Monday, September 27, 2010

First Pages---The Hook


As both a writer and reviewer I learned you have to hook the reader at the start. At numerous conferences the first thing most agents/editors say is you need to hook them at the very beginning of the story. Some even say the first sentence!

I remember a few years ago at a SCBWI Editor’s Day event, my own first page being read out loud. I was nervous. But one editor commented on how much he liked it and wanted to read more! The sentence?

The dead have a way of stumbling in on me, of messing up my life.


One class I took at UCI extension was The Intermediate Novel taught by the fab Lou Nelson who helped mentor me when I first started writing EARRINGS OF IXTUMEA. Some of her advice deals with hooking in the reader and in this case also editors and agents:

What is a hook? It’s provides a compelling reason for readers (agents and editors) to read further. A hook is something exciting, fascinating, curious, horrific or otherwise attention-grabbing that makes reader wonder. Curious what’s going to happen next, compels readers to continue reading.

Remember most agents and editors have only so much time to go over requests. You have to hook them in on that first page and even the first paragraph. Leave the back-story for later or better yet weave it throughout the story.

More from Lou Nelson:

Start with a lead hook. After the reader reads this they should wonder-in regard to the event as well as the outcome—WHY, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and/or HOW.

Here are some examples of great first lines from some YA books:

Emma Woodhouse-handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition-had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress her. Until the vampire attacks began.

--EMMA AND THE VAMPIRES by Jane Austen and Wayne Josephson

The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.

--CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare

From up high, everything seems to spill from itself.


Strangers never walk down this road, the sisters thought in unison as the man trudged toward them.

--SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce

I'm sitting alone on the other side of the world talking to a sea turtle that might be my mom. The boy I love is with the girl he loves, and the girl he loves may not be me. If I was halfway to crazy before, I fully arrived now.

--SEA by Heidi Kling

Anyone want to share their own favorite one liners?


  1. These are great first lines, Kim. You're so right about getting the hook there to reel the reader in.

  2. Getting that first line right is so hard. Books that are well written make it look so easy!

  3. Ooh, I reviewed Emma and the Vampires and chose that sentence as my favorite. So classic yet drawing!

  4. Here's a great link on other fab first liners:

  5. My local SCBWI chapter does something called the First Page Session. It's usually inexpensive, like $25 or so, and you go to the workshop and hear first pages. You bring your first page, and usually a panel of agents and editors listens and critiques it.

    It's immensely helpful.

  6. First sentences are ofteh hard to do. I usually write that one many times.