Tuesday, June 30

Hooking a Reader: Should you write a prologue or jump right in to Chapter One?

After years and years of reading hundreds and hundreds of books, what is your initial reaction to the question: What do you think of prologues?

My answer: I've read enough poorly written, wordy, boring and long-winded prologues to make me feel an initial negative distaste for prologues. I'll be honest, if a prologue is several pages long, I skim it or even skip it.

However, I've also read some fantastic, captivating prologues that make me want to physically gobble the book up in one gulp. I can't wait to jump in, I'm so giddy to get going.

The success of prologues comes down to their purpose: a prologue serves to hook a reader but also to provide information necessary to the story as a whole that a first chapter cannot do alone.

If you are toying with writing a prologue to hook the reader, ask yourself these questions to see if  a prologue is in the future of your book:

The Prologue Test
1. Does your prologue provide some piece of backstory or history that doesn't fit into the big picture story line? For example, an event may occur several years in the past that is crucial to the story, but your story is set in the present time and it is too awkward to include the past as a first chapter.

2. Does your prologue offer useful or enlightening insights or clues, an ominous opening to provide the element of mystery?

3. Does your prologue clue the reader in to a scene near the end of the book? Is it the character's perspective from later in the story? If so, how is this part crucial to the telling of the story? Does it do more than simply hook the reader? Is there a hint to the story question?

4. Would you read it? Is it too long? Is it too repetitive of the first chapter? What is your gut feeling? Do your beta readers have questions after reading the first chapter that the prologue might answer?

For more information, I recommend The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues.

Monday, June 29

Monday: Hooked on Hooks Critique

Please send your hooks our way (thegoodhook(at)yahoo(dot)com). Until then, here's another one from Kimberly Zook in a short story titled "An Abbreviated Mother."

Evelyn’s shapeless gray shirt and jeans faded into the crowd as she picked at the only blip of emotion registering on her face: bewilderment at the women surrounding her on the pier. The newly minted wives chimed and jangled in their charms as they arched upward in their stilettos. Less complicated wives, the ones draped in sleeping newborns, beckoned their toddlers to jump higher on the San Diego pier as the naval ship sailed under the Coronado Bridge. Evelyn drifted with the crowd down the pier, feeling foolish as she continued to wave farewell to hundreds of strangers on the ship, her new husband among them. Stan stood somewhere behind the reflective glass of the bridge, destined for an eight month deployment.  Evelyn turned toward the throng of recently married wives until an insistent tug on the hem of her shirt reminded her of her new station in life: a stepmother to Stan’s children, Jack and Zoe. Evelyn looked down at their round faces stained with the salty residue of tears and asked, “What now?”

Monday, June 22

Monday: Hooked on Hooks Critique

The Good Hook is on vacation this week.
To give you a clue of where we've taken our pen and paper, we give you this week's hook:

Friday, June 19

Friday Favorites

In the spirit of summer and gardening and eating fresh produce, we found this opener to a non-fiction book, "Eat Local for Less" by Julie Castillo, quite the catchy hook:

Do you eat?" This was how my husband's Uncle Nick welcomed me into his house the first time I met him -- his standard words of salutation, I learned later, usually followed by, "Do you like meat? 'Cause that's all we got here."

Coming from a meat and potato kind of family, where my grandfather was forever buying creme horns, donuts, bread, and ice cream for all the grandchildren and Thanksgivings consisted of a dozen different casseroles, turkey and ham, and of course, potatoes of all kinds cooked in all manners, I instantly related to this first paragraph. Having met Julie Castillo at a book festival, her kindness and genuine passion for local food is what hooked me first. But then I read the first page of her book, and didn't stop reading.

Hooks happen in any form of writing, even non-fiction!

Wednesday, June 17

Hooked by the Second Sentence

So many online literary journals, so little time.

We skipped around this week to the small and big literary journals, and decided to sample what's out there for fiction first sentence hooks! What stands out to you? Sometimes it isn't the first sentence that hooks us, but maybe the second one. Our eyes read the first line quickly, and in a second our minds decipher the meaning, but by then we are already on to the second sentence. Perhaps it is the second one that truly hooks us.

Make this an exercise. Read the first lines below, and then go to the stories and read the first and second sentences. Were you hooked by the first sentence or did it happen after you read the second one?

Marigold wanted a Chihuaua.
By John Oliver Hodges from "Bristles" in the journal Compose

One of our family’s favorite films is the Cary Grant classic “Arsenic and Old Lace,” in which Grant’s young and dashing character, Mortimer Brewster, about to elope with his sweetheart, discovers that his adorable maiden aunts have been happily murdering lonely old men (which they consider putting the poor dears out of their misery) and having Mortimer’s delusional cousin, Teddy Brewster (who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt), bury them in the cellar.

Nobody ever listens 2 me, says Flowerpower420.

Yancey swishes down the dirt road, feet aflutter.

 This happened when there was a country called Yugoslavia.
Mnted a Chihuahua.
Marigold wanted a Chihuahua.

Tuesday, June 16

To Shock the Reader or Not

Is it overkill to begin your story with a first sentence that shocks the reader?
Here's a taste of three anticlimax openings:

She drugged her professor then took back her essay.

The man killed the boy's dog, leaving it on the driveway for the children selling lemonade to see.

Sure the kiss was tainted with poison but she'd rather die than let him live.

I think these first sentences show the most important thing coming first, followed by something less important, but is it too shocking for the reader?
Does it feel like the author is trying to force it too much? Or would you keep reading?

Monday, June 15

Monday: Hooked on Hooks Critique

This week we have Jennifer Kircher Carr sharing her opening to "Pastlives" with us! Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

After ten years of little contact with his brother Jake, about a month ago Bryan started receiving calls from him. At first Jake told Bryan that his common-law wife had left him, and hinted that he’d like to come up from Virginia for a visit, but soon Jake speckled the conversations with references to reincarnation – old souls and instant karma. “Our paths are laid out for us,” Jake told him. Though the conversations were odd to Bryan, he listened. Jake had been removed from his life for so long, since their father died, really, and he didn’t realize until now that he longed to have a brother in his life again.

Friday, June 12

Friday Favorites

From Elizabeth Gilbert's fantastic novel "The Signature of All Things:"

She was her father's daughter. It was said of her from the beginning. For one thing, Alma Whittaker looked precisely like Henry: ginger of hair, florid of skin, small of mouth, wide of brow, abundant of nose. This was a rather unfortunate circumstance for Alma, although it would take her some years to realize it. Henry's face was far better suited to a grown man than to a little girl. Not that Henry himself objected to this state of affairs; Henry Whittaker enjoyed looking at his image wherever he might encounter it (in a mirror, in a portrait, in a child's face), so he always took satisfaction in Alma's appearance.

Immediately the reader pities the child, not just for inheriting her father's features that would look better on a grown man, but also for the kind of father she possibly has based on this initial introduction to Henry Whittaker.

The success of this opening paragraph is attributed to Gilbert's ability to connect to the reader's heart, always the Number One Goal in writing: connect to the reader's heart, not the mind.

On a personal note, I loved this book! At the risk of coming off sounding egotistical, which I hope I don't, when I read this book I couldn't help but feel as if it were written for me! This is the book I've always wanted to write and what a gift that Elizabeth Gilbert wrote it, for me! I love botany and art and traveling abroad. And I can relate to Alma Whittaker on many levels. So thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for a beautiful book!

Wednesday, June 10

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Action!

Imagine a story opening that lands  us in the middle of a fist fight. Who are we rooting for? We don't know either character well enough to decide.

Imagine a story opening that springs upon us the action-packed scene of a child lost among strangers at an amusement park.

While either story opening could possibly work with the skilled mind of a writer, the reader may find something missing in that opening: a little more information about the character so we know who to cheer for and why.

We're often told that readers today don't want pages and pages of backstory. I agree. I find it hard to sift through it. However, the rise of flash fiction, microfiction, six word stories, Twitter, texting, etc, means that readers are looking at shorter, more compact bits of information.

Instant gratification.

An opening to a story, especially a short story, can't be too long-winded or the reader will stop. But on the flip side, if it jumps too far forward into the action, then the reader will feel disconnected.

For longer stories, the novice writer might be told to chop off the first three pages, but hearing that, we often try to go beyond the point where the story should actually start.

Action is great and keeps the reader moving forward, but take a step back and look at the opening. Is there something in the first paragraph that allows the reader to connect to the character or the voice?

Monday, June 8

Monday: Hooked on Hooks Critique

Every Monday we will host a writer brave enough to share with us a hook of their own! Be it a first sentence or a first paragraph, the opening will be their own writing. Readers can chime in with their own critique of the hook in the comments below.

Writers please email us at thegoodhook(at)yahoo(dot)com with your submission and we will notify you what Monday it will be posted!

Since this blog is still in its infancy stage, we'll start with one of our own:

"A Fire to a Face" by Kimberly Zook

My previous brain expired at the age of 10. Before that, life was all hotdogs and slingshots. Sex was irrelevant. At summer camp, we joked about the names of our Pennsylvania towns without grasping their meaning. Blue Ball and Bird-in-Hand got you absolutely nowhere. Intercourse led to Paradise, whatever that meant. But bodies, bodies! Those tender carousels of hormones, those were relevant. We maintained a constant three foot radius from the bodies of female campers. Oh, the horror of K-I-S-S-I-N-G taunts scattered among the pellets of tar on the track as we hurdled over them with a singular, all-consuming fear: Exactly how many holes did a girl have between her legs?
What works? What doesn't?
Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, June 5

Friday Favorites

Christopher Jackson said it best at Fuel Your Writing:
Great opening lines are perfectly crafted, set the tone for the story to follow, and usually raise questions in the reader’s mind that they want to read on and find answers to. The best ones transcend the story that follows, they are quotable and find themselves part of culture far beyond simply being the first sentence in a book.
 So we begin our Friday Favorites inspired by collectors of first-lines from around the world...

From Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible:

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

This opening sentence intrigues us with "a ruin so strange," because aren't all ruins strange in their own way? But the second half of it says the strangeness of it must be so bizarre that the ruin never happened. How is that possible? Our brains are set off-balance and the only way to right ourselves is to continue reading!

Thursday, June 4

Hooked on Hooks Critique

Tinkering with that first sentence or the first paragraph of your WIP?

Here at The Good Hook, you can share either one and the readers of this blog can give you their thoughts on it!

Please send your first sentence or first paragraph to thegoodhook(at)yahoo(dot)com, and we will let you know the day your hook will be posted so you can let all of your followers know to stop by and critique your hook.

Wednesday, June 3

First Sentences are Doors to Worlds

Ursula Le Guin wrote these words to inspire us all to open a book and delve into a world of the writer's imagination but our own experience.

And as writers, we are singers carrying the reader through the door and along a journey in the new world.

She writes again:
“It is a rare and great pleasure to find a fantasist writing not only with the kind of accuracy of language absolutely essential to fantasy-making, but with real music in the words as well. Wherever Pat Rothfuss goes with the big story that begins with The Name of the Wind, he’ll carry us with him as a good singer carries us through a song.”
If you haven't read Patrick Rothfuss's book, The Name of the Wind, I will share with you the opening from the prologue. His words keep us wondering what happens next:

It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

This opening immediately tilts the balance of our minds.
What, silence has three parts?
And it is night, so why is the Waystone Inn so quiet?

We need to know more. We are hooked.

Tuesday, June 2

Three Authors on Writing Great Hooks

Ann Whitford Paul

Dive Into Your Story with the 6 W's:
Who is the main character
What is the problem, goal, or conflict
When does the story occur
Where is it taking place
What is the tone of the story
WOW! the reader with the opening line

8 Ways to Create a WOW! with the First Line:
Provocative Statement
Middle of the Action
Scrapbook (letter, journal entry, newspaper article)

Les Edgerton
Author of Hooked
(This entire book is about the opening of your WIP,
so I'll only pick out some key points)

First Line Successes:
Give the reader an unexpected response to an event
Give the reader a character who is "cut out of different cloth than Everyman"
Give the reader trouble (either past, present, or future)
Give the reader pleasure, then "drop the forbidden apple into your Garden of Eden"
Give the reader a reason to read the second sentence; provoke the reader's curiosity

Openings to Avoid:
A dream
An alarm clock buzzing
Too little dialogue
Opening with dialogue

James Scott Bell
Author of Plot & Structure

Grab the Reader:
Raw Emotion
Look-Back Hook

Bond the Reader and Character:
Identify with being a real human being
Sympathy (from jeopardy, hardship, underdog, vulnerability)
Inner conflict

These authors provide much more detail on the topic of writing hooks,
so please check out their books!
 Have you written a post about hooks on your blog?
Please leave the URL to that post in my comments!

Monday, June 1

Bad First Impressions

Off the book, I like to think we can recover from bad first impressions. After all, we've all been there.

The day we woke up too late to shower, or even brush our teeth.
Barking at our toddler in the grocery store, because the 100th "I want" has put us over the edge.
Making a joke within the first few minutes of meeting someone who doesn't have an ounce of understanding that life is too short to not be sarcastic.

How do we recover?

Apologize. Smile. Admit your mistake. Laugh at yourself. Make the right first impression the second and third time around.

But that's off the book.

How many times have you picked a book off a shelf in a store, read the first paragraph and put it back for whatever reason? It didn't hook you. Are you likely to pick it back up? The author can't be there, holding our hand, admitting the mistake, urging us to give it one more try.

I have picked some books back up and opened them to the first page again. But 9 times out of 10, I pick it up because I'm more curious about the idea of the book based on the synopsis on the back. Maybe the first few sentences didn't hook me. Maybe I was wrong to get a bad first impression. Maybe, just maybe the second impression will win me over.

If this is one of the main reasons I pick a book back up, hoping for a better impression, it tells me the synopsis on the back of the book is darn well important.

On the second read, however, if that first opening paragraph still hasn't hooked me, I put the book back on the shelf and move on.

Good thing humans are more forgiving when it comes to first impressions off the book!