Writing a Great Opening Hook Sentence

Posted by on July 6, 2011

Today we’ll focus on the components of a great first sentence. The first sentence your reader will read is the opening hook. You want to grab him/her—make them wonder what your book is about.

How many writing classes and conferences have you attended, how many agents/editors have you pitched to — all to hear the same thing. A great opening sentence is vital for your book. If the first sentence doesn’t grab, you’re at risk of nobody reading it—even if your novel is a true Great American Novel.

So many people, after reading a great book, remember the opening sentence. A few come to mind:

–The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed. (The Gunslinger)

–The hotel and it’s bright, tan prayer rug of a beach were one. (Tender is the Night)
–“When a day you know is Wednesday starts out sounding like it is a Sunday you know that something is seriously amiss.” (Day of the Triffids)

Let’s look at a few first sentences from well-know works:


1. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good
fortune must be in want of a good wife.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

A good first sentence should lead you to ask questions. What
question does this first sentence lead you to ask?

Here are some ideas: What does the wealthy man look like? Who are the
candidates for his wife? Why did the author use the word “want”
instead of “need”? What other questions could you ask or hope to
answer while reading the book based on this first sentence?

A good first sentences introduces the main character:

Quite clearly, the main character is not the single man in possession of a
great fortune, because a main character would never say such a sentence. Rather
the main character must be the one who hopefully ends up as his wife.

A good first sentence provides a tantalizing taste of the story.

What can you surmise about the book? It must be a romance novel. The
single, rich guy realizes he needs to lavish his great wealth on the woman who
will be his wife. Secondly, the story must be from the point of view of the
perfect woman who supposedly will fill the great need of this single, rich guy.
The initial conclusions can be wrong, but that’s OK. A story is more exciting
when we have to switch gears.

A good first sentence provides hints to setting.

Without a specific word about the setting spoken, I surmise the story is
historical. People simply don’t talk that way today. You could guess Victorian period by the word choice and importance placed on the mentioned cultural expectations.

A good first sentence entices.

I would like to read this book after the first sentence. Does he find a
wife? Is she a Cinderella in need of his wealth? How do they meet?

Here’s another.

2. “As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream.” Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

A good first sentence should lead you to ask questions.

Why did a den catch the narrator’s attention? Most dens would produce anxiety. Is there a wild bear, a ferocious raccoon, a stinky skunk hidden in the den? Why did the narrator feel comfortable enough to sleep near the den? What did the narrator dream about?

A good first sentences introduces the main character:

The main character narrates this story. I don’t know at this point if he/she is male or female but I do know they like to walk in nature and feel comfortable sleeping in natural settings.

A good first sentence provides a tantalizing taste of the story.

The story probably centers around the narrator’s dream, this should include unusual characters and unusual settings.
A good first sentence provides hints to setting.

The setting probably originates in the period of Enlightenment (hence the dream). A philosophical in nature, yet inviting due to the dream setting.

A good first sentence entices.

Why could the narrator sleep by a den? Was the narrator tired,
burdened, overworked, sad? Why was the narrator sleepy? What did the narrator
dream? Did he dream give an answer, direction, hope?

Here is the last sentence we’ll look at:

3. “Once there was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

A good first sentence should lead you to ask questions.

What did Eustace do to almost deserve his name? What trouble did he do after
the first page? Did he stay a trouble maker? What effect will his trouble
making have on the story? Is this an adventure story?

A good first sentences introduces the main character:

Eustace is a boy. He causes mischief. Others don’t like him. He might be an
only child.

A good first sentence provides a tantalizing taste of the story.

Makes me want to know what Eustace did and what he will do next.

A good first sentence provides hints to setting

The character’s name leads me to think this is an English story. It takes place
somewhere where children live. Perhaps he is from a large family, or in a place
where other children are somehow involved and who think he’s deserving of such
a name.

A good first sentence entices.

What did Eustace do? What will come of the antics he creates? This
sounds like a fun, adventuresome story.

Here is one for you to try. This is from a well known
nonfiction book:

4. “In the beginning, God
created the Heavens and the Earth.”
Genesis 1:1 by God

 

When writing your opening sentence, check off these five tips:

* A good first sentence should lead you to ask questions.

* A good first sentences introduces the main character (person):

* A good first sentence provides a tantalizing taste of the story.

* A good first sentence provides hints to setting

* A good first sentence entices.

Let’s talk about this. I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

(Resource: www.thewritersalley.blogspot.com)

One Response to Writing a Great Opening Hook Sentence

  1. Connie Almony

    This is a great topic for you, Lori. Your openings shine. I always get a good sense of your characters inside and out. Keeps me wanting to know more.

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