Aug 19, 2011

What makes a Hook?

Sorry it’s been a while since I last blogged. I’m pretty bad at it.
Anyways, one thing making writers have problems with is that first sentence at the beginning of the story. I’ve been told a few times that my hooks are really good—including Rush’s first sentence.
The first thing to know when writing a hook is what turns off readers at the start of a story—some things seen quite a few times.
The story’s first scene…
Wake up
Going to/at school
Middle of action
Those are the first four things I think of that tend to start a story—most of the time, they don’t hook the reader, because they tend to be too overused. I, personally, start my very first novel waking up, the second being going to school. These things tend to turn the reader, which means it’d be best to start elsewhere.
Then, the first line is…
“My name is Mary Su, and this is my story.”
Descriptions upon descriptions
Those are the three things that come to mind. They, too, can be very annoying—the middle one the worst—and hard to get right.
So, what makes a good hook?
The first would be to avoid waking up. This tends to lead to a “Mary-Su, wake up!” thing from the mother, or a smashing of an alarm clock and groan. Both are seen quite often, and will put me off. (Course, I’m very picky when it comes to picking up a book and reading the first line.)
The second would be on the way to school. This could be paired up with descriptions, or a “My name is Mary-Su, and my story starts with my on the way to school.” (Hey, that rhymed!) But, either way, if it starts at school, especially the beginning of the school day, it may be best to stay away. Anything that has to do with school, really, because school is a popular topic in YA fiction. (Hint: if you want the story to be real unique (for YA), avoid school entirely, but make sure there’s some sort of reason, and have things that the reader can relate to.)
The third is a whole page on background information. This is where the reader learns everything about the main character’s past, like when (s)he fell, when his/her father died, etc. Personally, I don’t want to read about the character’s past. I want to dive into the story and read something entertaining, not learn that the character’s dad passed away in a car accident when she was a baby.
Which, in a way, leads me to the middle-of-action type of start. Most of the time, the reader is left completely confused on what’s happening, but if done right, this could be an amazing start. And when I stay starting in the middle of action, I also mean starting with some sort of action. Starting with action in general (for the first chapter) isn’t the greatest way to hook the reader, because they don’t know who the main character is, and then this crazed event happens, which makes the character change drastically.
But what about the very first sentence—the real hook? You ask.
Let me give an example of four different starts:
  • “Tally, get up!” my mom calls from the door. I groan, rolling over, and throw a pillow at her, which she avoids.
  • My name is Tally. The following events may be scary, and the faint of heart should put this book down and walk away.
  • The sun rises, a bright orange ball hidden by green trees. Violet lights surround the glowing ball as it rises, the trees creating a strange sort of line in front of it. It inches higher in the sky with every second, growing closer and closer to sitting high in the sky, ready to provide warmth for everything.
  • In my mind, two worlds have begun to blend together: the real and my dreams.
See the different between those? The very last one takes thought—the one can stand out among the rest. A good first line make take a lot of thought.
What I do with my first lines is think about the story. What’s a major element to the story? I.e. death, life, pastimes, etc. These things can stand out, and once done, write a few lines afterwards, and the story can get going.
Here’s an example from Rush:
Life lost all meaning the moment I killed another living being. Now I live in this gray, stony cell with no one else, my only contact with any person is when they need me—but not because I killed someone.
I shudder at the thought. Those very people will come for me any minute. Twenty-four hours has passed since the blond scientist in a lab coat pulled me out of this cell, his guard following just a bit behind.
Not the greatest example of a good start, but it’s a start that I’m proud of. Now, these are my opinions of a good hook. Many readers may agree, while some might not.
I hope this answer some people’s questions on what can make a good start!

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