Is Your First Line Hooky Enough?

I talk a lot about hooks and how important it is to hook your reader. The first sentence, first paragraph, first page, and first chapter are essential hooks. Lose the reader that early and she won’t be back.

I’m not going to get into too many details on what makes a good hook and what doesn’t. After all, I teach a course that does just that. It’s called Hook, Line, and Sinker: How to Hook Readers & Reel Them In. For more information on the class, click here or jump to the tab labeled “Classes” and scroll down to the class on hooks. However, I’d like to show you what doesn’t work as a hook and why.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1. It was a dark and stormy night.

Why doesn’t this hook me? It’s been done to death. While weather can create a certain feeling to the story, I wouldn’t start with it. Instead, I’d layer the weather details into the story, so they’d still create the ambiance you’re looking for but won’t distract from the plot or characters.

2. I walked into a big room with purple curtains, large windows, a double bed, green shag carpet, white, lacy wallpaper, and a bookshelf on the back wall.

Why doesn’t this hook me? I have no reason to care about the character or the setting. The author lists a bunch of descriptions that do nothing to advance the story or reveal anything about character. If it’s important for the reader to know what the room looks like, these details should be layered into the story so the reader barely notices.

3. “Harry, how are you?”

Why doesn’t this hook me? Dialogue often works well as a hook, but you need to choose the right dialogue. Not only should you not start with this particular line, but I shouldn’t see this in your manuscript. It’s fluff. When your characters are on the phone, you don’t need to show the small talk, the hello and bye. Only include what’s important to the story, and what will make the plot move forward or reveal character development.

I created these first lines for the purpose of this exercise. Although, the first example is a famous line written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton as the opening sentence of his novel Paul Clifford. I used it because writers sometimes use that exact sentence or they change it up slightly. The effect is still the same. Not hooky.

Want to join in the fun? Send me your first line hook. This can be the very first line in your book or the first sentence of one of your chapters. I’ll select a few examples a week and post them with my responses. Don’t worry. I won’t mention your name in the post, so nobody will know the sample came from you.

Send your sample to: labelle at labelleseditorialservices dot com and write “First Line Sample” in the subject line or I won’t open it. Do NOT send an attachment. I won’t open it. If you send more than one sentence, the other sentences will be deleted before I comment. Or you can leave your sentence in the comment section here. All comments are approved before they go live. If your comment is your sample sentence, I won’t approve it. That way, you’ll still remain anonymous.

I’ll post the first samples July 9, 2013. Watch for them.

Any questions?

Lynnette Labelle

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