Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Opening Hooks

Have you ever read a book that took forever to get to the action? Or maybe the story seemed like it started in the wrong place?

While a few authors can get away with a first-page/-chapter backstory dump or a slow start, the vast majority of us can't. We have to have that great beginning, the opening hook to grab the reader so she has to know what happens next. How do you do it???

Here are some ideas...

1) Open with an active scene. No, this doesn't mean an "action" scene. Make the character active, put her into a situation that reveals an important trait or shows her true personality--but be sure the scene is related to the plot/subplot. It can be a strength or a weakness. It can show how she interacts with others. Did she accidentally hug the male friend she secretly wants to date for changing her flat tire? Is she drafting her job resignation because the boss hit on her? Whether it's a physical or emotional dilemma, give your reader a reason to love/hate the character and motivation to cheer for/against her. Remember characterization?

2) Open with a one-liner that sums up the character's current conflict. This can be narrative or dialogue (spoken or internal). First, identify the conflict. Did her cheating almost ex-husband die mysteriously last night and she doesn't have an alibi? Next, consider her reaction. Does she want to kiss the person who offed him? Would she ask her best friend to lie for her? Last, think about the consequences. Is she worried about being arrested? Use this information to form a great opening line, something to draw the reader into the story.

3) Open with action. As with active scene openings, action scenes should give the reader some insight into the plot and the characters. A car chase is only effective if the plot or characters are affected. Having the heroine dump her salad on her boyfriend's head only works if he's done something to cause that reaction, and the reaction should be connected to the plot/subplot in some way.

4) Open with dialogue. While this is basically an active scene, the dialogue reveals the actions. "I went to the sperm bank today." or "I think I poisoned my boss." are interesting opening dialogue lines, but if the plots/subplots/characterizations aren't related to them, the reader will get angry for being misled.

Whichever opening hook you use, be sure it reveals something about the character or the plot/subplot. It doesn't have to be dramatic. It only has to encourage the reader to read on. Piece of cake, right??? Didn't think so... :)

Don't forget to share the link if you know someone who can benefit from the writing tips!

GMC is up next!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!


  1. Another good one, Mellanie! I remember from my very first edits the editor telling me I had to start each chapter with action or dialogue in order to draw the reader in, but your suggestions are even better :). She said I wasn't to start with long narrative, back story or inner reflection - which is a pain because I LIKE to use inner reflection so they can ruminate on what happened in the previous chapter!! However, I do see that inner reflection doesn't necessarily draw the reader in. *sigh*

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I like some inner reflection myself. :) I've learned how to condense it into a couple sentences instead of going on for three or four paragraphs! Placement is also important.

  2. Excellent post, Mellanie. That very first line of every book, the one that really gives a great hook, is often the one that gives me a head ache. After that, it all generally falls into place. But, sometimes, I might spend hours thinking up that *perfect* first line to hook the reader.

  3. Great points and now, of course, I want to go back through all my current WIPs and change stuff! I try to start in dialogue but I am going to try some of these other ideas.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I look back on some of my first published books and see where I could improve them. Writing craft is something we continue to learn with every book!