. Give it more time. You've been through a lot.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Nancy C! Thanks for sharing your opening lines. My favorite: Mercy but the woman could scream.
The line tickles me and makes me want to know what's happening to make her scream.

Janet

Cindy W. said...

Okay, I'll give this a try 'cuz I'd love to be entered to win one of your books! :)

SENSES:

The pain gripped hold of Cassie’s heart and for a brief moment, she knew what it must feel like to die, to feel nothing beyond the pain, to feel numb. Life as she knew it was gone. How could this happen, moreover how could she have let it happen?

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52[at]yahoo[dot]com

Janet Dean said...

Terrific opening lines, Mary! Thanks for sharing.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Cindy W, I love your opening line! The word pain has a way of hooky me every time. Excellent. Thanks for your interest in my books!

Janet

Cara Lynn James said...

Janet, I'm going to be much more aware of opening lines from now on! It's easy to end a scene or a chapter with a great line, but sometimes i forget the opening needs a zinger too.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Cara! Writers have a lot to remember, that's for sure. But, we're getting the stories told.
:-) We're blessed.

Janet

Bridgett Henson said...

Ganise, Thanks for the encouragement. I'm currently pre-published, but hopefully that will change in the near future. :)

marybelle said...

I had so much fun reading the opening lines here.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Janet Dean said...

Marybelle, thanks for stopping by!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

One of the many things I love about Seekerville is the support and encouragement we give one another on this writing journey. Thanks all!

Janet

Audra Harders said...

Janet, what a wonderful post reminding us to vary our openings. It's so easy to fall into habit.

Readers don't like habit.

Great, great work here, sweetstuff. I so appreciate your effort!!!

Missy Tippens said...

Janet! How did I miss this post yesterday??

Great tips! I really enjoyed the different types of openings. I have to work to avoid the journal type entry openings. :)

Janet Kerr said...

Wow this is a keeper. Thank you so much for all the well layed out information.
Jan