in the beginning...


Written on Monday, June 01, 2009 by haleigh

Monday, June 1st, 2009

So I offered to judge my very first contest. I thought it would be exciting, but alas, it's giving me the same stomach ache that grading papers gives me. Can't I give everyone an "A for effort?" lol!

But one of the first things on my score sheets is the opening hook. Does the opening make you want to keep reading? Does it draw you into the story?

Now, we all know that opening hooks are important. But I don't think I really got how important until judging this. Because I have to say, of the five entries I received, only one opening actually drew me into the story. But you know what? It really drew me in. I read the first sentence, said "ohhhhhh," leaned back in my chair, put up my feet, and was five pages in before I remembered I was supposed to be scoring the opening.

It wasn't a shocker opening, it wasn't graphic or violent or funny. But you know what that very first sentence did? It raised a question in my mind, and damn it, I wanted to know the answer. And of course, the next sentence raised a new question, and the next, and within the first paragraph, I know this was one of those books I wasn't going to set down any time soon. Because now I was invested. I wanted my questions answered. I wanted to know what happened next.

Isn't that the best thing about hearing (or reading) a story? Finding out what happens next? It reminds me of that Friends episode where people kept starting a story and then walking out of the room mid-sentence. And Monica, with this horrified look on her face, throws up her hands and yells, "People have got to start finishing their stories!"

It's the suspense. It's the "don't torture me by keeping me waiting, just tell me what happens next!" feeling. And if you're not writing a suspense novel full of life and death stakes, how do you get that suspense? That desperation in your readers to keep turning the page and finding out what happens next -- questions. To quote one of my lovely professors, "Before you answer a question, make sure you've raised two more." So by the time you get around to answering one question, you've raised so many more with your readers, that they still have to keep reading.

So how do you do it? How do you hook your readers? What makes you desperate to keep reading a good book? Ever been so desperate to know what happens next that you can't concentrate on anything else?

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  1. Melissa |

    How interesting for you to get to sit on the other side of the fence -- being the judge. Just as we, um in theory (lol), learn from critiques, I can see how it gives a new perspective on the importance of the opening hook. As you know, it's definitely been a topic in my thoughts lately with my (former) determination to keep a beginning full of backstory!

    I like that you say that the opening hook that drew you in wasn't "shocking." I think that what I've come to realize is that it's not so much an action scene, but the connection to the main characters a reader wants to get immediately invested in. And I'd like to declare "no more prologues" - - kind of like a mid-year resolution - - but guess it all depends on the story!

  2. haleigh |

    Hey Melissa! It is odd to be on this side of the fence as a judge. Yeah, that's exactly what it was about this opening - immediate investment. It worked great. And I cracked up about your "no more prologues" thought. I've said the same thing - I never ever want to write another one! lol


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