Sunday, August 30, 2009

I've Highjacked Another Blog

My good friend, Phyllis Campbell, posted such wonderful information on Vivacious Vixens, I asked her permission to post it here as well. She graciously agreed, so without further and learn. I did: (P.S. She hasn't earned the title, Queen of Sexual Tension, by being timid and shy.)

“Have you ever had sex in an elevator?”

Does this line grab you? Make you want to move on?

James Lawrence slid his palm across the woman’s back and down the swell of her buttocks and squeezed. “Now this is what I call a great hand.”

“I’d rather be thrown in piranha-infested waters than go out with a man!”

How about these next lines? How do you feel when you read them?

Kendra Wakefield smoothed her ice blue silk dress with a single white-gloved hand and sat straight in her chair. Lifting the small opera glasses, she peered through the lenses at the faces of the well-dressed couples entering below her balcony box.

The westbound train from Alabama screeched to a halt in front of the New Orleans’ depot. When Juliana Warren finally stepped onto solid ground, she released a deep sigh.

Hmmm…I really didn’t see anything exciting in these last two, paragraphs, either…which brings me to my point. The purpose of an opening hook is to catch the reader’s attention and make them keep reading. An editor once told me, during my appointment with her at a RWA conference, that if the first paragraph of a query or even a chapter doesn’t grab her attention, she usually puts it in the ‘reject’ pile without reading on. Yikes! This isn’t good at all, especially for struggling writers. So if the first line doesn’t grab the editor’s attention, what makes you think the second line will?

Now try some of these opening hooks. Do they catch your interest? Do they make you want to read on?

“Come on, open the door, honey.” Jace Corbett pounded on the solid oak, rattling the gold number 10 hanging in the middle. The late winter wind whipped against his bare skin and underneath the small towel wrapped around his waist. “I’m freezing my ass off.” Literally.

This particular opening is supposed to make the reader wonder why he’s freezing his ass off. And why is he wearing a towel out in the freezing weather? Hmmm… Did this opening work for you? Did it make you want to know more?

Kristine Olsen had never seen so many naked bodies in one place. Considering all the avenues her line of work took her, she didn’t expect a scene like this would shock her.
It did.

And what about this one? Sex sells, which means the words “naked bodies” should grab the reader immediately. But not always do you need sex in your opening to catch the reader’s eye. Using action as your hook is also very good to do! Take a look at the next two story openings…

He’s going to kill me!
Breanna Loveland gripped the shoulder-strap of her seatbelt, her knuckles turning whiter the harder she hung on. Through the windshield, she focused on the snow-packed road ahead. The heavy flakes hit the glass faster than the blades could remove it, making it almost impossible to see. The blinding storm covered the streetlights and darkness surrounded the car. She silently prayed this vehicle had an airbag just in case her fiancĂ©’s reckless driving ended them in some ditch – or worse, head-on with another car.

“I’m going to kill him with my bare hands,” Monica Lange raged in a mixture of anger and sorrow as she paced the floor in her father’s den.

So, now we know what an opening hook is – how can we write one? Take a look at the first paragraph in chapter one of your story. Have you started it where you need to? Is this a place that’s going to make the reader wonder what’s going on and why or have you written too many descriptions or dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere?

Let’s do an exercise. We’ll take one of the boring sample paragraphs and try to make it a good opening hook. Let’s work on poor Kendra Wakefield. We know she’s at an opera and that she’s watching the others arriving below her box. How can we make this more active? Interesting? Why don’t we give her a shaky hand? Kendra Wakefield smoothed her ice-blue silk dress with a shaky hand. Or let’s add some internal thoughts here. Where in the blazes is that man? Or maybe she isn’t looking for someone, but hiding from someone and wonders if others will recognize her. She took a ragged breath. Will they know I’m not who I portray? At this point, if it’s done right, the reader will want to know why she is pretending and what is making her so nervous. Therefore – those unanswered questions will keep the reader from nodding off.

In a workshop given by Donald Maass of the Maass Literary Agency, he says readers will allow you only three lines before their mind begins to wander. That’s not very encouraging, is it? So why not grab the reader immediately?

Never begin with the heroine sitting and thinking. Get her butt off the chair and add some action and unanswered questions! Never open with long descriptions. Never open with weather – unless the pouring rain has flooded the roads and your characters are on their way to the hospital to have a baby… You get the picture. Never begin with backstory. That’s too much information to tell right away, especially when it can be woven into the rest of the story. Instead, open with conflict or just before a moment of change. Say your hero is minutes away from walking down the aisle to his own wedding, but he overhears his soon to be father-in-law making plans with a hitman to kill him after the wedding. Yup, I’d say it was time to make your character change his plans – and fast!

Closing hooks are similar. When you close a chapter, you should try to pose a question or set up a situation that makes the reader want to keep reading. The point is to end your chapter in a manner that encourages the reader to continue with your story. If you end your chapter with your character going to bed…so will your reader. This is not advised. It’s far better for your heroine to be knocked unconscious than to knock your reader into this state. Pose a question and don’t answer it until the next chapter. You may not want to end every chapter this way, but ask yourself “Does this end in a way that encourages your reader to keep reading?” If your answer is yes, then you’re ready to write the next article on hooks. (Big Grin)

**samples taken from my stories and some quotes taken from Donald Maass’ workshop.**

Visit my website to see other stories I have with great opening hooks!

~Vixen Phyllis~


Phyllis Campbell said...

Ginger, you crack me up. But to set the record straight...I used to be timid and shy as a young girl. Once I hit 16 it was like my whole world changed. My dad wanted to kick me out of the house, that's how drastic it was. Even in my early years of marriage I was a little timid, until I woke up and smelled the romanc coffee. heehee


Jen Black said...

OK. I accept the challenge. Tomorrow I am going to my blog and I am going to put down some opening lines. Not someone elses's lines - mine. You can mark 'em with a red pen if you feel so inclined.Check it out:

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Ginger,

Didn't get to check this out until now, but your examples say it all.

Writing a hook is hard, though.Except that every once in a while, that's what will start me thinking about a story. The opening line will just pop into my head. I only wish it happened more often.


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