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. If an author sent more than one sample, I may not have used the additional samples, as I wanted to keep this to three posts. This is the last 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) “From the evidence presented, I find you guilty and therefore charge you, Lenore Avery, with the murder of your husband, Mr. Victor Avery.”
I’M NOT HOOKED. However, I think if the author started right after this line, with either Victor’s reaction (or the protagonist’s reaction if that isn’t Victor), the beginning would be a lot hookier. Something like… Guilt? Victor’s legs shook. He grabbed the table for support. How could he have been found guilty? He never did anything wrong.
Granted, that’s more than a first line, but I wanted to show the author, and my readers, that the reaction here is more important, and hookier, than the verdict.
2) If one more gargoyle moves into my back yard, I’m going to import a flock of pigeons!
I’M NOT HOOKED. I’m actually confused. I think the author was trying to be funny, but I don’t see the link between more gargoyles and needing pigeons. I’d rather know if these gargoyles are alive or if someone is adding statues of gargoyles to the backyard and why. The author could showcase his/her voice and still include the gargoyles. Something like… More gargoyles? Are you kidding me? Like we need more of those creepy creatures in our backyard. And anyway, they smell. Bad.
Again, that’s more than one line, but in reality, if your first line is only a word or two, you can’t expect it to necessarily hook the reader. I asked for the first sentence for this exercise to limit the sample sizes, but when you’re looking at your manuscript, it’s okay to look beyond the first few words.
I also want to caution the author to check his/her spelling before self-publishing this work or sending this to an agent or publisher. “Backyard” is one word. Also, be careful when using exclamation points. They should be used sparingly and only when necessary. I’ve heard of at least one agent who will reject a manuscript if it has more than a handful of exclamation points in it, because she feels this is lazy writing, telling instead of showing. Many agents and editors agree. I don’t feel there’s a need for an exclamation point in this sentence.
3) “‘The Curse of the Octopus,'” Lyne read out loud, translating the runes as she went.
I’M NOT HOOKED. This doesn’t feel like an opening line, and it’s a little dry. Instead, I’d rather see Lyne, or whoever’s with her, react to this. Show the reaction, then slip in what she’s reacting to. This is an exception to the action/reaction rule, where you normally should show what someone reacts to before he/she reacts, and this is only done at the beginning of a novel.
Something like… “Oh, my God. Do you think we’ll be cursed now, too?” Jodi touched the rune that Lyne had just read and outlined the letters with her fingers, The Curse of the Octopus. Her heart thumped in her chest, and her face flushed. “What will it do to us?”
Or you can start with the bit about the octopus, and add more voice to the sentence. Something like… Lyne’s fingers trembled as she ran them along the letters: The Curse of the Octopus. What did that even mean? How could an octopus curse someone?
4) Rosa hurtled down the corridor, the slap of footsteps close behind.
I’M HOOKED. I love this. I want to know what Rosa is running from and why something or someone is chasing her. Great job!
Look at the difference between this hook and the hooks used in #1 and #3. Notice the author didn’t show us what Rosa saw before she reacted. Instead, the author started the story right after that moment and showed us Rosa is reacting (by running) and why (because something or someone is chasing her).
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.