WoW: Hook ’em!

“This Street is Impassable. Not even Jackassable.”

When I think of memorable first lines, this one from Deeanne’s Gist’s book, The Measure of a Lady comes to mind. Catchy, isn’t it? I knew I was in for a good time from the get go.

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Medical romance author Candace Calvert really knows how to create a compelling start. Here’s the opening line from Critical Care.

“Don’t die, little girl.”

I fell in love with Candace’s E.R. doctor hero when I read those four words. No matter what else Logan Caldwell—aka Dr. McSnarly—is, he has a heart and is a sympathetic character from the start.

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I attended a fiction-writing workshop taught by Angela Bell at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2008. At one point, she had workshop participants jot down their first lines on slips of paper with no names given. She read them off, asking us to raise our hands when she shared a hook that would make us want to keep reading. We clearly saw when someone had penned a good one by the number of hands that went up.

“The body bag moved.”

Whoa! When Angela read that one, a sea of hands shot in the air. She gave a sheepish grin and admitted that the awesome hook was hers. Her excellent example showed us how the “wow” factor can reel in a reader.

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Opening hooks, be they at the start of a book, chapter, or scene, are important, but so are chapter and scene their endings. My critique partner Jody Hedlund calls the hooks at the end of scenes and chapters Read-on Prompts or ROPs. She’s got some great ones in her debut novel, The Preacher’s Bride. My other critique partner, Anne Barton, amazes me with those she comes up with in her stories. I’ve been watching and learning from their great examples.

Here’s a chapter ending from my story. The heroine’s friend is speaking to her about the hero.

“Not to spoil your morning, but Miles is on his way over, and he looks none too happy.”

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I’d like to share a few examples from published books, but taken out of context an ROP can lose some of its effect. Plus, they could serve as spoilers, and I wouldn’t want to lessen a reader’s enjoyment.

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I wanna know . . .

Do you have a first line you’d like to share?

What is a first line that pulled you into a story?

What do you think gives a first line that wow factor?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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9 Responses to WoW: Hook ’em!

  1. Cathy West says:

    Hi Keli,
    First lines and ROP’s have been something I struggle with – still do. I will often go back and make changes to my chapter beginnings and endings multiple times. Sigh. Anyway. Here is the first line from my novel Yesterday’s Tomorrow, releasing in March 2011.
    “Didn’t they know they were shouting so loud the neighbors could hear?”
    I’ve posted an excerpt of the first chapter on my website, if anyone is interested!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Cathy,

      What a great opening. I’m left with all kinds of unanswered questions. Who is shouting? What are they shouting about? Are they arguing, or are they excited? Do they know the neighbors can hear? Do they care? And who is listening to them?

      All those questions would draw me into the story, which is exactly what a first line is supposed to do. Good job!

  2. Tonya says:

    Here are 3 from my current WIP.

    “She didn’t like lying to her Mama”

    and

    “She wouldn’t cry, not here, not in front of all these people”

    and

    “Renni had began her climb back up the stairs when a cloud of dense smoke filtered in from beneath the basement door, crawled down the steps, and circled around her feet.”

    What is a first line that pulled you into a story?

    “It was on a cold January night when the unthinkable, unpardonable happened.” Francine Rivers – The Atonement Child

    What do you think makes gives a first line that wow factor?

    Something that makes you want to know WHY.

    Great post! And now I’ve another couple books I need to read apparently! 🙂

    It’s 9:40 in England – goodnight! Loved getting to know you through your blog today. Have a blessed evening in CA.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Tonya,

      Thanks for sharing your opening lines. They all leave me with questions. Why did she lie to her mama, and what was she lying about? What made her want to cry? What’s causing the smoke? Is she trapped in a burning building? Nice hooks!

      Great first line from Francine, too.

  3. Michael Schneider says:

    Hooks & ROP’s can be the hardest things to come up with. As a writer we have so much to say that sometimes we forget when to just shut up and wait for the pin to drop. This is the last line in chapter 1 of my novel BLIND FAITH.

    “Every girl needs a personal Superman. I’m yours.”

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Michael,

      Ooh! I love that ending hook. I wanna know more about this guy. What kind of man would declare himself Superman? Is he teasing her? Is he serious? If he’s serious, does he have what it takes to qualify for the position? Very intriguing hook.

  4. I love a great hook that instantly has me asking questions. In my own writing, I love to end a chapter or scene with a hook and connect it to the opening of the next scene somehow. Here’s an example…

    “An army of caterpillars wriggled around Ivy’s insides. Another chance? He hadn’t offered her a second chance yet.

    Bree peeked out the window to the lobby and cleared her throat. ‘Looks like the man of the hour just arrived. You ready to talk to him right now?’

    *end of scene*

    Brogan’s odds of talking to Ivy alone at the restaurant were slim, but he had to start somewhere.”

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sarah,

      Thanks for sharing your hooks. I think it’s way cool when a writer uses the connected hooks technique they way you have. Mary Connealy does this so well, as have you.

      And, I gotta tell you, even though it’s not related to hooks, that I love your line, “An army of caterpillars wriggled around Ivy’s insides.” So descriptive!

  5. Susan Mason says:

    Hi Keli,

    That’s funny. I just happen to be reading that particular Deeanne Gist book right now. It’s so good!

    I struggle with these hooks, too. Thanks for all the great examples!

    Sue

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