A few weeks ago, I asked my readers to send me their first line to see if I think it would hook readers or not. I received quite a few samples, so I’ll split this into three posts. This is the second installment.
I’m no longer accepting samples, as I already have enough for these posts. Thanks to all who have participated. Reading is subjective. Just because I like or don’t like something doesn’t mean others will feel the same way.
Let’s take a look at some hooks.
1) Lady Arabella de Percy cringed as her second slipper plummeted into the darkness looming below her.
I’M NOT HOOKED. While I said I’m not hooked, I almost was. My problem with this first sentence has to do with a technicality. The action needs to appear before her reaction. The slipper has to drop before she can react. And, technically, she can’t cringe as the slipper drops because it plummets into the darkness, so we don’t know how long it takes for the slipper to fall or for how long she’d be cringing. It would be much cleaner to say, “Lady Arabella de Percy’s slipper plummeted into the darkness. She cringed.” (Although, that would be two sentences.) Then, add to that reaction. Why did she cringe? What does it mean to her that her slipper plummeted into the darkness? Is she upset that she lost her slipper or freaking out because she didn’t hear it hit the ground? Obviously, the author wouldn’t have been able to do all this in the first line. I’m simply giving suggestions on where to go from here.
2A) Hope ran through my dreams like a common thread.
I’M NOT HOOKED.
2B) Hope had yet to be beaten out of seventeen-year-old Lady Victoria Aldridge.
I put these two samples together to make a point. It’s somewhat cliché to start with “hope”. I see this quite often, and I don’t get nearly as many submissions as agents, so this is something to consider.
With 2A, I wasn’t hooked because the sentence doesn’t tell me much. I don’t care if the character had hope in his/her dream. I’d be more interested if he/she had hope in his/her life, as the story should be more about the character’s life and not his/her dream. I’m also struggling with the imagery. I don’t think of a thread as something that runs. Maybe if the author had said, “hope rolled through my dream like a common thread”, I could imagine a spindle rolling. Or “hope unraveled like a common thread” would make me think of a similar image. Even “hope stuck to me like a common thread” would produce an image that could naturally be tied to a thread. And why add the word “common”? I’d automatically assume the author was talking about a common thread unless he/she said otherwise, so this is overwritten and can be tightened.
With 2B, I was hooked, despite the author’s use of “hope” in the first sentence. The fact that someone wants to beat hope out of this teenager speaks to me. Who wants to hurt her? Why? And why doesn’t that person want the teen to have hope? Hope for what? A lot of questions come up with this opening line, and I’d have to read on to find the answers. Good job.
3) Vegin considered the man before him, a poor farmer from an outlying village.
I’M NOT HOOKED. I don’t know who Vegin is, so I don’t know why he’s “considering” the man before him, but I don’t care at this point. Plus, this is telling. Show us that he’s considering this man and why, but don’t start with that. You need something else. Maybe start in the middle of his assessment. So, he has already spotted the farmer, but we don’t see that. Instead, we see his assessment and reaction. I don’t know the significance of this farmer, so I’ll make something up for my example. “Rags for clothes, no shoes, a filthy face, and as desperate as they come—just the man I was looking for.” In this example, we see what the POV (point of view) character sees, and it seems he’ll probably take advantage of this man, so we wonder why. What will he make him do? Why is this man struggling so much? This was just intended as an example of how the author could show the reader what Vegin sees and how he reacts.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to hook readers throughout your novel and not just with the first line, check out my class called Hook, Line, and Sinker: How to Hook Readers and Reel Them In. For more details about the classes I teach, go here.
Come back for more first line critiques next week.