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Be a succesful hooker.

Hooker?

Did you come to the blog thinking I was going to talk about a very old profession? If you did well……. HA! Made you look. You fell for my hook.

My Sisters have already given you many reasons to enter the Golden Heart and have inspired you to do so. One has given you a fabulous check list for success. I wanted to know why we felt we were finalists. I asked and here are some of the answers.  

“You must have a title that hooks the judge.”

“To final, you have to have a fabulous three chapters (50 pages) that
will draw in GH first-round judges.”

“Make every single one of your fifty pages count. End
with a hook.”

“Oh, and I’d add that ending the entry on a strong hook definitely helps!!  Having the judge turn to their score sheet after thinking “man, I’d love to read more of that” can only help your score!”

“I would say rock the first five pages. I think my entry finaled because I found my voice.   When voice comes through with confidence in the first five pages, you just know the entry is in it to win it.”

“I agree about voice and those first five pages having to hook you in.”

“I totally agree with what everyone said about having those hooks in the opening.”

“Page 1 (or rather, the first paragraph or two) have to be wonderful.
Draw them in. Right from the first sentence.”

I am quite taken with this answer.

“I used to be an editor of a writing magazine, and I had the honor of talking to a lot of book editors.  The one thing they always said was “story is everything.”  You can have typos, and poor grammar, but you have to have a great story. What makes a good story?  Is it character?  Plot?  The beauty of the words?  A good story to one person isn’t the same to another.  That’s why we can put our stories back into the Golden Heart next year under a different name and run the risk of not finaling. 

 To me, it falls in this order.  Hook, writing, characters, plot.   I love a beautifully crafted sentence.  I can read it over and over and over again.”

 

Did you notice a pattern?  Hooks.

Hooks, and of course not getting the East German Judge, are important to finaling.

So what is a hook?

I think Mary Buckham, in her lecture packet on Hooks and Pacing, says it best.

“Hooks create an emotional response from a reader. Not just any emotional response but one that gets under your subconscious, raises a question and compels a reader to turn one more page in order to find an answer.

Hooks can, and should be used, in the opening sentence of a book, the opening paragraph, the end of the first page, the end of the third page, the end of the third chapter, opening a chapter as well as an ending one, at each new scene and, if you’re writing a series, the last sentence.”

In her book How I Write Janet Evanovich says:  “The beginning is the most important part of the book. It must capture the reader immediately and force them to keep reading.”

Agent Donald Maas says hooks are vital to open your book, open each chapter, open each scene, and end the book. The best books contain one or more of twelve different hooks.

* Action or danger

* Overpowering emotion

* A surprising situation

* An evocative description that pulls a reader into a setting [think a specific setting here that impacts the story line vs simply description per se – simple description of a generic or vague nature is not evocative nor qualifies as a setting]

* Introducing a unique character [Introduction of a character is not enough – they must be unique.

* Warning or foreshadowing

* Shocking or witty dialogue [internal or external]

* The totally unexpected

* Raising a direct question

 

Still not convinced hooks are important? A little over a year ago I wasn’t either. I didn’t see the need for an opening hook.  This is what a smart author told me to do. Take five of your favorite books from the shelf and read the first paragraph. Is there a hook?  I had twenty-one books on the table before I became a believer. All save one had a hook. All but a handful had the story GMC in the first pages. My very favorite opening is Michael Connelly’s first page of The Brass Verdict. It completely lays out the story.

 I’d like to think it took so much to convince me because I lived in Missouri for many years and The Show Me State motto got me, but I can’t.  I’m just plain hard-headed and stubborn. I finally got it and went to work cutting two pages off my first chapter. Reworded a couple of sentences and came up with a decent hook.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting ladies who judged my submission in the Golden Heart and a couple of chapter contests. I was blown away when they remembered parts of my submission and wanted to know what happened next. Now I am a total, complete believer in hooks.

So, let’s get back to you and your GH submission. Take a look at your opening. Does it immediately draw the reader in?  Don’t know? Think about it like this. Say your book is about an asteroid on a collision course with earth and the heroine who saves the day. Should the first page begin with the heroine sitting on the sofa, channel surfing, eating ice-cream, thinking about calling the hunky new neighbor that just moved in next door? But, first she has to make her grocery list, call her sister and make sure the new puppy doesn’t pee on the carpet ?

OR…The heroine learns there is a giant asteroid headed her way, snatches puppy up, runs next door, grabs the hunk out of shower and drags him from the house seconds before the asteroid hits demolishing both homes. 

Which are you going to want to read more of? Do you care about what her grocery list includes? What flavor of ice cream she prefers? Do you want to read farther to learn if the puppy pees on the carpet?  Not me! I would kinda like to know if hunky neighbor had time to grab a towel, what he’s going to do for clothes and how he is going to thank the heroine for saving his life. Hmm. HOOK!

Here is my opening.

  “We have a visual on the boat,” Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jake Carver reported. Her gloved fingers tightened around the helicopter’s control stick and she increased air speed. The chase was on. Counter-narcotics had become her reason for existing and she was damn good at it.

What hooks you into wanting to read the next sentence?

Your opening does not have to be about explosions, fires, or murders. It does need to make the reader want to read on and on and on. You only have fifty pages to reel the GH judges in. Make the best of them. In the first paragraph drag the reader in with a grappling hook, use a spinner to end the first page.  End the first chapter with a treble hook. Go all out for the end of your submission and use a big game hook.   

Would you like to share your opening hook?  

 

Let’s get hookin so I can see each of you listed as a 2010 Golden Heart Finalist. 

Check RWA’s Golden Heart link for rules to enter.

http://rwanational.org/cs/contests_and_awards/golden_heart_awards

*I would be glad to look over your first chapter or send you a mug should you win the daily prize.

167 responses to “Be a succesful hooker.”

  1. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Big game hook? Sailfish, Marlin? Oh, no! Surely not!! You can’t mean . . . You DO! How brave you are, fishing for the the Myopic Editor Fish and its constant companion, the Trawling Agent Fish!!

    From streetwalkers to big game fishing, and you didn’t even break a sweat. Chutzpah, doll. Bravo! If I didn’t already know where in the US you lived, I’d know now. 😉

    Great opening for your book. You’ve aroused my curiosity. Why Jake? Never expected a “she” after that name. See? Don’t make me wait to read it to find out. Is it short for Jaqueline? Was she a tom-boy. Tell me, tell me!!!

    Excellent and throught provoking post, Rita. Kudos.

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    • rita says:

      Jake is a name her brothers and Daddy gave her. Her given name is Olivia. This is where knowing your characters and back story comes in. She grew up in Texas preferred to hang out with her brothers and their friends. When they gave her grief, she gave it back. The ‘guys’ decided they couldn’t call her Olivia anymore and started calling her Jake. It stuck. Flying interdiction missions in Coast Guard helicopters it fit better than Olivia –at least to her.

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      • Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

        Love it!!! I can’t wait to read the rest. She sounds like my kind of gal.

        {{{Hugs}}}

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      • Grace Hoskin says:

        Really nailing it on the head article. Hooks are something I noticed over and over again when one night I couldn’t stop reading a romance. Realizing that this happened to me over and over again I decided to try and find out why. It was the hook at the beginning of the chapter and the hook at the end. The one at the end was the one that always made me “just take a peek” at the next chapter and then I was a gonner. Guess curiosity is what killed the cat came into being for a reason and it wasn’t fishing.

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  2. Darynda Jones says:

    This is awesome, Rita!!! I love the list of 12 hooks!
    Thank you, this post is great!
    ~D~

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  3. Excellent post, Miss Rita! I thoroughly agree the opening hook is the most important. You could have the rockin’est plot, characters, GMC, etc., but who would know if the reader can’t get past the boring first page?

    Do you think this would work for an opening hook?

    “I told you to keep your mouth shut.”

    Why or why not?

    Thanks so much!

    Lis’Anne

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    • Darynda Jones says:

      Well, I’m not Rita, Lis’Anne, but I love it!
      Just my too scents.
      ~D~

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      • I’m not Rita either, but I’ll add my 2 cents. Diagolue hooks are tough. The dialogue itself has to be very strong and the sentence has to tell something about the character. You’re choice of words is awesome, but could add a little more that would make the opening really pop? I don’t know your plot but here are a few examples.

        “I told you to shut you’re mouth,” Mickey sputtered while his fingers tightened around his father’s windpipe.

        “I told you to shut you’re mouth,” Lara said a moment before she dropped her robe and walked toward him.

        “I told you to shut you’re mouth,” was the last thing Luke said before he slammed the car door in her face and stalked back into the funeral home.

        Do you see? Everyone of the sentences started with your strong words, but adding that little bit of info put that niche to the hook- the niche that makes the reader say, “Oh, we definitely have conflict here.”

        I hope this helps.

        AJ

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    • rita says:

      I DO like this.
      For me, opening hook are to keep the reader reading. real simple. Your one line certainly does that

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    • Dianne says:

      Lis’Anne, I like your hook. It brings sharp, immediate focus to the situation. I think any attributions directly tied to the dialogue would dilute the impact. You’re obviously writing about a tense situation, and your short start is fast paced, thus supporting the tension.

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      • This hooking game is probably the hardest part of writing the whole story. Snagging a reader’s interest from the beginning is not an easy thing to do. What hook’s one may not hook another. That’s why having the opinion of several top-notch writers is so invaluable. I’m not too stubborn to change something if it doesn’t work, and being open to criticism isn’t a personal attack–it’s the best way to become a better writer.

        Thank you for your “2 cents,” ladies! I always take all advice into consideration. 🙂

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  4. Shea Berkley says:

    Maas’s twelve examples of hooks are a killer. Great post. After this, no one will underestimate the power of an opening line, first paragraph or end of a chapter. Thanks for reminding us.

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    • rita says:

      You are very welcome. I refer to those 12 hooks frequently. I really am not that great at hooks and work hard to get them in.

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  5. 12 hook examples – cool! Thanks for this post, Rita!

    And more out of curiousity than anything, do you think there’s ever a time when a hook where the heroine is sitting on the sofa, plotting out her grocery list _would_ work (since it’d contrast greatly with the next part of the astroid about to hit the house)?

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    • rita says:

      Honestly -NO.
      I don’t think the opening of every book should be an explosion or filled with action, I do think the opening should foretell what the book is about. If your story is about an asteroid crashing to earth the first page should be about the problem. A story about a heroine who rescues a pride of lions shouldn’t start in the grocery store.
      Think about it this way. We’ll use the Lion Pride story. A reader is shopping in a book store. The fantastic title and cover art of your book catches her eye. She picks it up reads the back cover and opens the book to read the first page. If that first page does not have a hint of what the back cover offered, she puts it down. Time elapsed- less than a minute. BTW an agent will see it the same way.

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    • Darynda Jones says:

      I think this would work, Rosalind, only if you were an established author and your audience knew you were up to something no good, or great, depending on the POV. I just read an opening to a Jeffrey Deaver novella where a gardener is just watching this elderly couple act like kids in their backyard, and you know something is going to happen because it’s Jeffrey Deaver, but when it does, it takes your breath away.

      So I would save this for when you’re a huge, mega-author making the big bucks.

      🙂 ~D~

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      • So I would save this for when you’re a huge, mega-author making the big bucks.

        Oh, but of _course._ Lol 🙂 That makes sense, and I agree – readers will know what to expect from you, so it is more likely they’d be willing to wait to see what happens. Thanks, Darynda!

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  6. Rita, you hooked me from the start! With all this invaluable advice, something tells me the 2010 contest is going to be tough. 🙂

    Can I read the rest of your book now? Your opening paragraph really did hook me…

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  7. Jeannie Lin says:

    Thanks for the post Rita! Maas’ twelve hooks are very eye-opening. I’m actually quite weak at opening lines and ending hooks for chapters so this is something I have to work very, very hard to do.

    And I love your opening! Immediately I can feel the tension of the situation and grasp her expertise. I already like your heroine, know the setting, and am anticipating a good chase. All in four sentences.

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  8. I love opening hooks! Great topic, Rita! OK. Here’s mine:

    “Chloe, I’m desperate. I need you.”

    Chloe Tremont had waited and dreamed and hoped for the better part of fifteen years to hear those words from that voice. She was pretty certain, however, her dreams hadn’t just come true.

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    • rita says:

      Your opening is great! Just pulls the reader in.
      It makes me want to know so many things. And it tells a lot.

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  9. Oh, I so want to read Jake’s story. Great opening hook and blog post, lady. First peek is the most important. (((hugs))) AJ

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  10. Amanda Little says:

    Thanks for the post, Rita.

    I just got scoresheets back from a contest I entered, and though the scores had a broad range, all judges commented that my story didn’t start until page 4.

    A good story may be key to getting published, but we have to draw the editor / agent INTO the story from the start. This is so much harder than it sounds….

    Thanks for posting the list of hooks – I’ll use them as a test for my re-writes.

    Amanda

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    • rita says:

      I feel your pain. Openings are a killer. don’t know anyone who finds them easy. I lost count of how many times I changed my opening. My WIP started in seven different places before I settled in. Even then, I cut two pages out. In a workshop, Roxanne St Clair, offered this advice: get into a scene late and leave early. It works for me. I must say I have shed some tears over cut scenes.
      Some advice. Keep any deleted files in a separate folder. You can use them as a teaser on your web page or maybe put them in another story

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      At least they all agreed on where it started!!

      I agree with Rita–the only way to get over the heartbreak of cutting out words you sweated over is to make a lovingly titled little folder (“Gems I’m Saving”) or something like that, and put in anything you’re editing out. You may actually be able to use it someday…

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  11. Gayle Sharpe says:

    I haven’t ever really had a problem with hooks. It’s the rest of the story that gets me. *grin*

    Excellent information to keep in mind when writing the beginning, Rita! Thanks. 🙂

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    • rita says:

      I am jealous. Hooks are very difficult for me. But then the rest of the story is easy for me. I always have too much rest of the story.

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    • Eden Glenn says:

      Yes, I read your paragraph in the Nathan Bransford contest. I’m pulling for yours. Very well hooked opening.

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  12. Dianne says:

    Wonderful post, Rita. A lot of agents say the first paragraph tells them a lot – that a book is only as good as its beginning. The more beginnings I read, the more I see their point.

    Your hook’s great, Rita. It’s as if a Coast Guard chopper’s shooting me into the book.

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    • rita says:

      Thanks Dianne.
      If you want to read beginnings go to Agent Nathan Bransford blog. He has a contest for opening paragraphs. Last I looked there were 1700 entries. For any of you interested this is a great chance to see how your opening holds up and get before an agent.
      you can also see what an agent goes through reading queries.

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  13. Amy Talley says:

    I’ve read a lot of books in my life time. I mean a lot. Okay, so I was a little nerd growing up and spent my Friday nights with a good book!

    But that past reading gave me what I needed when it came time to writing hooks. I knew what made me read on….I only had to put the same in my books.

    Here’s my first line of my Regency finaling ms.

    “Geoffrey doubted anything Horace Fitch had to say could be as important as the agreement he would strike on the morrow.” Which means, of course, what Fitch tells him rocks his Regency world. This would be the foreshadowing one.

    From nerd to hooker – who knew?

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  14. jbrayweber says:

    Wonderful and informative post, Rita. Great for newbies and old hats alike!!!

    Jenn!

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  15. Ami Weaver says:

    Love your hook, Rita. I lvoe to be dropped in the middle of the action, but have found I’m not super good at it myself.
    *****
    This is my opening:

    The stick was pink.

    Lainey Keeler squeezed her eyes shut, lifted the tester with one trembling hand, then peeked with her right eye only.
    Yup. Definitely a pink line. Maybe she needed to check the instructions to be sure….
    Oh, God. How did this happen?
    Okay, so she knew the technicalities of the how. In fact, she knew the when. Lord help her, that was the kicker.

    *****
    Looking forward to reading everyone’s!

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    • rita says:

      I think this is a pretty darn good hook. so many questions are raised you have to keep reading

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    • Amy Talley says:

      Ooh, I like this one. Gotta know who the father is…and why she’s so worried about it!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Definitely hooks! (I’d delete the “lifted with one trembling hand” phrase, though–just the eyes shutting, then peeking with one eye works better to me…since the point is that she’s hoping reality will change.)

      Reading through the entries to Nathan Bransford’s first paragraph contest, I’m really noticing how often those paragraphs get diluted by extraneous phrases. (Something I have to resist in my own writing…I’m the queen of extraneousness.)

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    • Ami Weaver says:

      Thank you for the comments! I also enjoyed all the other hooks and comments–learned a lot today! 😉

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  16. Eden Glenn says:

    I have trouble with hooks. I am hopefully learning. Unfortunately I begin writing and the words are on the page without enough though or foresight to crafting. I am trying to learn.

    I haven’t learned yet to write those beginnings that lay out the GMC and do everything but slice bread.

    Here is my latest stab.

    Bright light bathed Wren Aldridge’s face as thoughts of sun, morning. . .late? crept into her sleep-fogged brain. She rolled away from the light, snuggling back into the protective coziness of her bed. Late, penetrated with a pounding urgency.

    comments ?

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    • I’m not a great hooker, but I feel like you and I are hanging out in the same tree, Eden.

      I think we have to ask ourselves what our first lines tell the reader about our book. In my case, all too often I paint a slow, possibly pretty but ultimately boring scene in which the heroine wakes up or walks down the street or slips into a coffee shop…you know, something billions of people do every day. Something happens eventually, like maybe a few paragraphs down or on the next page, but not soon enough to grab the reader by the throat and compel her to “read just one more line, no, one more, too interesting, can’t stop yet, maybe just one more, what time is it? Drat! Stupid clever writer! I’ll just buy the darned book even though I didn’t want to spend any money today…”

      In other words, we don’t have any time to waste. We mustn’t let our first sentences be generic. They must be specific and compelling. In Rita’s example, she described a character and an event (Coast Guard helo pilot chasing down some drug smugglers) that most certainly does NOT describe an average human in a common situation. It describes a specific, unusual human undertaking a specific, unusual action. I, for one, rather wanted her to post her second line, and then maybe the third, and then just one more, though I really don’t have time to read a book today but maybe just a chapter…

      I see all this, and I understand it, yet I’ve just revised the opening to my GH winner so that the heroine walks down the street and answers her phone. Maybe the phone call is interesting, but chances are good that any potential readers would put the book down by the time it happens.

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      • rita says:

        You said it perfectly
        First lines need to tell the reader about the book.
        Thriller -we need excitment on the page.
        Paranormal-show something not normal.
        Easier said than done, huh?

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        • Amy Talley says:

          Yes! Gotta know what I’m getting on the first line.

          Like for a historical – show where you’re taking me, baby. Like above in the example, she uses parasol. Or in mine, I say, “on the morrow.” Who uses that term? I can see me telling my hubbie, “I’ll wash your underwear on the morrow.” 🙂

          This is a good thing to remember when starting our ms.

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    • rita says:

      Use the Donald Maass list. Do you think your opening hits one of those points?
      I don’t know the story so I suggest you break it down this way.
      Does your reader need to know any of this? Is this important to the story? If yes than it stays if not it goes. Simple when it’s broken down this way. I had to be hit over the head before I got it. *grin*

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  17. Kim Law says:

    Great post, Rita! And what perfect timing for me. In my current WIP, I sat it aside a few days ago, disgusted, because I’d just realized what I thought were hooks really aren’t hooking anything! I’ll be getting back to it soon and will take the list above with me when I go.

    I loved your opening, by the way. I’m a fan of dialogue opening a story. And unlike Autumn said above, I’m perfectly happy with dialogue and no tags of any kind as the first sentence. Wondering who said that is as much a hook for me. Just goes to show that even certain types of hooks don’t appeal to all. Such a hard business trying to please everyone!

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    • rita says:

      Glad to help. This is the only business in the world that gets harder the more you learn.

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      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Amen, Rita…. it does seem harder the more you learn!
        But hopefully that means the product keeps improving!

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  18. You had me at hooker. I thought we were all going to start Moonlighting.

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  19. June Love says:

    Rita–your post has made me re-think my opening line of my current WIP. Thanks for including DM’s list of twelve. I need to post those beside my computer as a reminder.

    My opening line for my GH final was:
    “I’m all in.”

    Now, off to work on my hooker skills.

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    • rita says:

      Yikees!!!!
      You have no idea how many places that first line took me. From the innocent to the not so innocent I had to check what genre you write.

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      • Kim Law says:

        Hahaha…the not so innocent questions that provokes is pretty good.

        My opening for my GH entry was short, just like June’s. “He’s back.”

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        • rita says:

          Many, many questions raised here.
          Where has he been?
          How long was he gone? Did he go out for milk twenty years ago and reappear at the front door?
          Do they want him back?
          Is he a human, a dog, or a shape shifter? Inquiring minds want to know.

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  20. CJ Chase says:

    Rita,

    I did the same thing when I was learning to write hooks. I’d read that Dick Francis was a master at opening hooks, so I went to the library. He’s a prolific writer, so most libraries will have a an entire shelf (or more) of his works. I worked my way down that row, opening one book after another and reading just the opening sentence/paragraph.

    Still not convinced? If you judge the GH this winter, take your stack of mss and read those opening hooks one after another. Chances are, you’ll know which mss are potential finalists before you read the other 49 pages.

    My opening sentence from last year’s finaling ms: Too late, Crispin Worthington discovered he hated dying even more than he hated his father.

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  21. Katrina says:

    Hi Rita. Thanks for your post. Hooks are my weak point. I was just wondering, I only counted nine types of hook in the Maas list (or do the ones with ‘or’ count as two?).

    Here’s my opening line:
    Caitlyn Sweeney would rather have each of her body hairs plucked—one by one—by a blind man wielding a pair of rusty pliers.

    What do you think? Would you read on (brutal honesty welcome).

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    • Katrina, it’s cute! I’d read the second line, at least.

      Good luck!

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    • rita says:

      Ouch!!!!
      Gosh, what could be that bad was my first thought. So now you have evoked that feeling from me (the reader) what is in store for her better be pretty ugly. Don’t let me down by saying she had to drink her coffee without cream.

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      • Katrina says:

        Hi Rita and Jamie Michele. Thanks for your feedback! Rita, it’s a good point about making sure you don’t mislead your reader. What if it is something that is really horrible in the heroine’s eyes but not to everyone else’s? (And it’s not coffee without cream!)

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        • Rita says:

          It is what is horrible to your heroine. this is her story. You and I might be devastated to see a dog run over. Someone who hates dogs won’t care. Be sure her issue is something the readers can relate to. Visiting a mean grandmother. Having to be nice to an evil step-mother.
          Caitlyn Sweeney would rather have each of her body hairs plucked—one by one—by a blind man wielding a pair of rusty pliers— than have dinner with her dad’s new wife. But she would. (INSERT her reason.)
          Beginnings are NOT easy. I know no one who says they are. Keep at it -you will get it. It took me a year to get mine and really, I’m still not happy with it. Mt agent said not to change it unless an editor wants it changed and I’m going with that plan. *grin*

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  22. Karen Steele says:

    What a great post. It’s a bit scary to realize that after months and months sweating over a manuscript, you can lose a reader (or a judge) in the first 25 words, but it’s true. A bad opening can make a buyer put a book back on a shelf, or make an agent or editor stop reading.

    Thanks for all the tips!

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  23. Tamara Hogan says:

    I like to think one can be both a nerd AND a hooker. 😉

    Here’s the opening line of my WIP:

    “If all had gone according to plan, we would have waved at Earth as we passed it by. But on the day we crashed, nothing went according to plan.”

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  24. Rosemary Letson says:

    Hi Rita,
    You give excellent advise to those who want to enter the Golden Hearts Contest and for those who want to hook their readers.

    Here is my opening line:
    It was his fault she lay dying.

    Your honest feedback will be received in the utmost professional manner. Thank you.

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    • Rosemary, thanks for posting!

      I am intrigued by your opening line. I picture a historical scene with a handsome man terrified yet angry, and a beautiful woman in the throes of fever. Or something like that.

      The only suggestion I can offer is one I’ve seen from contest judges and critique loops (so take it with a grain of salt), and it’s that people may want full names in that first sentence. So, rather than “he” and “she,” try using full names, and see how it sounds. If it’s not too arduous, it might be worth it to satisfy those who want names right away.

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    • rita says:

      I agree with Jamie. For me his name would make it more powerful. It could also tell the genre. I mean Jason McCloud- Scottish historical Lord Fredington- Regency
      Zach Tanner – Contemporary
      you might want to consider adding -dying in this evil place–on the dirty floor –something like that to give a visual.
      Play with it, read it out loud. which do YOU like best?

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      • Amy Talley says:

        Yeah, I like the idea of putting the name in. It grounds you to the character right up front. And adding a detail would be good too.

        He accepted it was his fault Aggie lay dying from the knife wound.

        See? I’d have to know who she was and how she got stabbed. I’d keep reading.

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  25. Debbie K. says:

    I just officially entered the GH this morning. Working on my revisions before I send in pages. I’v honed my first pages through contest feedback and critiques, and decided it was time to take the plunge.

    Here’s my opening:

    Getting shot was a bitch.
    Every time.
    Micah Warren wasn’t focusing on the fall leaves turning red. He wasn’t focusing on the beauty of the rolling Georgia mountains. He wasn’t focusing on anything but his burning desire to not die.

    I entered it in Nathan’s contest yesterday, so any really persistent reader may have seen it there. Brave man, Nathan!

    0
    • Katrina says:

      Debbie, I really like it! I totally want to read on.

      And I entered Nathan’s contest, too. Better him than me! (Though, if it were me, I’d just randomly choose a number and give them the prize.)

      Good luck in both contests!

      0
    • rita says:

      Yippee!!! Good for you entering the GH.
      LOVE your use of rhetorical device.
      Would change one thing– Burning desire to LIVE. Read it out loud and see which sounds better to you.
      I’m going to take a liberty and suggest something else. I get you are setting the time of year and the place. Have you considered using a chapter tag line instead?
      Chapter 1
      October. The mountains of Georgia.

      Micah Warren focused on his burning desire to live. Getting shot was a bitch.
      Every time.
      Since I don’t know what follows this may be impossible to do. Or, it could lead you into the story quicker. Something to think about or not.

      Change or no, I would read on

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I love the first two lines…it’s the second one that makes it snap! (How many times has this poor guy been shot?)

      After that, you lose a little momentum..I think most people who’d just been shot wouldn’t be looking at leaf color, so this is no surprise. Is there any way to give a sense of what he has to live for, or hint at why he got shot??

      I’m intrigued, though!

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  26. Jennifer Hilt says:

    Here’s my first line as of right now: “Eating lunch in my high school cafeteria proves there is hell on earth.”

    I fiddle with it constantly!
    Love reading the other Firsts posted.

    Jennifer

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    • rita says:

      Jennifer
      Give me the next few lines. What genre is this?

      0
      • Jennifer Hilt says:

        Hi Rita,

        My novel is YA. Here’s my first line and the rest of the first paragraph. Any comments are welcome!
        “There’s no place full of more loathing than a high school cafeteria. Unfortunately for me that’s where I’m eating my lunch today. Plus it’s gray (day number sixty three) on Seattle’s Bainbridge Island, threatening an imminent soaking rain. Emily Dickinson got it right, April is the cruelest month. “

        0
        • Rita says:

          If I was trimming it would look like this
          “Eating lunch in my high school cafeteria proves there is hell on earth. Unfortunately, that’s where I’m eating my lunch today. Plus it’s day sixty three of rain on Seattle’s Bainbridge Island. Emily Dickinson got it right, April is the cruelest month.”
          Question. what is the story about?
          have you developed a Pitch line for this story?
          You set the story in Seattle, in HS and it’s lunch time. I don’t know anything about who is speaking.

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        • Rita says:

          I don’t think I worded my last response to you very well. If you story is not about school cafeterias , rainy days and Emily Dickinson. Don’t start with this. In a story there is an inciting incident. The thing that cause the H/H to change their lives from what had been normal to what the new normal will be. This incident. The action. The drama is a good place to start.

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  27. Katrina W says:

    Thanks for this great information! I have a hard time with hooks in my own work – it’s recognizing whether or not I have one that’s the problem.

    0
    • rita says:

      Know eggzackerly how you feel.

      I fumble all over the place with hooks. One thing I found to help with the opening hook is developing a log line, less than ten words to describe your story, and a pitch line, 25 word or less, that shows the conflict.
      My log line. Will she choose revenge or love?
      Pitch. DEA agent Declan O’Conner and Coast Guard helicopter pilot Olivia Carver team up to destroy a powerful drug lord.
      From there I built the opening. Does that help?

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  28. Great post, Rita! And the reminder of the importance of hooks is just in time as everyone out there polishes up their GH entries (or tries to hammer out the rough draft – I know how that goes, too!).

    I think the hook is what’s stalling out my current WIP. I know there’s something (some “it” factor) missing from the first 3 chapters that I’m trying to put my finger on (or grab by the throat and throttle!). It’s been really frustrating.

    By the way, DID the hunky neighbor grab a towel? Just wondering… (grin)

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    • Amy Talley says:

      I was wondering if the puppy peed on the floor 🙂

      0
    • rita says:

      In my story NO towel. he did grab some jeans which he didn’t have time to put on until they were outside.
      My problem is always putting in too much in the beginning. that’s way I have “get into the scene late and out early” posted next to my monitor.

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  29. Great, great post! Very thought provoking. I really liked your hook. I definitely wanted to read more. Now, I must admit I took the opening of my current WIP and copied it into a new file so I could play with it. *G* I’ve been playing with it all morning. Moving things. Cutting things. Adding things. Same basic premise but trying to hit the action sooner without confusing the reader. So without further ado, here’s my latest version of my opening hook:

    The blare of an alarm drowned out Amanda Morgan’s words of thanks. She sniffed at the air. Catching a whiff of smoke, her nose wrinkled. The distinctive scent resurrected a web of anxiety. Not again.

    Any and all comments welcome.

    0
    • rita says:

      Jennifer,
      is it necessary the reader know she was thanking someone or that an alarm sounded? if it isn’t you might try this
      Amanda Morgan sniffed at the air. Catching a whiff of smoke, her nose wrinkled. The distinctive scent resurrected a web of anxiety. Not again.

      if you need to put the alarm sounding in it might be better to do it here.

      0
      • Thanks Rita. No, it isn’t necessary to have those details in the opening hook. In the next couple of paragraphs I have the heroine’s location and a quick statement about why she’s there. Then the alarms are mentioned again with more impact.

        0
        • rita says:

          Okay. read the first page out loud. how does it sound to you?
          Good?
          Okay –lets make it harder on you. Can you end your first page on a hook?

          0
          • A challenge. *G* Hmm…some more juggling, cutting, shrinking, rewording and the ending hook on page one is:

            She grabbed her purse and entered the hallway. The whining alarm grew louder as a bright white strobe light flashed in her face. With each step, the walls closed in on her. Her breathing came in short gasps. Her pace grew faster.

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        • Rita says:

          Look at DM’s hooks. Do you use one here?

          0
        • Rita says:

          Let’s put in more action and danger. I write suspense. In tense situations I use short chopped sentences. This is how I would have said it.
          She grabbed her purse and ran. The whining alarm hurt her ears and the bright strobe light disoriented her. Smoke filled the hallway. Her breathing came in short gasps.
          WHAT IS THE DANGER HERE? DOES THE HOUSE BURST INTO FLAMES? SAY IT. Whatever the danger is–say it at the bottom of the page forcing the reader to turn that page and find out what happens next.
          -The walls burst into flames.
          the reader turns the page to see if she gets out. does the hunky fireman save her? what?

          0
          • Amy Talley says:

            Yep, that works. Short and choppy for any tense scene whether it’s danger or a confrontation. I always have to remember this because I tend to emblish, but here it works to create my favorite element – mood.

            0
          • Rita, thank you so much for such a fun, informative day. I really appreciate the feedback and I’ll keep working on those hooks. *G* I enjoyed reading everyone’s hooks. It was an excellent post!

            0
  30. Rita, I don’t have a hook to contribute, but I love the hook list! And I completely agree that opening hooks are huge!

    I also use chapter-end hooks to, again, keep the reader involved in the story. I learned “cliffhangers” from movies! 🙂

    Light,
    Nancy Haddock

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    • rita says:

      Thanks for stopping by Nancy.
      You make a good point about movies. They show us hooks or cliff-hangers quite nicely. Perhaps thinking about your story like a movie might help. If the movie drags along do you like it? Same thing with a book. Move it along.

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  31. Great blog, Rita! That was a a wonderful opening paragraph, however, for me, a woman helicopter pilot working in counter-narcotics would’ve been enough by itself to draw me in without the unusual name element. I’m probably a bit thicker than the norm, but the SHE following ‘Jake’ threw me. I read it three times trying to figure out if it was a typo and was supposed to be JANE or if I’d missed something. In all honesty, the male name and female pronoun confused me more than anything and stopped me from reading. Otherwise, I think the paragraph is very hooky. Well done!

    0
    • rita says:

      You are not thick! I have had that comment many times. it thows some people and some never stop and think of it.
      Goes to prove how subjective all of this is.

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  32. Eden Glenn says:

    Now taking Rita’s tutoring I edited this WIP. I too cried as I cut away the first 11 pages and re wrote over and over again. I don’t know that I’ve found the beginning yet. What do you guys think?

    This says action adventure but doesn’t hint at romance anywhere.

    Wildfire ate its way through acres of trees around team-leader, Thad Delaney. A mammoth pine tree detonated, raining burning shards of kindling down around the Forest Response Team of fire fighters. The flaming pine tree confetti wasn’t the problem. The eight-foot section of burning trunk flying at him, that was a problem, a major problem. There was no preparation or escape from the smoldering missile headed sideways toward him. He clenched his hands on the tanker steering wheel at ten and two, and braced for impact.

    0
    • Rita says:

      I think it’s a great opening.

      0
      • Eden Glenn says:

        HA! that is the one we have struggled toward for over a year. Still not sure. but hey. You can see my evolution as a writer in the first ppgph of each WIP. Each book becomes a blue print of what I was learning as I created it. Isobeau’s story comes next. This time I gave considerable thought before beginning to write the blasted thing. Where should it begin? What can I reveal in the opening that would hook and be critical to the GMC of the story???

        “Isobeau Walker struggled to escape the dragon clawed hand holding her beneath the surface of the bubble laden hot tub. As a healer she knew she had less than thirty seconds to decide if she and the impossible spark of new life growing inside her would live or die.”

        What do you think? Can I make it better?

        Now I think I finally say paranormal, action/suspense and the GMC right in the first two or three lines. We know who she is, that she is a healer and pregnant. Dragon, shifters are trying to kill her and the baby she carries. Her pregnancy is for some reason unexpected or remarkable — impossible.

        0
        • Rita says:

          Questions – Does the reader need to know the hot tub is bubble laden? Would you need to be a healer to know you had only a few seconds to live if you are being held under water? Decides if she lives?
          I would think anyone being held under water is not deciding if they want to live. They are fighting like h*ll to live.

          0
          • Eden Glenn says:

            Oh dear. No I guess we don’t need to know there are bubbles. Back to the drawing board!

            However, Izzy can’t fight the shifters superior strength. She has to out smart him by doing the opposite of what the natural response of fighting would be. She has already struggled and failed.

            Play opossum and live to fight another day.

            All right Ms. Rita. *Sharpens pencils – – gets out plenty of erasers *** back to work.

            0
        • Rita says:

          Izzy can’t fight the shifters superior strength. She has to out smart him by doing the opposite of what the natural response of fighting would be. She has already struggled and failed. Play opossum and live to fight another day.

          You said it! put this in.

          0
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      To me, by far, the strongest piece of this opening is the “x [which sounds like a plenty big problem] wasn’t a problem, Y was a problem” bit.

      Can you just start with that?

      0
      • Eden Glenn says:

        Oh My Elisa. I have more carving to do. But I think you’ve got something there.

        *laughs at self*

        If you only knew! lol.

        I have computer files that label the several opening versions of this story in my attempts to actually find the opening paragraph.

        I think you’ve nailed it. The problem. Genius!

        0
        • Eden Glenn says:

          Thanks for helping a rookie today. I’ve learned a lot.
          Here is a revision. See what you think!

          The flaming pine tree confetti wasn’t the problem. The eight-foot section of burning trunk flying at him– that was a problem, a major problem. There was no preparation or escape from the smoldering missile headed sideways toward him. The mammoth pine tree had detonated in the heat of the wildfire raging around them. Burning shards of kindling rained down around the Forest Response Team of fire fighters. Team-leader Thad Delaney clenched his hands on the tanker steering wheel at ten and two, and braced for impact.

          0
    • CJ Chase says:

      Hi, Eden. I’m kinda late (been out all afternoon/evening), but here is my reaction.

      Is there anyway we can be in Thad’s head immediately? Your opening has action and description, but I feel like I’m not getting the danger filtered through Thad’s reactions/emotions/thoughts. (Assuming he’s our POV character). What is he feeling? Thinking? Is he terrified? Or is he a bit of an adrenaline junkie who is kind of enjoying the excitement on one level?

      I think if you can deepen the POV in the opening paragraph, you’ll up the stakes and intensify the danger. A generalized danger isn’t as scary as when we experience that danger vicariously through a specific person.

      (I never really thought that through until I was analyzing your opening. But looking back, every good hook I’ve written has had a deep POV. The ones that are more general are not as good. Interesting.)

      0
      • Eden Glenn says:

        hummm. Interesting. I am learning, striving, struggling to write in a deep 3rd char POV.

        The problem X 3 pseudo literary device is Thad’s voice. How to get more of that. I have openings like a deck of cards on this WIP. pick an opening, any opening. Spades!

        You DO pose an intriguing temptation. Deeper in Thad’s POV. I’ll let that simmer for a bit and see what I can cook up. Thanks for bringing that up!

        0
  33. Ah, heck. I just reviewed the last several versions of my current (finished, grossly imperfect) WIP. The best hook (such as it is) is in the first version, which I long ago discarded because I’ve learned that it’s unacceptable in series romance for the heroine to be a self-destructive alcoholic who doesn’t mind kissing a few villains if thats what it takes to accomplish her goals.

    >>>Julia Dumani sat motionless on a stool, staring into her sherry at the blue sparks that flashed in time with the pulsing bass beat.>>>

    It ain’t much, but it’s better than the current version, in which my newly named and hopefully more likable heroine walks down the street:

    >>>Alone in the steady trickle of pedestrians walking slowly uphill from the harbor, Evangeline Quill felt anonymous.>>>

    Geez! Boor-ring! It doesn’t even make any sense. How can someone be both “alone” and “in the steady trickle of pedestrians” at the same time???

    Argh! Somebody take away my keyboard.

    0
    • Eden Glenn says:

      AhJamie, we are cosmic twin sisters of separate mothers.

      But don’t discount the feeling of being alone in the steady trickle of pedestrians.

      Forcing myself away from the keyboard to go have lunch. lol Ta for now.

      0
    • rita says:

      Saying she is alone and anonymous tells me she is really feeling alone even though she around other people. Is this the story? Her character arc will be she finds someone and her place in the world.

      0
      • Rita! Are you a carpenter? Because you just hit the nail on the head.

        Here it is with the next few lines:

        >>>Alone in the steady trickle of pedestrians walking slowly uphill from the harbor, Evangeline Quill felt anonymous. Unknown. Happy. She licked her lips and tasted salt in the air.>>>

        This is fun. I don’t feel so alone and stupid when I’m surrounded by you all.

        (Oh, no. I think I’m my main character…)

        0
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Oh, yeah…I love your first one!!

      0
  34. Well, since everyone else is sharing …

    Happy birthday? Erin Mannering just didn’t get it: Why did everyone insist on wishing her “happy birthday”? What was there for her to be so happy about?
    Nothing. She was now 25, stuck in a job she hated more often than not and, worse, alone. Other women spent their birthdays with the men they loved. A cozy dinner followed by some dancing and a little naughty sex — it sounded like heaven.

    Many thanks to Shea. Mine changed after winning her first-chapter critique the first week of the blog.

    0
  35. Terri Eckard says:

    Rita, And to think I “knew” you when we were both writing in Lori’s class!

    0
  36. Awesome info, Rita! I’d never seen Donald Maas’ twelve hooks before…that’s a great list.

    The opening from my GH finaling romantic suspense is short and sweet: “Cameron Scott hated the F word.”

    From my WIP, a romantic thriller: “No one would fault you for letting someone else take the lead here, you know. It’s not every day a daughter digs up her dad’s remains.”

    I always find it easier to zero in on an opening hook by making sure I start in the middle of the action. If I’m not starting with action, I’m not hooking anyone. But then again, I write romantic suspense, so the action is where it’s at….

    0
    • Rita says:

      Holy Smokes!!!! I LOVE the WIP first line. It is fantastic.
      All the questions! Dang.
      I am soooo with you about starting in the middle of the action.
      No unnecessary stuff. Just the facts Ma’am

      0
      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Yowza! I love that too…and I want to know who’s saying that to her…he (I’m assuming it’s a he) seems sympathetic, but still tough. Is it the hero talking?? I hope it’s the hero!!

        0
  37. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great post, Rita–and incredibly useful! And thanks to all the brave souls posting their hooks.

    I spent my morning helping high school seniors with college essays, and a lot of what I talked with them about was, in essence, hooks.

    I can’t TELL you how many of their essays open with some incredibly generic line, about an alarm clock going off, or someone getting on an airplane, or someone lolling in bed. And then the essay turns out to be about the day their parents announced their divorce, or about nearly getting attacked by a tiger, or something else dramatic. START WITH THE DRAMATIC PART, I tell them over and over and over again.

    0
    • Rita says:

      START WITH THE DRAMATIC PART can be the thought for the day.
      Scanning the paragraphs entered in Nathans’s contest I was struck by the many entries that started in bed. AND they were alone. go figure!

      0
  38. Vivi Andrews says:

    I never really think about hooks. Does that make me an oblivious hooker?

    0
  39. Anna G. says:

    I’m *not* brave enough to paste in my opening line here!!! My hat is off to all those who have bravely put their first lines forward.

    Hooks are so hard. I hate reading something where the first line feels like the writer has been taught badly how to hook or didn’t get it or is trying way too hard or something. I hate it when hooks, whether the first line or the end of a scene or chapter, feel like a device instead of something natural to the story. I really balk at that. Overdone is as bad as underdone. Well, maybe not quite, since the author has given it some thought and once she allows herself to relax a little bit, maybe it will be easier for her to hone something that’s really good.

    Anyway, nothing new in my saying that hooks are darn challenging.

    0
  40. Elise Hayes says:

    Hey folks–No opening sentence or paragraph to contribute (I’ll be cutting the first 20 pages of the current wip, so I’m not at all sure what the first line will be), but I love, love, love seeing all the workshopping going on here! This is a fun, fabulous conversation Rita ,and I learned a lot even without participating directly in the workshopping. Thanks!

    0
    • Rita says:

      20 pages?
      Brave, Brave lady.
      Save them for you web page-
      “Read deleted scenes from Elise’s NYT best seller.”

      0
  41. Amy Talley says:

    Yeah, I could do this everyday. Anytime I feel like banging my head against the desk, I’ll just get you brilliant ladies to solve my problem. I’ll put it on here and let you get out your tools and go to work.

    Just don’t make me pay for it..cause then you really would be hookers 🙂

    Fun day, Rita!

    0
  42. Eden Glenn says:

    Its been a fun day with you guys!

    Rita thank you for all your comments. You have been a gracious lady today helping everyone with sharpening their opening hooks. Thank you!

    See you on the loop.

    0
  43. Ok, Rita, you’ve convinced me! Great post!

    0
  44. Tina Joyce says:

    Wow, Rita, great post. I love a strong opening hook…and you’ve posted some great examples! It’s so neat to see so much excitement and discussion going on. Well done!

    0
  45. Diana Layne says:

    Yes, Rita, a great and interactive post! But you made me have to go back and revisit mine again (grumble, grumble.) 🙂

    0
  46. Rita says:

    Thank you all for the comments. It was a great day.

    0
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Wow… HUGE number of comments, Rita!

      You truly are a hooker with a….(wait for it)…Golden Heart!

      0
  47. Sheila Athens says:

    Rita Henuber, Mary Buckham and Donald Maass all in the same post—three of my favorite people! 🙂

    Great post, Rita!

    0
  48. Addison Fox says:

    Rita:

    What a fantastic blog (and I loved your opening hook!) 🙂

    I am so bummed I missed all the fun today – work was, well….work!

    Addison

    0
  49. Dara says:

    I love your hook! Alas, that is one aspect of writing that I really have to work on…

    Here’s mine. It’s so dreadful compared to all the wonderful hooks I’m reading here. 😛 Keep in mind I’m still actually working on the first draft so this still needs a great deal of work!

    “Yukionna floated along the wind, blending in with the whirling snow as she watched her prey. Two men in straw coats and wide-brimmed bamboo hats stumbled along the narrow mountain pass, piles of wood strapped to their backs. She held back her laughter as she watched them fight against the winter winds. Their last memory would be of her icy breath against their skin as she took their pitiful lives.”

    0
    • Dara says:

      Oh and I did enter that in Nathan’s first paragraph contest. There are plenty of better ones, but I wanted to give it a try anyway!

      0
  50. Ronempress says:

    Hi, Dara! I’m afraid I just looked at my entry to Nathan’s contest and smacked my head on the virtual keyboard. (If I did it for real my laptop would crumble.)

    Rita, thanks so much for this post, the hooks and the reference book on hooks! I’ll go check it out immediately. I’ve rewritten this !!@$@! thing so many times, I know there must be a solution.

    Here’s the post Nathan hook:
    In the Ron Empire, wars did not erupt over cups of rice wine, which was why Liu Jie stopped at the Peach Orchard Inn. The modest, tamped-earth building promised wine and rest from months of travel and skirmishes with bandits.

    0
    • Rita says:

      I think this is very interesting and I would read on. Don’t worry about the ones Nathans picked. I think he was in a very Literary mood. he certainly didn’t pick any genre.
      Guess what sells–genre. *grin*
      keep writing.

      0
  51. Ronempress says:

    Thanks, Rita! I appreciate the feedback. BTW, nice hook on the title of this article. ;D

    0

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