Saturday, May 1, 2010

First sentence: hook or gimmick?

I discovered a first sentence/hook contest at Mysteries and Margaritas. The fun thing about this contest is that it's progressive - The first 50 entries get to have their first sentences posted for review. 20 will get culled, and the remaining 30 get to submit their last sentence of their first chapter and this will also be posted. After another 20 get cut, the remaining ten will get to submit a three-line blurb about their book and that gets posted too for everyone to comment on.

I'm not sure if I'm going to enter but I'll definitely be checking out the submissions and the comments and I expect to learn a lot.

I've been re-reading The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman, and I found this interesting perspective on hooks:

Most writers think hooks need to be intense, eye catching. This is a misconception and often what results is overcompensation. On the contrary, the job of the hook is to set the tone for the book; if your opening line is intense, you set yourself up for a hard act to follow. What's impressive to the professional reader is not initial intensity but maintained intensity.... It shows a manuscript well thought out, instead of unfolding off the top of a writer's head. Ironically, I often find that manuscripts with more subtle openings end up being the best; the opening line may less shocking, but I am also not set up then disappointed by what follows. These writers don't write an opening for the sake of an opening, but for the sake of the story that follows. There is a world of difference between the two.

The author points out that the last line of the first chapter can also be a hook, which lines up with the intention of the contest mentioned above.

With all the emphasis on hook these days, I found this author's perspective very interesting. First lines/last lines are a lot of fun to read and comment on and they make for easy, fun contests. But does it place too much emphasis on stand-alone sentences?

What do you think with all the buzz about first/last sentences? Genuine hooks or gimmicks?


  1. definitely an initial hook; a gimmick can come across as contrived

  2. I would never underestimate the importance of a great opening sentence; however, if the rest of the book is no good, it still won't interest readers (or sell). Thanks for the link to the contest!

  3. I liked the comment about the "hook" setting the tone of the story. That's why I tend to think of the first paragraph as the hook.

  4. Hm, I think those are wonderful thoughts. I had to rewrite my first chapter because I tried to make it too "hooky" for the sake of being intense. I hope that it now represents the tone of the book. I definitely think that the first pages have to be intriguing/into the action to be compelling.

  5. I've waged a war in my mind over the "hook" openings, "action starts" and more "slow" openings. My take: it needs to be what the story needs to be. As you say, the story needs to have consistency over time, and there may be important reasons why a story needs to have a slow build. I've heard many agents complain that the first chapter is great, but the rest of the story is a disappointment.

    All that being said, I may go check out that contest. :)

    Also: I love that you think that high altitude gives you a writing edge! I lived in the mountains of CO for several years (LOVED IT), and gestated two babies at altitude - I'm still waiting to see if they turn into sherpas. :)

  6. I rewrote my first chapter about a million times because of this, and I still don't know if I've got it down. I think the hook and the opening pages are one of the most important parts of a book. But people do see through cheesy gimmicks or cliches... for example, if I see a scene that opens with a dream sequence, or waking up from a dream, I am done. But maybe that is just a pet peeve of mine.

  7. The audience we're most interested in at the beginning of our writing careers is the agent and the publisher.

    They've seen all the cliches and shop-worn tricks. They are weary, reading with half-listening eyes. We have to wake them up with words that suggest that our novel has a true, authentic voice.

    And the first sentence is usually all we get with them. Make it count. Roland



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