Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hook the Reader

Posted by Linda

"It was a dark and stormy night  . . . . ." Bring up this cliché of book openings to a gathering of writers and watch tears of mirth stream down their cheeks. If this isn't a good opening, what, you wonder, is?

The opening sentence should hook the reader. Start in the middle of an action. Begin with one of these (or a combination of) - action, character, dialogue, situation, setting and mood, story theme or philosophical idea. Choose anything that will make the reader turn the page.

According to Kathleen Phillips in How to Write a Story, some authors think "action and character openings, especially when combined with dialogue are the strongest and best attention getters." She lists on pages 84-85 these examples along with others:

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, - The small boys came early to the hanging.

Lloyd Alexander's The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man, - "Please, mister," said the cat, "will you change me into a man?"

George Orwell's 1984, - It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, - Marley was dead, to begin with.

David Ordan, Any Minute Mom Should Come Blasting Through the Door, - Mom died in the middle of making me a sandwich.

The best opening I've ever written appeared in a contest entry which won first place - Grandpa's Violin, - Because my parents divorced in 1947, I learned to dance to my grandpa's violin.

I suggest you look at books on your shelves, go to a library or bookstore and pull a few enticing titles. Read the first lines. Be aware that like the first example, not all first lines represent good writing. You make the decision if the line hooks the reader.

A good opening performs the second chance to attract a reader. What is the first? A good title.

What opening lines hooked you?  


2 comments:

Susan Kane said...

The most famous is from Moby Dick which my husband quotes constantly and in different forms. "Call me Ishmael" is what I hope it is.

Linda Osmundson said...

If that isn't it, you are close.

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