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Are You Hooked?

Not long ago, I discussed the “It Factor,” that intangible something that sets a work of fiction apart and gets people to notice and talk and read. One thing most writing instructors agree on is that a novel opening needs to hook readers into the story.
| Sep 26, 2011 | No comments |

Not long ago, I discussed the “It Factor,” that intangible something that sets a work of fiction apart and gets people to notice and talk and read.

One thing most writing instructors agree on is that a novel opening needs to hook readers into the story. That particular something that claims a reader’s attention can be in the first sentence, paragraph, page.

Below are five unpublished novel openings — approximately the first one hundred words — for your consideration. Which ones hook you? Why or why not?

Please note, you can vote for as many or as few as you wish. Comments aren’t mandatory, but are really helpful and give us a basis of understanding what you as a reader see in these openings and what grabs your attention.

In no special order, the first five openings of all those submitted:

Choice A

        The autumn foliage burns like a fire in my eyes. “Shut up, Joshua!”

        “Please, just listen to me. “ He grabs my wrist.

        “Which lecture will it be this time? This-is-wrong? The-bad-outcomes? You-know-better?” I try to pull away; his hands, though gnarled and spotted with age, are still strong enough to crush my thin wrists.

        “Séipéal, I remember when you would raise your hand during the service to smilingly correct the pastor’s reference. I remember when you would babble on in class and somehow make sense of it like a firework exploding to dazzle our eyes”

Choice B

        In an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood, late at night, a small boy slept in his bed, one arm thrown across a large stuffed rabbit.

        The window slid open, and a black-clad figure slipped into the room. The figure paused for a moment, listening. The house was quiet.

        The assassin crossed the room in three strides and stood over the bed, drawing a long knife from a sheath at its thigh. Then the assassin pulled back the quilt and gazed down at the boy and his stuffed rabbit. The child slept on, unaware of his danger.

Choice C

        Trouble was glaring at him from across the open sparring grounds. Varian stopped writing his entry in the match-book and watched the young nobleman approach.

        Kiffor Angleson nodded to him, his lips set in a thin line. “Signing up for the tourney?”

        “Sword-sparrin’,” Varian answered. He finished his scrawl and tossed down a quarter bit of gold.

        “Thank you.” The man running the table scooped the coin into the till. “Next? You signing up, young man?”

        Kiffor shouldered into Varian as he stepped up to the table.
        Varian bit his tongue and held it as he stepped into a clear space.

Choice D

        He didn’t kill her.

        I bend down and run my stave over the ground. Pause for a moment. Almost midnight, and I haven’t come nearly far enough yet. I hear only the familiar night sounds around me. No pursuit. Yet.

        I run again. The grass brushes against my bare legs and I want to kick the cumbersome boots off my blinded feet. They slide with every step, ill fitted as the worries running through my head. Nathan is not a murderer… not really… not intentionally.

        I flinch back from unwanted questions. I would stake my life on his innocence.

        Maybe I am.

Choice E

        Today the world lay quiet. The sun broke over the hills breaking the deep darkness with harsh yellows and reds against the bare grey earth. As the darkness lifted, a shadow could be seen silhouetted against the mist that covered the ground. The silhouette was that of a man standing alone in a meadow long dead. Boaz stood searching for something. The uneven ground had been trampled by the feet of the good and the bad, feed by the blood of the righteous and the unclean. Today there was no battle, the ground did not shake with the turmoil of war.

I learned from the poll on my site that some readers want a “None of these” choice, so I’ll include that as Choice F.

Have fun with this. And please don’t forget, these openings represent someone’s heart and soul. Well, that might be a little melodramatic. 😉 But they do represent someone’s hard work.

The poll will close midnight (PDT) next Sunday.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

Oh boy, this looks like fun! 🙂

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

Choice A was a little confusing to me, but it hooked me immediately because of the first sentence – what a cool word picture!

Choice B also hooked me, primarily because I was horrified at the thought of an assassin in a small boy’s bedroom.

Choice D, I think, was my favorite.  Very intriguing.  I want to know more about why the protagonist is running and whether Nathan is really a murderer.

Johne Cook
Member

F, none of the above.

I admit, it’s hard to write a compelling hook. I don’t always go for the dramatic hook. Sometimes, the cerebral hook carries more weight.

This is one of my favorite novel openings, not because of its ‘hit you in the face’ pizzazz, but because of its deceptive way of sneaking up on you.

The Peacemaker Colt has now been in production, without change in design, for a century. Buy one today and it would be indistinguishable from the one Wyatt Earp wore when he was the Marshal of Dodge City. It is the oldest hand-gun in the world, without question the most famous and, its efficiency in its designated task of maiming and killing be taken as criterion of its worth, then it is also probably the best hand-gun ever made. It is no light thing, it is true, to be wounded by some of the Peacemaker’s more highly esteemed competitors, such as the Luger or Mauser: but the high-velocity, narrow-calibre, steel-cased shell from either of those just goes straight through you, leaving a small neat hole in its wake and spending the bulk of its energy on the distant landscape whereas the large and unjacketed soft-nosed lead bullet from the Colt mushrooms on impact, tearing and smashing bone and muscle and tissue as it goes and expending all its energy on you.
   In short when a Peacemaker’s bullet hits you in, say, you don’t curse, step into shelter, roll and light a cigarette one-handed then smartly shoot your assailant between the eyes. When a Peacemaker bullet hits your leg you fall to the ground unconscious, and if it hits the thigh-bone and you are lucky enough to survive the torn arteries and shock, then you will never walk again without crutches because a totally disintegrated femur leaves the surgeon with no option but to cut your leg off. And so I stood absolutely motionless, not breathing, for the Peacemaker Colt that had prompted this unpleasant train of thought was pointed directly at my right thigh.
   Another thing about the Peacemaker: because of the very heavy and varying trigger pressure required to operate the semi-automatic mechanism, it can be wildly inaccurate unless held in a strong and steady hand. There was no such hope here. The hand that held the Colt, the hand that lay so lightly yet purposefully on the radio-operator’s table, was the steadiest hand I’ve ever seen. It was literally motionless, I could see the hand very clearly. The light in the radio cabin was very dim, the rheostat of the angled table lamp had been turned down until only a faint pool of yellow fell on the scratched metal of the table, cutting the arm off at the cuff, but the hand was very clear. Rock-steady, the gun could have no quieter in the marbled hand of a statue. Beyond the pool of light I could half sense, half see the dark outline of a figure leaning back against the bulkhead, head slightly tilted to one side, the white gleam of unwinking eyes under the peak of a hat. My eyes went back to the hand. The angle of the Colt hadn’t varied by a fraction of a degree. Unconsciously, almost, I braced my right leg to meet the impending shock. Defensively, this was a very good move, about as useful as holding up a sheet of newspaper in front of me. I wished to God that Colonel Sam Colt had gone in for inventing something else, something useful, like safety-pins.

Alastair MacLean, When Eight Bells Toll. And he wrote like that for the rest of the novel, using the First Person POV to masterfully hide and reveal just what the story needed to stay compelling.  I bet he had a brilliant poker face.  😉

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

While I agree that that is a fantastic hook, I don’t think it’s quite fair. The hooks above were limited to 100 words, and your excerpt is 532 words. If it was cut down to only the first 100 words, it wouldn’t be all that exciting, either.
 
Hmm. Now I’m going to go through my books and see which ones have really great first 100 words. 🙂

Johne Cook
Member

A: I didn’t see what the setting and the dialogue had to do with each other. The dialogue we were privy to didn’t strike me as any kind of a turning point, any kind of a ‘this great story begins… here.’ The dialogue was unremarkable instead of indicating that something had changed or was about to change.
 
B: Granted, the situation is fraught with peril. Good. But it seems too pat. If this is an ordinary house (and an ordinary child), what makes this situation special enough to warrant a visit from a shadowy assassin? And we’re /told/ this is an assassin in the third paragraph. I’d rather have figured that out for myself. Of all the situations, this has the most promise, but I’d have preferred more artistry to pull me into the scene.
 
C: ‘Trouble was glaring?’ I can see ‘Trouble glared,’ perhaps. I’m put off right away. The rest of the beginning is third person without any internal monologue to help me feel why this encounter should be the beginning of this story. I understand there should be conflict there, but it’s muted. Who is Varian? Why is Kiffor so dense?
 
D: Tenses. This example started in what appears to be past tense and then immediately lurches into present tense. I love good first person POV. This isn’t quite that yet. (Also, what’s a stave? I think I know but can’t tell from this passage.)
 
E: This is the passage that holds the most artistry for me, but I wonder if it’s really the beginning of the story.  (I have a personal problem with sentences that begin with ‘As…’  Instead of telling me ‘this happened, that happened,’ the author tries to do two things at once but ends up doing neither well.)

With regard to the MacLean open, I admit (now that I think about it) that I gave him benefit of the doubt at the time because that wasn’t the first of his novels I’d read. And while I was lulled during the first paragraph, I could sense he was going somewhere and thus gave him the second paragraph, which turned suddenly and pulled me into the third paragraph. MacLean earned his thriller chops and demonstrated his mastery to me.  

Sally Apokedak
Guest

I stopped after a hundred words and thought it was OK but not something I’d keep reading. 

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Of the five, I would agree with Bethany that I liked choice D the best.

All of them, however, seemed to begin much too abruptly. That works for a television show’s “cold opening,” which then fills in the details with a “three hours earlier …” caption.

For a good novel even with an opening on the back of a galloping horse, you at least find out within the first few paragraphs a) who this is, b) why you should relate to him/her, c) a reason for speed. Viewpoint would also be consistent. For example, if you’re in first person, you wouldn’t notice a single detail about the appearance of you own eyes.

I’m enjoying this “experiment.” I think it can only improve any aspiring writer here.

Yet I’d especially love to hear from readers, if they’re present, who haven’t tried to write books, only enjoy reading them.

Kaci Hill
Member

Okay, if any of these were mine, I’d want a bit more feedback. If it’s alright with everyone, and it may take me a day or two to really read and be useful, could I offer some suggestions?

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

I’d enjoy seeing feedback on all of them, myself. Writing hooks is such a tricky business, and what hooks one person may not hook someone else.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

Opening with dialogue just doesn’t do it for me. Similarly opening with too much description. It’s so difficult to hit just the right balance to hook the reader. Entry A obviously has two great characters, but I don’t have any setting to picture. The last entry takes too much time to describe the setting before getting to the character.

It doesn’t hurt to have something unbelievable, like an assassin going after a child. And the action in choice D is compelling. Choice C gives a good blend of setting and character. They all look like they tell interesting stories, bu with just what we’re shown, I would keep reading 3 of the 5.

Shawn
Guest

I like Choice B the best. It really has a juxtaposition with the sleeping innocence of the boy and the dark, danger of the entering assassin. I found that very intriguing.
I admit, I don’t like 1st person, so anything written in that POV, I gloss over, so A & D were immediately ruled out. Sorry, no offense, just not my POV. Choice E was too tranquil and Choice C did sound like an opening, no hook or even mild interest.

Sally Apokedak
Guest

I love A. Love the voice and the descriptions. It feels like it starts too abruptly, but I think the writing is beautiful. 

B is interesting. I would keep going with it. The fact that the assassin is an “it” instead of “he” or “she” is very intriguing. And, of course, I don’t want the boy to die.

I would keep reading C, to see where it was going. I am right in the world immediately and I have conflict. I’m going to read on to see if these two characters are interesting and if I want to follow them. 

D gets my vote as best of the bunch, for a couple of reasons. I want to know if the guy is guilty or if he’s going to kill the person who is running. More than that I want to know if the running person is always all naked or if just the legs and feet are usually bare. I want to know why she’s wearing boots that don’t fit her and that make her feet blind. And are the feet blind because they have eyes that are covered or because she runs barefoot all the time and she “sees” with them as they feel the terrain. There is movement and danger and an intriguing character here. 

E was a little confusing to me. I think there might have been a typo, but I wasn’t sure because the sentences had me a little off balance. I like the imagery a lot. I can see a dead place ruined by war. But I’m still confused by the word “feed” and by that whole second part of that sentence, really. 

 

Patrick J. Moore
Guest
Patrick J. Moore

well… I am very unimpressed and disappointed. After ripping up the published authors over on Becky’s blog (in the similar experiment) I’m thinking I’m just very picky- maybe too picky. But since I really like this blog and it’s regulars I might try to explain why I don’t like any of these. I’m hoping that I don’t hurt any feelings, but instead hope to help someone to hook me into that really good story I would not have read before because I couldn’t get past the first page.

I will post again before the poll ends on Sunday.

Galadriel
Guest

B and D were my favorite–they had the promise of something interesting to come. From a general perspective, though, 100 words is not sufficent to get the flavor of anything. I think a complete paragraph, at least, is necesary to understand what’s going on at the very miniumum. Or a back-cover summery.

Jeremy McNabb
Guest
Jeremy McNabb

To be honest, I have to say Choice F.

Choice A: I like the wry cynicism in the second paragraph, but you started off with a dialogue sequence. It’s not forbidden, but I need to see who’s talking if I’m going to hear their voice in my head. As it is, I have to wait until I get to the tagline to decide if the voice was male or female. Also, you threw a really unusual name at me right off the bat. I’m going to be arguing with myself over how to pronounce it.

Choice B: On a technical level, I see no flaws. If the idea of black-clad assassins and children in danger weren’t so prominent in movies, it would be a good hook. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a whole bunch of those movies, and this didn’t feel like anything too new or attention-grabbing. I’d love to see what you’d do with something more unique.

Choice C: Your opening sentence makes me wonder what’s going to happen next. That’s a good thing. Between the unusual names and the vernacular, you lost me. I had to re-read it to make sure I understood what was going on.

Choice D: This is a good start, and a decent hook, but the tenses and sentence fragments were hard to follow. Also, I’m not quite sure how a boot is “blinding.” I can guess, but I should be running along next to your character, not wondering what’s so special about the boots we’re wanting to leave behind.

Choice E: Very good imagery. I found two things that I didn’t like about it though. The first is that it could have been condensed into about half as many sentences. The second is that it’s almost anti-climatic. You start with harsh colors, a darkness lifting, the shadow of a mysterious man, and trampled ground. I’m wondering “Oh no! Who is this man? What does he want?” And then I’m told that nothing is going to happen.

Since everyone was brave enough to give it a shot, it’s only fair to open myself up to ridicule.

Lizzy and Zoe seemed determined to pull my fingers from their sockets as they dragged me away from my pick-up, towards the tiny, ramshackle cabin at the side of the road. Emma, their caretaker, tagged along a few steps behind, chuckling at the young girls’ enthusiasm.
 
And maybe a little at my suffering.

Kaci Hill
Member

 
I’m kind of the person who doesn’t like “I love this!” any better than “I hate this!” because neither really helps me improve as a writer. So, and it may take me a couple days, I’m going to do what I’d want and offer detailed feedback on each excerpt. 
 
And before anyone feels singled out or left out: I’m going to go through all five of these, so no one is off the hook. Bwahaha.
 
 
 

Choice A
The autumn foliage burns like a fire in my eyes. “Shut up, Joshua!”
“Please, just listen to me. “ He grabs my wrist.
“Which lecture will it be this time? This-is-wrong? The-bad-outcomes? You-know-better?” I try to pull away; his hands, though gnarled and spotted with age, are still strong enough to crush my thin wrists.
“Séipéal, I remember when you would raise your hand during the service to smilingly correct the pastor’s reference. I remember when you would babble on in class and somehow make sense of it like a firework exploding to dazzle our eyes”

 
I’m calling you Adrian A. Why? Because Adrian can be a boy’s name or a girl’s name, and it starts with A.
 
First off, the opening sentence is a nice, stark image, but it also makes me think the narrator has leaves in their eyes.  If I were editing this, I would either suggest that you:
 
a). do what’s called ‘establishing shot,’ where you set the scene up for me, then draw me into the action, or,

b).  Get me into the action, then take a breath where appropriate to give me a feel for the scene.
 
Second, the autumn foliage burning his eyes isn’t  action that caused the narrator to say “Shut up, Joshua!”  Or maybe it is. Are these perchance magical characters and Joshua is hurting him that way? If so, clarify.
 
Third, you might consider putting  the action of Joshua grabbing the wrist and  Seipeal (I know I’m missing the accent marks) closer together. So it looks more like:
 

“Shut up, Joshua!”
“Please, just listen to me. “ He grabs my wrist. I try to pull away; his hands, though gnarled and spotted with age, are still strong enough to crush my thin wrists.
 
“Which lecture will it be this time?” I demanded. ” This-is-wrong? The-bad-outcomes? You-know-better?”

 
Something like that.   Negotiable, maybe, as the verbal and physical responses are going to be almost simultaneous anyway.
 
Fourth,  I’m assuming it’s a big deal that Seipeal used to do those things, but  maybe if Joshua started off by pointing out the root problem, then started listing off the symptoms, it’d be clearer to the reader why the change in  Seipeal toward the pastor or his/her zealous babbling is problematic.  In other words, give me more up front. Know?
 
Okay, next point: To clarify,

 
a). I like the image. I rarely write in first person, and never present tense, but I’ve seen both done very well, and you are doing a good job of it here. If you’re interested, Randy Singer also uses first person present – and if you happen to be a guy, he does first person present  in a woman’s head very, very well, if you ever want some form of reference.

b). Your descriptions of the hands and wrists are both very stark and very well used (stronger and clearer, actually, than the burning autumn foliage).  I like that contrast, and you’ve told me a great deal about both characters just in those brief descriptions. This is good.   Joshua is old but very strong and fit; Seipeal is young and thin, and not nearly as strong. Joshua is very physical, but he isn’t abusive. Seipeal  is apparently impulsive and at least a little rebellious or headstrong (thus requiring the physical as well as verbal plea).
 
 
Okay, tomorrow I’m doing   Bobby B and Charlie C.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

Love this thought out reply, Kaci!  May I hire you as my editor?  My novel surely needs it!  🙂
I don’t like the “I love it!” or “I hate it!” responses either because I need to know why someone admired my story or why he disliked it.  Glad to know I’m not the only one!
Blessings~
Literaturelady

Bob Menees
Guest
Bob Menees

I liked B’s opening the best. The scene was clear and moved quickly to the hook, which  left me wanting answers to several questions.
I’d read D next, however it seems like it will have less scenarios/twists than B’s could weave.
C’s was good. but seemed like an overused situation.
The dialogue in A seemed disjointed to me. It didn’t attach me to any character or conflict.
E’s was too stylized for my liking. It’d be a slow read for my brain.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

All the openings got my attention and made me wonder what came next, but only two made me interested in reading further (there is a difference between those reactions, I believe.)  I had only mild interest in three of the options: “Huh.  What’s she so worked up about.  Hum.  Where’s he going?”  But choices B and C set me afire with curiosity. 
One thing I like about choice B was that the description of the setting came first–it was short, but it was vivid and gave me a backdrop for the action.  And it seemed to make the action more threatening by being in such a normally tranquil place.
My interest in choice C was really personal preference.  I’ll admit I got a little confused by the character’s actions, but I love Medieval-like stories, and I’d be willing to read on and see what twists it might have.
This is a great idea, Becky!  I’m enjoying reading the excerpts and everyone’s comments.  And I’ve learned a thing or two about crafting openings as well!
Blessings~
Literaturelady

Kaci Hill
Member

Okay, as promised…
 
 
 
Bobby B wrote:
 
 

In an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood, late at night, a small boy slept in his bed, one arm thrown across a large stuffed rabbit.
The window slid open, and a black-clad figure slipped into the room. The figure paused for a moment, listening. The house was quiet.
The assassin crossed the room in three strides and stood over the bed, drawing a long knife from a sheath at its thigh. Then the assassin pulled back the quilt and gazed down at the boy and his stuffed rabbit. The child slept on, unaware of his danger.

 
 
 
Okay, first off, this is a nice way of moving from exterior to interior. To keep that pattern, though,  don’t bring up the boy until you’ve opened the window and put the assassin in the room where he can stop to see the boy. Then notice the kid.  I know this is an omniscient third person, but you’ll set the scene more smoothly if you’ll  follow one character at a time. In that vein, mentioning the boy isn’t aware is, well, a bit unneeded simply because the assassin leaves before the kid wakes up, and his exit was “onstage” as it were.
 
Also, because this scenario is, as others have said, a  bit standard, go ahead and add some flair to it.  This is like taking Mama’s spaghetti and tossing in something different into it. Nothing wrong with the spaghetti, but now it’s *your* spaghetti. Know? (And I must be hungry or something.)  Like, I dunno. The kid’s the target. The assassin only came in through the boy’s room because he needed something out of it. The assassin’s allergic to the material stuffed toys are made out of. He only uses a specific kind of knife, for whatever reason.  He put a bomb in the rabbit. He uses the rabbit to smother the boy’s mother.  Kidding, sort of, but since it’s mentioned twice I’m assuming it’s important later, just so you know. 
 
 
Moreover, I’m actually a fan of some repetition, because it can make a nice drumbeat for the backdrop of a scene.  But you might tease it out a bit: ordinary to me, living where I do, is not ordinary for my cousins in the next state.  It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to tell me if it’s rural, suburban, or urban; if they’re a clean, tidy neighborhood or trashed out; if their poor but tidy or wealthy and messy. That kinda thing.
 
Last, I think maybe the quietness of the house can be described earlier on or simple removed. It’s late, everyone’s sleeping, and you’ve established that.
 
Anyway, I’ll let you be. 😛
 
 

Sally Apokedak
Guest

when did the assassin leave? are you reading a different version than I read?

Kaci Hill
Member

Hm. Looks like I just assumed he did.  That’s what happens when one reads too fast. 0=) As many times as I read that, I have no idea.

Kaci Hill
Member

And Charlie C wrote…
 
 
 

Trouble was glaring at him from across the open sparring grounds. Varian stopped writing his entry in the match-book and watched the young nobleman approach.
Kiffor Angleson nodded to him, his lips set in a thin line. “Signing up for the tourney?”
“Sword-sparrin’,” Varian answered. He finished his scrawl and tossed down a quarter bit of gold.
“Thank you.” The man running the table scooped the coin into the till. “Next? You signing up, young man?”
Kiffor shouldered into Varian as he stepped up to the table.
Varian bit his tongue and held it as he stepped into a clear space.

 
 
Well, I’m always a sucker for a good sword-swinging. 0=)  This doesn’t quite feel like a beginning, though.  Put me little deeper into Varian’s perspective. Tell me what it is that made him spot trouble. Kiffor, I’m guessing, is the trouble. Either Kiffor, or that Kiffor is glaring–that’s two different things. If It’s Kiffor himself, then I get that these two don’t get along at all. If it’s that Kiffor is glaring, then maybe Kiffor has a good reason to be glaring.
 
 I don’t have to know why immediately, but  maybe reverse the order here: 
 
1.Something draws his attention (maybe Kiffor says something, or else the moneyhandler notices Kiffor first)
2. he looks up, spots Kiffor from across the grounds
3. as Kiffor gets closer he realizes  Kiffor is glaring
4.Kiffor reaches him, nods a greeting, and the dialogue starts.
 
My only other thing here is, don’t kill your tension. This doesn’t need to be, and likely wouldn’t be a fight (and it’s good you resisted the knock-down-drag-out here), but  you could tease it out a little more, I think. 

Kaci Hill
Member

Addendum: Through no fault of your own, btw, I read a bit quickly the first time and missed where he got shoved. That’s my fault, not yours.

Bob
Guest
Bob

It’d be great if the winner would post the whole first chapter – to see if the hook continued.

stardf29
Guest
stardf29

I went with B, but this is something of a weird case.

If I saw B, I would want to tentatively read more. If the assassin just goes ahead and tries doing what assassins typically do, I’d probably just throw the book back on the shelf.

But, if the assassin did not do any killing, or if the whole thing went down in a very atypical way… then I know I could be in for an interesting story. And really, if that was an opening (as opposed to something in the middle of the story), I’d find it strange that the author would choose to open that way and not intend for things to go differently than one would expect.

For example, maybe the assassin suddenly felt compassion and this marks the beginning of his turn-around from evil to good. Or maybe the assassin is unable to harm the boy, revealing that the boy has some special kind of magical power. Or maybe the boy’s stuffed rabbit is actually the embodiment of pure evil and was due to come to life and kill all humanity, and the assassin was hired to kill the stuffed rabbit, but things don’t go as planned…

Well, I’m not the original author, so I shall leave the speculation at that.

trackback

[…] The second is the “Are You Hooked?” poll at Spec Faith. We’re taking a look at five different story openings to see what captures a reader’s interest. It’s lots of fun and the comments are especially enlightening. You can find that poll athttp://www.speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/2011/09/26/are-you-hooked/ […]

Katie Hart
Guest

Stardf – your imagination that the rabbit being the embodiment of pure evil has me thinking, “Bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies!”
A turned me off because I couldn’t figure out the gender of the main character. A published book would have probably told me ahead of time, but all I got was frustrated because it never told me.
B got my vote because of the juxtaposition of ordinary and not-so-ordinary. Books with little kids tend to be women’s fiction, which I don’t read, so letting me know this was something different right away was great.
C almost got my vote, since I love fantasy/medieval time periods, but there wasn’t anything unique to pull me into the story. It seemed too typical – swordfighting, tournament, arrogant noble teenager, plucky peasant who would surprise them all.
D was my favorite of the openings. Loved the character on the run, loved the details with a hint of mystery, like the stave and the ill-fitting boots. Love the conviction and the danger.
E turned me off immediately with it being all one paragraph, but reading through it didn’t change my mind at all. I felt like it could have been one sentence – “Boaz’s eyes searched the old battleground.” I wasn’t convinced that any of the details given mattered to the story, and the transition from mysterious onlooker to named character felt abrupt. I felt it would have been better to go all one way or the other in the scene.

D. G. D. Davidson
Guest

A:  I didn’t like the dialogue.  The first sentence is too similar to the last one in the excerpt.  I’m also turned off by having to deal with a character whose name has two accent marks; I don’t know how to pronounce that.  The part about correcting the pastor made me roll my eyes.

B:  The first sentence was a little bland, though I liked what came after.  I wondered why the assassin was an “it” instead of a “he,” and I was dearly hoping the scene would end with the assassin stabbing the stuffed rabbit and leaving the boy.  That would be funny.

C:  Too many characters are named without introductions.  I think the scene needs more of a setup before the dialogue starts.  I couldn’t follow what was happening.

D:  “He didn’t kill her” is a great opening sentence, a sentence I could not connect at all with the first-person narration that followed.

E:  Typos.  “The sun broke over the hills breaking” is a big-time turn-off.  The prose feels forced to me.

Claire
Guest

I would have to go with D.
Choice A – Seemed like it could be a good start, but it was too confusing. Starting with dialogue is fine, but it has to be short and simple or it’s too hard to follow.

Choice B – I really liked this one, but it needs even more contrast between the “ordinary night” and the action.

Choice C – Too confusing.  I love the idea and setting, but it’s to difficult to tell who’s talking and what they’re talking about.

Choice D – I love this one.  It needs to be clearer.  The present tense tripped me up in a couple of places.  There are too many elements going at once.  Stick to the strong ideas.  (He didn’t kill her, No pursuit yet, Maybe I am)

Choice E – Not bad. What is Boaz searching for?  Anything but “something” please.

Heather Titus
Guest

I voted for Choice D because, out of all of them, this is the one that would really keep me reading. It threw me a little that the first sentence was in past tense, and then the rest jumped into first-person present, but I’m intrigued by the situation.

Carol Collett
Guest

I voted for D though B was a close second. I’ll post detailed comments this weekend. Want time to think about what I want to say and to analyze why I responded the way I did to each piece.

Mike Lynch
Member

The one that grabbed me the most was choice E. It was the best written opening of the batch, and found myself drawn into the story through subtlety and hints of future events that will no doubt take place in the story.  The others, while interesting, need more work in my opinion.

Krysti
Guest

I write–or have written–a number of books, none of which are published. But I was a reader first, and I’ve tried, since I’ve had to take an enforced hiatus from writing, to rediscover what it was that made me enjoy a book so much in the first place. So…I’m looking at these submissions from a reader’s point of view more than a writer’s:
A: I actually liked the first sentence, and would have liked a more descriptive or related followup that went somewhere interesting.
The argument was a jarring non-sequitur, and I have to be honest: if a book starts with an argument, I’m not reading it. I don’t care about who’s doing the arguing or why, and I am not engaged on either side, nor do I want to be.
If you put an argument further into the story after you’ve made me care and take sides, then I’ll read it and even root for one character over the other or fuss at them both for being eejits. But you’ve GOT to make me care!
B: I would probably keep reading at least a little further on B in horrified fascination, and not because I get interested in books containing assassins who kill little boys. If he kills the boy, I’m with the commenter who said she’d throw the book against the wall! But I did vote for this excerpt. Provisionally.
C: I would definitely continue reading C, though as someone else (Kaci?) previously noted, tourneys have been done before, and there is always that type of friction. It’s very predictable.
However, if the storyline went somewhere more interesting or intense in the next 1000 words or so, it’s probably my kind of book. I’m not opposed to reading story-lines that contain familiar elements. I can even enjoy and approve that familiarity about them; that sense of knowing just where this is going and wondering what novel way the author is going to use to rescue her good guy at the end. But I really don’t care if she uses a tried and true method either! So long as there are enough novel, interesting elements thrown in along the way, and the story is concrete and well told, and the characters are 3D, I will read it to the end.
I would point out that stories containing many predictable elements are, and have always been very popular with a large segment of the population (mostly female). I believe we call these books romance paperbacks!
In the field of science fiction, Anne McCaffrey capitalizes very well on writing books with completely predictable story-lines that tell you in advance  exactly where her story is going next. No surprises. Ever! Lots of people buy and love her books. I’ve gotten to the point where the total obviousness annoys me and I refuse to read anything ever again about unicorns.
D: D is a bit disjointed, but it’s interesting in its disjointedness, like there’s a story here the character isn’t too sure of, herself.
(I’m assuming it’s a her, since I’m a female reading it, and there aren’t any clues either way. This is a flaw that I as a reader would appreciate having fixed so I can KNOW and sink deeper into enjoying the story).
But I voted for it, because it does capture my attention and I would definitely read more. D has the potential to turn into a really great story.
One further point: That whole thing with the stave? I didn’t see it at first, then I saw the comments about it, and wondered, so I went back and re-read it, and THEN it confused me. A short phrase (speaking now as a writer who does do critiques for other writers) that explains clearly why she’s running the stave over the ground, would keep me in the story and also make it harder for someone (like me) whose eyes want to skip sentences that lack continuity–to ignore it so completely.
And yeah, my feet are blind in shoes too. It’s an artifact of growing up barefoot in the tropics. So I really identified with that–or at least what I’m assuming was meant by that.
E: E wasn’t what I’m looking for in a book. Dead meadows full of old bones with nothing going to happen now–usually aren’t. It has be pretty powerful writing to get me to read about an old abandoned battlefield that doesn’t even have grass growing in it. I do like that passage in Ezekiel, maybe because something DOES happen.
The guy in the meadow searching for something–well, if I knew what he was searching for, even if it was drunk old Aunt Sally’s left boot that she somehow lost half-way home from the bar last night, I’d be more interested. Especially if she lurches out onto the front porch in the distance and begins haranguing him in a humorous way for not being fast enough in returning her footwear to her–Not that I particularly like books about old drunks!
If it was something really intriguing, like a clue that might help to solve a murder, even if it is only drunk Aunt Sally’s left boot, but especially if Aunt Sally’s boot is somehow suspected of being the murder weapon or is the murder weapon, I’d absolutely engage with the story. I love murder mysteries!
So, in conclusion:
When I have enough (rare) time to pick up a book, it’s for relaxation and disengaging my brain’s higher critical functions. As long as the story allows me to do that and doesn’t throw anything horribly obvious at me that forces me out of the story or stuff that makes me have to think about what the author was trying to say and whether or not I need to agree or disagree with it in some way or outright dislike it; I’ll read it AND enjoy it. 
Superior books that leave me saying “Oh, yeah! This is a KEEPER” are extremely hard to find. Since I’m a reader first; if I can’t find a good book to read, I become an extremely FRUSTRATED reader!
I can’t just hold out for the superior books. I’d live in a state of constant frustration!
Books like some of these seem to be turning into, if they’re “good enough,” then I’m content.

Krysti
Guest

For some reason, the intended spacing disappeared when I posted that last. It’s very long, and now it looks very odd. My apologies!
Also, I should probably state that the fictional person in my example does not in any way resemble, nor was she meant to resemble or reflect on any real life person.
If you know a Sally, please read/swap “Bertha” or “Mavis” or any name you please that isn’t-ummm.
Quitting now before I dig any deeper holes for myself!

Donna Swanson/Mindsinger
Guest

I chose B and D for pretty much the same reason others did.  They were intriguing enough to make me want to know more about the situation or the person presented.

Patrick J. Moore
Guest
Patrick J. Moore

Okay… I don’t want to speak generally about my likes and dislikes, so I will share those sorts of things while specifically addressing each of these snippets- just know that these things apply generally too. Before I get started I want to add- unless someone I trust has specifically suggested your book to me this brief into is really all the chance you have to hook me. I don’t care about your name or your cover. I’m looking for something I will enjoy reading, and I intend to find it before the rest of my family is ready to leave the book store.

A- Please don’t start with “Shut up!” because I feel like I’ve already missed something important, and I can’t turn back to find out what it was because this is the beginning you have given me. I don’t like starting in the middle of something where I instantly feel lost and confused. Give me a better idea of what this relationship is and why they are fighting. Joshua is reacted to and described as if he could be abusive, but his words sound like a caring gentle old man trying to be helpful. That contrast only added to my confusion- confusion doesn’t draw me in, curiosity does.

B- Sounds like an ordinary story, with ordinary language… maybe intended for elementary school? But even then the language could be more varied and have more energy or tension in it- it just seems like there should be tension here and I’m not feeling it. I should be afraid for this kid, but instead I’m picturing a cartoon and expecting the bunny to speak. There’s not enough detail to make it real for me.

C- I don’t like coming in feeling like I’m eavesdropping on a boring ho-hum conversation. Introduce someone to me and make me care about him. How many people are in this scene 2, 3, 4? It’s not real clear to me if Kiffor is the young noble, or the man running the table, or another person. I read it a few times and I still don’t really follow what took place.

D- Too choppy. It doesn’t flow for me. I feel like I’m listening- to Captain Kirk- give a play by play narrative- of a foot ball game. I flinch back from unwanted questions: Maybe I am? I am what? A murderer? This statement is too disjointed for me to clearly catch if that is the intended conclusion to the “I am” statement. And who is “She” anyway? Too many questions, and no answers.

E- Nice word picture, but was the field long dead, or has Boaz been long dead? Is this a ghost story? You know those ghosts, always hanging around looking for something long after they should have departed 😉 And it got confusing toward the end. I think I finished the picture in my mind with more curiosity than confusion after a re-read, but I don’t want to stop and re-read, you only got the second read because I wanted to respond to why this didn’t hook me. I think “Today” threw me because with what you described I had already been wondering further in the past of that meadow long dead. I didn’t thik what ever happened happened today- so now I’m wondering if you are telling me what I thought I already understood- “it didn’t happen today, it was further in the past” or what I’m curious about “how do we get what looks like a war zone without a war?” I’m hoping for the latter. 

F- the choice I picked in the poll

G- (Johne’s Alastair MacLean, When Eight Bells Toll) blah, blah, blah… I have no interest in guns and feel like I’m reading a plaque at a gun museum. Sorry. 

H- (Jeremy McNabb) It’s 3 sentences, and the first 2 are too long. Please break it up a little. It’s an interesting scene- how are two young girls exerting this much power over a male I assume to be at-least 16 because he has a truck he calls his own, and why is their caretaker not only letting them, but seeming to enjoy this scene herself? So you have curiosity going for you. But it just seems an odd place to enter a story. Maybe give a hint of why this is happening, possibly given though a glimpse of his internal reaction to this situation? If this one was on the original list I would have voted for it. I’m not really hooked- I’d need a little more to decide if I really want to read this story or not- but this one causes the most curiosity in me.

Hope no one is offended. These are just my impressions and I tend to find just as much fault in most published novels- so take it with a grain of salt. May you all get published and find your audience.

Patrick J. Moore
Guest
Patrick J. Moore

I was thinking on curiosity vs. confusion- and how it may seem hard to tell these things apart. For me it is this: with confusion you have got me wondering about the words in front of my face; but to have curiosity you have to get me wondering about your world and it’s characters. 

Katie Gibson
Member

I guess it is weird for me to post since one of these stories is mine but, I guess you would not have known it if I did not say it. 🙂 I don’t want to comment on the specific stories and I didn’t vote but I just find myself thinking again and again how difficult this is. Not because of the comments but because of the 100 word limit. I never realized before now how quickly 100 words go and how difficult it is to convey something of meaning in 100 words. I mean several of the comments if not most of them are over 100 words. However, it does help me realize how important word choice is. I knew that but posting just 100 words of a story really drove it home. I went through some of my favorite books and just read the first 100 words. I don’t think I would have kept going with half of them if that was all I could read and judge. Oh and thanks for the specific comments. It is really helpful to see your writing the way someone else would. I would do it again. 

Krysti
Guest

Katie,
You’re so right! One hundred words is, if you’re lucky, the first paragraph or two. My comments were certainly longer than that! (since I tried to discuss all of the options)
Since I am a very quick reader, I actually prefer the first 1,000 words or four pages before making a decision.
250 words, or one page’s worth is also a better benchmark than 100 words. If the book really stinks, I won’t go past that first page, but most of the time I do, even when I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like the book or keep reading after that fourth page… If I pick up the book in the first place.
I have to find reasons to like the book: the title, the artwork, the back cover, the blurb on the flyleaf, before I’m going to spend my time on that first page or anything that follows it. Catching my attention isn’t always about what’s shown; it can also be about what’s not there, especially since there are certain genres that would make me too tense or queasy, or uncomfortable to read!

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

I know, I had the same problem. I hope we do this again with another group of people submitting hooks, so I can participate in the critiquing. These really were helpful, and I’m going to edit my hook a lot from these critiques.

Leanna
Guest

(author D)
Wow. That was so unbelievably cool to read everybody’s comments. I won’t lie, I shrieked with delight every time I found out another person had picked mine. 🙂
 
The present tense disappears halfway through the first chapter. I only started that way as it was easier to immerse myself in the character with that tense. I wrote in first person to intentionally disguise who the POV character was for this chapter but I will most likely change that in the first rewrite. 

For those of you who commented that the first sentence didn’t seem to jive with the rest, would it work alright if written in 3rd person past tense? I could do the “He didn’t kill her” in italics to try and make it clearer that it is the POV character’s thought. I am attached to that first sentence. I hear it so vividly in my head in her voice. 🙂
 
I would love to share the rest of the first chapter in all its rough and ragged confusingness. 😀 I don’t have it posted on my blog or anywhere currently but I could email it (and maybe a synopsis of the novel) for Speculative Faith. If anyone wants, I’m also willing to share the google docs folder where the whole first draft is saved. My email is through gmail and is leanna (dot) circle.
 
P.S. Random, I have no idea anymore what exactly is happening when she runs her stave over the ground. I can’t picture it. So, yeah. o:)
 
P.P.S. @Kaci, I feel neglected that I didn’t get a critique from you. May I have one, please and thank you? 😉
 

Kaci Hill
Member

The present tense disappears halfway through the first chapter. I only started that way as it was easier to immerse myself in the character with that tense. I wrote in first person to intentionally disguise who the POV character was for this chapter but I will most likely change that in the first rewrite. 

 
Just don’t forget to make it match up later. Messy first drafts are normal. 😛 

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

I was example B (it didn’t occur to me to give permission for my name to be posted afterward, duh), and I confess I voted for D. It caught my attention the best. I’d like to read that first chapter, too!

Leanna
Guest

I voted for B.
😀

Kaci Hill
Member

Haha. Yes ma’am! I didn’t forget you and  Person E. I just ran out of time last week. I shall get to you soon, promise.

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

Let’s please do it again!  *eager grin*  I’d love to hear what people think of the opening for my novel!  🙂

Kaci Hill
Member

As promised. Sorry for being so late! 
 
 
 
Daria D Wrote (and you get that name because  I had a friend named Daria, short for Dariela):

 
He didn’t kill her.
I bend down and run my stave over the ground. Pause for a moment. Almost midnight, and I haven’t come nearly far enough yet. I hear only the familiar night sounds around me. No pursuit. Yet.
I run again. The grass brushes against my bare legs and I want to kick the cumbersome boots off my blinded feet. They slide with every step, ill fitted as the worries running through my head. Nathan is not a murderer… not really… not intentionally.
I flinch back from unwanted questions. I would stake my life on his innocence.
Maybe I am.

 
I’ve had time to think about this one.  Initially, I’d say I think that the biggest thing is, I have nothing to tell me how to hear the tone of the first time. Is this “He didn’t kill her,” meaning relief (“Thank God, he didn’t kill her”), or “He didn’t kill her,”  meaning  indignation ( “Dear God, why didn’t he kill her?”)?  Or is it sarcastic (“Well, he didn’t kill her.”)?
 
 
 I don’t think it needs a lot; to me this is more a matter of rearranging some things. If this were later in the story, you could probably get away with it, but as it is, I don’t know  the character well enough to know how to interpret the intention (I sound like the stepmother in Ever After: “Tell me how he said it.”
 
 
There’s a few immediate options. You can move  the “Nathan is not a murderer” up beside the opening line, or else leave it there and add a line after “He didn’t kill her” that simply indicates the narrator’s emotion. So, something such as:
 
 
a). “He didn’t kill her. Nathan wouldn’t do that.”
 
b). “He didn’t kill her. Nathan isn’t a murderer.” Then,  in the third paragraph, something like  “He’s not a killer.  I flinch back from unwanted questions.” instead of the way that last sentence, paragraph three, is now.
 
c). And, to be completely intrusive on my part, you could do something like this:
 
 
He didn’t kill her. Nathan wouldn’t do that.
 
I bend down and run my stave over the ground.  He wouldn’t.
 
Almost midnight, and I haven’t come nearly far enough.
 
I hear only the familiar night sounds around me. No pursuit. Yet. He’s not a murderer. Not really. Not intentionally.
 
I run again. The grass brushes against my bare legs and I want to kick the cumbersome boots off my blinded feet. They slide with every step, ill fitted as the worries running through my head.
 
I flinch back from unwanted questions. I would stake my life on his innocence.
 
Maybe I am.
 
 
Okay, keep that little ( c) rewrite in mind for a bit, cuz I’m gonna reference it from here out.  It leads into the second thing, which is this: You’ve got a lot of inner monologue – action – inner monologue – action going.  I don’t mind it at all. It tossed me into the middle of a strange, surreal moment–a bit like the eye of a storm, sort of like freezing all the chaos around one character to slow time down long enough to catch me up in seconds before unfreezing the chaos and throwing me into it.
 
 
Much fun.
 
 
However, the second thing is:  Make the pattern work for you. Make it a drum beat, a smooth rhythm that keeps it all going.  Too much time with the inner monologue beat (the up  beat)  will confuse or slow it down. Too much time on the action beat (the down beat) makes me lose the immediacy and the purpose of the actions (and you got the general idea; I just tried to give an example as to how to smooth it out; take it or leave it). What I did  was try to make sure each up  beat caused the down beat and vice versa.  Which leads to…
 
 
Three:  Right now your inner monologue is driving the narrative.  I say this because while we know Nathan is chasing the narrator (or assume; I guess it could be someone else), right now he’s far enough away that the urgent, immediate motivation is coming from a character trying to process something that happened a few minutes ago while having temporarily evaded  a threat (which I assume is going to catch up before too long).  That’s fine, but just remember, like I said, that means that until something changes (he falls over an unseen headstone into an open, empty grave and breaks his leg; I dunno),  it’s primarily his own thoughts determining his next move. That, and how well he knows Nathan and how well he anticipates Nathan.    Right now it’s working, because I think psychological torment is worse than physical, and I happen to like head games. 0=) 

 
Just do me one favor: When the terms change and the character has to face Nathan, don’t spend too much time with the inner monologue. I’ve seen people go on for pages in inner monologue during an action scene until I’d actually forgotten what was going on.  You haven’t done that, and I think you’ve a good balance right now.  I’m just asking you to keep it that way. 0=)
 
 
I know several books that do well with headgames. One recent favorite of mine was “Head Game” by Tim Downs. That man scares me. 0=)  Tracey Bateman and Steven James also do a great job at the psychological tension there.
 
 
The fourth thing, and this is a bit picky so bear with me, is the phrase “cumbersome boots off my blinded feet.” The first phrase is fine, but …feet don’t have eyes. Maybe change it to something that indicates the character is blindly trying to get his cumbersome boots off. Cuz he has eyes. 0=)  Like I said, it’s a small thing.
 
 
And I think that’s a wrap. Sorry for the wait.

Kaci Hill
Member

Again, sorry for the tardiness:
 
 
 
Eli E wrote:

Today the world lay quiet. The sun broke over the hills breaking the deep darkness with harsh yellows and reds against the bare grey earth. As the darkness lifted, a shadow could be seen silhouetted against the mist that covered the ground. The silhouette was that of a man standing alone in a meadow long dead. Boaz stood searching for something. The uneven ground had been trampled by the feet of the good and the bad, feed by the blood of the righteous and the unclean. Today there was no battle, the ground did not shake with the turmoil of war.

 
To be honest, I like the eerie, after-battle sunrise with the lone man searching the dead.  Initially, I want to say “pull me in sooner,” but that doesn’t really specify anything for you.  I see two things going on here. One, you did give me an establishing shot followed by a “zoom” to the man on the hill who’s Boaz.  But until I get to “Boaz” the scene feels more like third person omniscient (especially the “As the darkness” sentence and the one after it), and after that it starts to go deeper into his head.  That means I really think there should be a paragraph break there. 
 
 
That said, “Today the world lay quiet” indicates a slightly deeper perspective than third omniscient.  I think this whole excerpt might be stronger if you’d get in Boaz’s head faster. (Early drafts have the tendency to read just like this.  Half the time I’ll do a skeletal scene that has little to no POV at all, then later go in and flesh it out with the character’s perspective. It’s normal. No worries.)   So, I dunno, just rearranging existing lines, it might look something like this:
 
 
Today the world lay quiet.  Mist dampened Boaz’s clothes .  Even as the darkness faded, he stood alone in the long-dead meadow, watching as the sun broke over the hills, breaking the deep darkness with harsh yellows and reds against the bare grey earth.
 
Today there was no battle, the ground did not shake with the turmoil of war. Today, the feet of good and evil, righteous and unclean, didn’t trample the earth.
 
Boaz returned to his search.
 
 
Something like that. Like Daria D, the inner narrative is driving the action. The action is a man searching an empty battlefield for something.  He’s willing to search the dead for it. He seems war-weary and likely everything in him would rather not unsettle the dead, which means this something is important.  I’m guessing by the tone, that’s all.   And all I really did in my little rewrite was rearrange the pieces to keep the momentum going.  Even when there’s no immediate or urgent action, there’s a progression, an escalation. Your escalation is the momentary calm funneling into Boaz’s need to retrieve this. (If there’s another character watching Boaz, that’s another can of words, and I need to see the entire thing through the observer’s POV. But right now it looks like you want all Boaz. Either is fine.)
 
 
Anyway, I think that’s it for the time being. I corrected two typos (a misspelling and a missed comma), but yeah.  I think that’s it for the time being.  0=)

KC
Guest

I chose D. Not perfect, but it sounds interesting.

I didn’t choose  B because it had too many sentences that started with “The…” It needs more varied sentence structure. C wasn’t interesting enough to me because I’m not into sword fighting. And E was pretty good writing but it didn’t have any dialog or much action going on. I liked the imagery and style of writing in A, but the subject matter didn’t hook me.

I’ve always been told in writing that you should start in the middle of the action. As close to the first sentence as possible. I’ll admit it takes a lot to draw me in. And I do recognize at least one, maybe two of these snippets as writing of friends of mine. So no offense. 😉

KC
Guest

I have now finished reading the comments. Haha, Leanna, I voted for YOU! <3