Thursday, January 13, 2011

H is for Hook

This week, I welcome author Celia Yeary who talks to us about Hooks.


HOOKS FOR BOOKS - by Celia Yeary

"It was a dark and stormy night…" No, no, never begin a story with the weather. The reader will skip ahead and look for action or characters, or heaven forbid, close the book. Okay, let's see. "I was falling, falling…and then I woke up." Nope, I remember, now, NEVER open a book with a dream--or an alarm clock or phone ringing. What about something really funny? For example, "Nearing the counter with a full tray, her foot slipped on spilled…." Uh, oh. That's on the list of no-no's, too.

Such a list exists, in fact. The admonitions may vary slightly, but editors are programmed to stop reading a submission after the first sentence or first paragraph if she/he sees these red flags. The nineteenth-century Gothic novels opened with long brooding descriptions of the weather, or a monologue recounting the entire genealogy of the family in the story, enough to make one's eyes glaze over.

In today's world, the reader wants and deserves action, the inciting incident, the reason for the story, and he wants it right away. In some manner, the opening sentence or first paragraph or first chapter must give the reader what he wants--"What is this novel about?"

Grabbing the attention of an editor you'd like to impress or a reader you'd like to keep is an art form all its own. Books galore sit on shelves or can be found on-line that help the budding author or the experienced one who wants a refresher course learn a bit more about a good beginning.

I once won a little contest on a blog with the opening line of my first release. First lines from ten romance novels were listed and readers voted on the best opening. This is the winning line (mine): If I'd known running away would be this hot and this dirty, I'd have stayed home. (first line from All My Hopes and Dreams, a Western Historical Romance.) But I will admit a judge for an RWA contest in which I entered the first chapter took off points for "this weak beginning." Hmmm.

However, what does my first line tell the reader? A woman is running away (from whom and why?), and the woman obviously is a little fastidious. In my humble opinion, this line met the criteria to set up the story. Plus, an editor liked it because she offered me a contract in three weeks.

Here are the beginning lines from four different romance novels.

1. It was well known around Russellville, Alabama, that Tommy Lee Gentry drove like a rebellious seventeen-year-old, drank like a parolee fresh out, and whored like a lumberjack at the first spring thaw. (The Hellion, LaVyrle Spencer.

2. He'd known all day something was about to go down, something life-changing and entirely new. ( Montana Creeds: Dylan, Linda Lael Miller.

3. Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly sat in the back seat of a black cab, driving from Dublin's airport through the city. (What Matters Most-Luanne Rice)

4. "Rachel! Rachel!" Ella called in the high-pitched panic voice that usually preceded bad news. (Texas Honor-Debra White Smith)

These opening lines come from Best-Selling authors. Do we need to pay closer attention to the novels we read? Go to a bookstore, find a shelf of best-sellers in romance, and open several to study the first page. Just read the first line.

Make a list of the kind of hooks that interest you in a book. Your list may be the same as mine.

1. Attention-getting
2. Exciting
3.Pulls me into the story
4. Straight forward
5. Brief and punchy
6. Rouses curiosity
7. Emotionally charged
8. A declarative sentence

Hooking your reader is not easy, but with a little self-study, you can improve your chances with editors and nail that contract. With your next or current WIP, try writing five opening sentences and ask fellow authors or your critique partners help you select one.

Good luck and happy writing--
Celia Yeary


Celia Yeary is a seventh-generation Texan, and her life revolves around family, friends, and writing. San Marcos has been her home for thirty-five years. She has five published romance novels, five “coming soon” novels, short stories in anthologies, articles, and essays with a local magazine. The author is a former science teacher, graduate of Texas Tech University and Texas State University, mother of two, grandmother of three, and wife of a wonderful, supportive Texan. Celia and her husband enjoy traveling, and both are involved in their church, the community, and the university.

The Cameron Sisters: Book I--TEXAS PROMISE-Desert Breeze Publishing


After two years, Jo Cameron King’s life as a widow abruptly ends when her husband returns home to Austin. Unable to understand her angry and bitter husband, she accepts a call to travel to the New Mexico Territory to meet her dying birth father whom she knows nothing about. Her plan to escape her husband goes awry when he demands to travel with her.

Dalton King, believing lies his Texas Ranger partner tells him about Jo, seethes with hatred toward his wife. Now he must protect Jo from his partner’s twisted mind, while sorting out the truth. Jo’s bravery and loyalty convince him she’s innocent. But can they regain the love and respect they once shared?

Making the Turn - Wings ePress

Starting over at age thirty-nine is no picnic under any circumstances, but the task is daunting for Sara Daniels. Living an affluent lifestyle her entire adulthood in Dallas does not prepare her for instant bankruptcy, especially if a philandering husband dies suddenly, leaving her penniless, debt-ridden, and homeless.

Planning on moving in temporarily with her cantankerous mother in the small town of Del Rey, Sara faces more problems than she can handle. During the long, hot summer, she and her daughter, her mother, and a handsome distraught widower and his charming young son learn they can have second chances.


Maggie Toussaint said...

H is for Hooray for Celia! What an insightful post. I congratulate you for collecting this information in one place for folks to study. Good stuff.

romance and mystery writer

Mona Risk said...

Great blog Celia. I think you won best hooker (LOL) on my blog a year ago. I took a whole workshop by Mary Buckham on hooks and first pages. Donald Maass has 9 specific items that should be present in a hook. Unfortunately, editors judged a manuscript by its hook, especially for first-time authors. So ladies sharpen your tools and revise your hook until it's really grabbing.

Unknown said...

MAGGIE--thanks, dear friend. I like her Alphabet blog--very inventive. Celia

Unknown said...

MONA--was that your blog??? I remember it so well, but couldn't remember whose blog it was. I thought it was so much fun, and also taught a lesson. Thanks--Celia

Linda Rettstatt said...


Thanks so much for being here today. Very informative post. Agents and editors pretty much judge a book by the first paragraph any more, so you do really have to grab them and hold them.


Linda Swift said...

A really informative post, Celia. It makes me stop and examine some of my first lines in light of your comments. I guess my best first line was in a very short story. "Katie Hammonds blew her brains out with her daddy's twenty-two." A story about teen-age suicide. Not a romance! Linda

Laurean Brooks said...

Celia, your posts are always so interesting. Yep, I'll bet you're right. First impressions, (including first lines in a ms) can make or break your chances of becoming published.

Thank you for the reminder. I will pay closer attention, henceforth. I appreciate the thought that went into this insightful post.

Liana Laverentz said...

Soon as I read Tommy Lee Gentry, I knew what book it was. Some opening lines you never forget :)

Unknown said...

LINDA!!!You always surprise me! What an opening line. One could not forget that, for sure. Thanks for sharing that one--Celia

Unknown said...

LAUREAN--They are important, and it took me a long time to learn that lesson. But I rarely have to struggle with opening lines. If I do, then I mean I really struggle. You know how some things just come to you? Thank you for commenting--Celia

Unknown said...

Liana--it's my favorite opening line of any book. Nothing will ever top that one. LaVyrle Spencer was a master story-teller. Celia

Caroline Clemmons said...

Celia, how funny to see TEXAS HONOR listed. It was our book for this month the book club I attend.

I love the first line of ALL MY HOPES AND DREAMS. I agree with Mona, you win!

Unknown said...

CAROLINE--Texas Honor was your book of the month? How interesting. I have the paperback in my saved cabinet. Love it. She's a wonderful author. Thanks! Celia

Allison Knight said...

Can I add one thing to complicate matters more? If (and that's a big one) you can keep you first sentence - your hook - under ten words, it's even better. The best hook I ever read was one of Sandra Brown's - "I'm pregnant." Boy does that stop the clock! Two words and it does all the things it needs to do. Love it.

Unknown said...

ALLISON--I've not heard of the ten-word first line, but that would be a great challenge, wouldn't it? I don't remember that one, but I have read every book--Western or Suspense--that Sandra Brown's written.
Yes, that line would get attention! Thanks--Celia

Therese said...

Great blog, Celia! That first line is so important! When I am at a bookstore and I choose a book to look through, if the first line doesn't grab me, I won't buy the book! BTW I love LaVyrle Spencer and Sandra Brown!

Unknown said...

Therese--ah, a girl after my own heart. I, too, always read the first line. Then I read page 99--you know about rule? All I can say is that's it's sort of fun. Celia