Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hook Me Baby, and Make Me Dance Before I Drown

Ever hear of the old American Title Competitions?  Where ambitious writers had a chance of getting their books published if they made it through all the rounds?  One of the criteria or voting sections was on the introductory sentence of the first paragraph and then, I think,  the rest of the paragraph.  A lot of power was attached to that one sentence- those few words could make or break a book.  It still holds true although the contest changed in 2007 I believe.  I don't even know if it's still active.  But it still reinforced my belief that a lackluster and tame first introduction to a book will potentially  lose a new reader especially if there is no hook, no tweaking of interest, no prod to a reader's curiosity.   If it's written by an author that a reader already follows, then they'll be more forgiving and read on.  But a good hook cannot hurt.

I once read a book on writing where they quoted the first line of Herman Melville's book, Moby Dick.
It reads,"Call me Ishmael."   Three words and yet they are powerful.  It's the character's compelling voice; it's a phrase that draws you in because it involves the reader.

Reviews can benefit from that same technique. 

It's not rocket science, it's literary science.  First impressions don't only apply to meeting a potential love interest or food fetish.  First words whether spoken or written can have the same affect - they'll keep you coming back for more, or have you walk away - or in a reviewer's case, they'll  read the review/buy the book or click "Next" with a disinterested mien. Same difference.

What are possible options for a boring first sentence?

"I liked this book." -  yeah, so?

Recounting or reciting something from the blurb. - Read that already, Next?

A dry statement "The heroine's character evolved in this story." -  And I'm supposed to care ... why?

"This is the book I was waiting for." - I'm glad you were but why would I?

The sour cream of the crop goes to one that is overused, generic and boring:
"This book hooked me from the first (page, line, paragraph)."  

In a review, we are supposed to hook THEM from the first.  I couldn't care less that the book did it for them in the first whatever, I want to know WHY, WHAT, HOW, WHO.

These next are better options to see and that I liked when I went searching for some examples:

Can you imagine how a knight and his men from the court of Henry II feel when they ride up to Castle Ladyslipper (or Fairfield) to find that it is inhabited in the main by beautiful, single women?
If that hooked you, the review is HERE

Fun and unexpected, Expecting Royal Twins! was a breath of fresh air.  OK, what made it so fun and unique?  What else did the reviewer say?  I want to know. Check HERE

Now this first sentence is an attention grabber, "It seems Nina has lost her ability to experience an orgasm -- is that possible and will Ian change things for her?"  Doesn't it make you want to read more? HERE

As for this very LONG sentence, it does grab attention,
"Halli knows what she wants and how she has to get it, and between her coffee shop and the adult toy parties she has, she soon will have enough money for her dream house and she will not let anything stand in her way, even one very sexy cop who can show her all the things she has been missing."

However, if you look at the rest of the review Here , alas, it's a paraphrase of the blurb. It's short and doesn't give me much information. On top of that, the reviewer is telling me what to do.  Just on principle, I'm going to put it down.
So. There.

Can you see the value of a hook?  The first sentence is made up of words that can tease a reader.  You don't want to give too much, which I think the last example seemed to do.  Neither do you want to give so little to the reader it ends up like dry toast.

What are the silliest opening lines you've ever read?
What are some of the worst or most boring you've ever seen?
What were some of the best ones you've read that inspired the "more" factor?

I'd love more examples.  The more good ones I can show reviewers , the more they'll be able to recognize what's lame, bad or boring. 

I certainly don't want to write boring reviews. What does that then say about the actual book?

So hook me, make me dance with anticipation to read it or I'll end up drowning in disinterest and disappointment.  And wouldn't that just suck turkey toes?


Stormy said...

I totally agree, Xer. If I read the opening sentence and it makes me squint my eyes or say "Huh?" as opposed to "Huh!!!" then I'm not likely to finish the review or buy the book. When I think of writing that first sentence I imagine Chef Emeril Lagasse when he throws in that bit of extra something and says BAM! I want the reader to think BAM when they read the first sentence or paragraph of my reviews. Do I always pull it off? Probably not but it's always my intent.

Xeranthemum said...

Emeril? ROTFL!
Now that's a cool way of looking at it, Honeysuckle! I like it!

It's my intent too, but I don't know if I always manage to do it. At least we are trying and that's half the battle.
No lazy reviews for us, eh?
Thanks for your comment. :-)

Wendi Zwaduk said...

Well put and thanks for saying it!