Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When in Rome: How to be a Successful Hooker

The introduction to your story is imperative. It's the first impression the reader gets for the tone of your writing and book. An opening paragraph is one of my favorite things to look for when buying a new novel.

But what makes a great hook? Let's take a look at the opening paragraph in the prologue for Elizabeth Isaacs' The Light of Asteria.

'Malachi stood at the base of the mountain staring into the chasm of hell. Black clouds billowed over the blood that boiled in the land of the centaurs’ grave. Thunder rolled, as the lightning streaked across the sky in fury. The sun became black as sackcloth. The void grew, and the blood turned to tar that smelled of rotting flesh. Onyx silhouettes, writhing from its depths, crawled to the rim; the ground below their feet withered and died. The slick, obsidian army absorbed any colors of life that surrounded them, and the growing chasm boiled with glee.'

First things first, the imagery and sensory writing here is brilliant. I'm immediately sucked into this hellish place, squinting through the smoke and gagging at the scent of decay. Now we're left asking, ‘What's happening here?’ ‘Why is he in such a place and what are those black creatures?’ It sets the tone of the story and lets the reader know to expect something deep and intense.

Another good example would be Janet Evanovich's One for the Money. She incites a different response from readers with her witty and straightforward approach.
'There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me--not forever, but periodically.'
Already the reader is smiling, knowing what's going to come of this story. You can already imagine the humor and history the protag and her friendly foe share. The opening is funny and engaging and leaves the reader wanting to find out just why this character's life is so screwed up … periodically.  

There are a few notions to keep in mind when working on an opening paragraph. Think of this as sort of a checklist:
* Does it express the general tone of your story? If you're writing like Evanovich, does your opening paragraph portray that humor?
* Does it show versus tell? Look back to Isaacs' example. You're drawn in by experiencing the story for yourself. Had she told me Malachi was angry, scared, or vengeful, I wouldn’t have connected with him or the story. Always phrase things so the reader is a part of the story, not watching it.
* Does it show something about your primary character (or someone else important to the story)? Don't forget, this intro will help your readers relate to and care about your main character. If that person has a weakness or flaw instrumental to their downfall, this is a good place to mention that as well.
* Is there a form of mystery or intrigue the reader will spend the rest of the work trying to figure out?
* Does the opening paragraph lead with the object of focus for the story? Don't begin by talking about someone/something that isn't the theme for the story. You want the attachment in the right place.
* Does the hook introduce a main theme? Let's focus the intro to our plot!
So, what opening lines are your favorites?
Happy writing!

1 comment:

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