Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hooks from Cherie Colyer

Hook ‘em Quick

I love when a book grabs my attention on the first page and then just keeps getting better. If a novel has a great voice, interesting characters, or a rush of danger that has me on the edge of my seat, I’m all over it.

Because I want to be engaged right from the start, I strive to make my first page, first paragraph, first sentence one to remember. I want the reader to want to follow my characters to the end of the book. I’ve learned from trial and error (a.k.a. the hard way) that this means getting to know my characters better before I spend too much time on chapter one. It’s not that I go into a new project thinking I don’t know the cast. I know their likes, dislikes, mannerism, and what’s important to them. But as the story unfolds my characters are challenged, and I learn even more about them. Sometimes the story takes an unexpected detour or I have the all important AH HA moment. I love when this happens. I rush back to page one and jot down my thoughts, like I had done for Hold Tight. Through all my revisions the opening line remained the same:

I figured if I got caught with the little ironclad book, I’d ask him for forgiveness. Really, in the whole scheme of the universe, what was one little spell?

Embrace wasn’t so easy. I probably have a dozen different first chapters on my hard drive for that novel. Originally the story started with a scene that is now part of chapter six. I think it builds intrigue…

I watched in horror along with the rest of my history class. Kaylee continued to stare at her backpack, screaming loud piercing screams all of Essex County could hear, seeing something no one else did.

Unfortunately, throwing the reader into the middle of this scene didn’t work well. It left too many questions that couldn’t be answered without tons of back story. But I’m not a fan of pages and pages of back story, so I decided to start the book with the events that led to this scene. After many revisions, Embrace now opens when Madison discovers her life is about to change:

I should have cared what I wore, but I couldn’t quite get there. I didn’t see any point in dressing up just to get knocked down.

Since a book should start with some type of change, this really was a better place for Madison’s story to begin.

I wonder if authors like E.B. White and Herman Melville stressed over the first sentence of their books. Did Charlotte’s Web always begin with “Where’s daddy going with the ax?” Was “Call me Ishmeal” always the first sentence in Moby Dick?

Before I go, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite first lines from some of my favorite authors.

I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck. Jeanine Frost, Halfway to the Grave

I’d never given much thought to how I would die. Stephenie Meyer, Twilight

The Summer King knelt before her. “Is this what you freely choose, to risk winter’s chill?” Melissa Marr, Wicked Lovely

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Do you like to be hooked on page one? When you think of great opening scenes, what novel comes to mind?

I’d like to thank Charity for having me on her blog today.

Happy reading!


  1. The Lemony Snicket one will either pull you in or warn you away!
    My first line changes several times. I've never changed where the story begins, but I've reworded the first line of my last two books over and over...

    1. It's an important line. I bet most authors spend a lot of time on it.

  2. Thanks, Charity, for having me here today.

  3. It's important to catch a reader's attention. But one should never forget to also tell a good story.

    1. I agree. There's nothing worse than loving the first chapter and then finding out that is the only one that is polished.

  4. Does that mean when you write a story, you start somewhere in the middle and then go back to write the first page?

    I don't so much worry about page 1. When I start reading, sometimes I need some reading time to get into a reading mindset, so something too clever on page 1 is just going to go over my head. If I go back and reread, then maybe I'll be intrigued by it. I give a book a couple chapters before I give up on it (although, I rarely give up on a book).

    1. I have started writing a book in the middle and then gone back to write the beginning. It really just depends on what part of the story speaks to me at the time. As a reader, I like to be engaged early. If it's a book that was recommended to me I'll give it a few chapters, but if it's one I pick up at the book store or library I tend to read a page or two. I can usually tell right away if I'm going to like a story.

  5. Okay, I confess---before I typed out my comment I went to check the first sentence of my two WIPs, hehe. I think they're okay, but I may not be able to resist tweaking.

    I don't know if I personally as a reader require a good beginning hook - if the premise is good and I like the writing style, I'm generally patient about getting to the meaty stuff.

    1. It may be my impatient side that has me wanting to like a story from the beginning. It can be a great voice, intriguing opening, or beautiful writing, but there has to be something that makes me want to keep turning the page.

  6. Nice job! Love a good hook and you've already got several of my favorites. I'll have to come visit your site soon :) happy hooking :)

  7. Love this. Gail Levine has a first line exercise in her writing book. She gives these great first lines and then you write a story for 20 minutes to fit it. It was so fun I started making up my own first lines just for fun and found one I liked so much that I started a full on story from it. I suppose that's a backwards way to start a story, but it illustrates the importance of that hook.


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