I had a lovely lazy breakfast on Sunday, reading the latest issue of Mslexia. I’ve blogged
Inspiration is a regular section, which currently includes a series of articles on basic elements of fiction. The format is a discussion of what works and why, with extracts from three books plus exercises for the reader to try, to get ideas flowing.
The latest mini masterclass, given by novelist Liz Jensen, is on hooks. Jensen looks at flash forwards; stories told after the event, with dark hints of what is to come; and how a charismatic child narrator can draw us in by sharing their view of a rumour. Of course, as she points out, the wise author keeps the hooks coming throughout the novel, even though they may be most densely packed in the opening pages.
Looking at my own book collection, I was interested to see how many hooks are slipped into opening sentences, and also what a diverse range of approaches hit the spot. So, for fun, here’s my selection of five of the best…
“I was standing on the shingle bank when they towed her boat back in.”
(The Bed I Made, Lucie Whitehouse)
An instant feeling of menace is created in the simplest of sentences, setting the tone for this tense cat and mouse thriller.
“It wasn’t until we were halfway through France that we noticed Maretta wasn’t talking.”
(Hideous Kinky, Esther Freud)
Showing how something quite understated can stimulate driving curiosity.
“Suicide bombers are easy to spot.”
(Gone Tomorrow, Lee Child)
Short and to the point in a book filled with more hooks than you’d find in a crochet craft shop.
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”
(The Secret History, Donna Tartt)
A flash forward instantly creating disquieting questions about Tartt’s narrator.
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
(I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith)
The books narrator, Cassandra, draws us in straight away; simply because she’s a person we want to get to know.
For more on hooks, see Chuck Wendig’s very wonderful but highly sweary 25 Things to Know about Writing the First Chapter of your Novel,. Chuck manages to interweave excellent, amusing advice with a possibly award-winning number of obscenities.
What are your favourite first lines in fiction? And what hooks keep you reading? Please do leave a comment.