Friday, July 20, 2012

Hook with humor and 6 other first chapter hooks

A first chapter has to hook you, and there's lots of different ways to do it.  A Spy Like Me, by Laura Pauling, hooks with humor - it's the funniest first chapter I think I've ever read.

The first two pages hook with the setting and character. Saavy is an American teenager in Paris, on a date with a cute French waiter. He asks her to close her eyes as he sets her up for a surprise. 

There's no humor yet, but this a great set-up. 

1) Saavy's thinking to herself, I'm not a surprise-me kind of girl, so we get a taste for her character. 

2) With her eyes closed she has to rely on her other senses: smell, sound, feel - which really draws you into the setting.  Malcolm surprises her with a gourmet picnic, all set up ready and waiting in a park by the Seine river. 

3) Then there's a twist. This isn't the romantic date she was tricked into thinking. Malcolm is actually just interested in getting a job with her father's business, Spy Games. 

In my fantasies, this date was about me. Not about a cute boy using me to supplement his income. 

Ouch! This is another great way to hook your reader. Set them up to expect one thing, then hit them with something else entirely

Saavy's a little hurt, but she disguises it well. And here's where it gets humorous:

4) the main character puts on a familiar act - in this case, a lawyer cross-examining at a mock trial - with some hyperbole, which is the foundation for humor. 

“Well, I don’t know. Espionage is a serious crime.” I paced in front of the quilt.  
Malcolm lifted his hands, palms out, in an act of surrender. “Guilty as charged.” 
I spoke in my sternest most lawyer-like voice. “I want to believe you liked me for me. That you waited on our table because you thought I was cute and you liked the way I laughed.” 
“Why do you think—” 
“Whoops.” I put a finger to my lips. “The defense is not allowed to speak.  You’ll get your turn later. Maybe.” 
Malcolm sipped his sparkling cider, which I promptly whipped away from him. Some of is splashed out on his jeans. “No cider while on trial.” 
He snorted, trying to hold back his laugh. 
I stifled a grin and continued my interrogation.

5) The character is putting on a show, but she's using it to cover up some real emotion: 

“I’d hoped for days you’d been building up the courage to ask me out with sweaty palms and an out-of-control heartbeat. The whole shebang.” 
It’s how I felt waiting for him to ask me out. Once I’d admitted it, I couldn’t look him in the face. He reached for a strawberry tart, but I slapped his hand.  
“No, no, no. No indulging until proven innocent.” I spied the cloth napkins. Perfect. “Hands behind your back.” 
He complied with a silly grin. “Do I get my one phone call and a lawyer?” 
My heart fluttered, but I stayed on task. Using my famous Spy Games knots, I tied the napkins around his wrists, tightly. My hostages could never escape. I grabbed a strawberry torte, because prosecuting a spy makes one hungry, and continued my attack. [another humorous technique: contrast. Serious =  handcuffing a criminal. Total opposite = craving sweets] 
“When asking a girl out on a date, especially in Paris, certain expectations are involved. The boy should spend hours planning the date and picking out the perfect desserts and the right clothes to wear to impress her.”  [spend hours planning = more hyperbole] 
“I object!” Malcolm blurted out. “Hours? That’s ridiculous.” 
I stomped my foot and shouted. “Order in the court room!” 

6)  Add something that'll make the reader gasp. Something that, secretly, most people wish they had the nerve to do. 

I cleared my throat in a judicial sort of way. “You are hereby sentenced to fifteen minutes of intense embarrassment by sitting in your underwear in public.” 
His face turned a bit pale as he realized I meant what I said. I felt only slightly bad.

Can you believe it??? After tying Malcolm's hands behind his back as a mock punishment, Saavy pulls his shirt over head and pulls off his pants - in public! Seriously gutsy!

7) End the scene with a surprise or a question that you have the find the answer to:  

About two steps away and one bite into the tart, I heard a groan. Was he okay? Would his circulation get cut off? Maybe I should loosen the ties. 
I turned. Malcolm lay in the grass. Just like I left him. Except for the blood running in rivulets down his arm.

What happened??? How did he get hurt? Ha! You'll have to read the next chapter to find out. 


I highly recommend A Spy Like Me, because there's more masterful scenes like this, great combinations of Saavy's impulsive attitude mixed with insecurity, the fun idea of Spy Games mixed with serious intrigue, and Malcolm who always keeps you guessing. And the ending - is - wow. Comes full circle in a truly brilliant way!

Any recommendations for other laugh-out-loud and gasp kind of books? 

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