Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Husband Married a Hooker, Part 2

A couple weeks ago, I gave you the Readers' Digest version of the first part of my MY HUSBAND MARRIED A HOOKER workshop. (It's about writing hooks, of course! What were you thinking?) We talked about what a hook is and how to set one with your title. For a refresher, here's a link to that post.

Today, we'll talk about hooking your reader with your opening line.

The beginning of a book is a delicate time. You must introduce your protagonist, establish the conflict and set the tone in ripping fashion. Years ago, readers gave authors leisure to do this in a long prologue or a first chapter loaded with backstory. No more. We must drop the reader in medias res ("into the middle of affairs"). We hit the ground running and leave enough breadcrumbs in our wake for the reader to follow and catch up.

If this sounds daunting, that's because it is. Most writers I know spend more time revising the first chapter than any other with emphasis on the first line. That's because if you don't hook your reader with the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, she's likely to reshelve the book and move on.

So here are a few tips to start with a hook.

1. Begin as you mean to continue. No bait and switch allowed!The first sentence sets the tone for the whole book.

My Distracting the Duchess starts with “I’m going to have to shorten his willy.” Ok. I admit it. I was going for a snort. Obviously, with this start, you’re in for a sexy romp. If I’d tried to make it a serious tear jerker, there would have been problems.

2. Surprise your reader.

If the world of your story has its own special rules, lead with them. I still remember my reaction to the opening of Nora Robert's Carolina Moon. "She woke in the body of a dead friend." It made me do a double take to make certain I'd read it correctly. When I was sure I had, I knew I had a unique tale ahead of me.

3. Raise a question in your reader's mind. Moby Dick opens with "Call me Ishmael." The first time I read it, I wondered if that was really the narrator's name or if he chose the name of an outcast to describe himself because that's how he felt. In just three words, Melville has set the stage for a story of biblical proportions.

4. Elicit an emotion from your readers. Stephanie Meyers' Twilight begins with "I'd never given much thought to how I would die." Well, that grabs us by the jugular, doesn't it? We all have wondered about death at some time and have pretty strong feelings about it.

You MUST hook your readers on the first line. Surprise them. Make them shiver. Give them something to elicit an emotion or raise a question that compels them to read on.

STROKE OF GENIUS starts like this:

Starting from the well-formed foot and ankle, the long line of the man’s leg ended in a disappointingly small fig leaf.

Raise any questions? Does it give you an idea of the tone of this story? Are you expecting a light-hearted, classy, yet ribald tale? (Click here if you'd like to read the rest of the chapter!)

If you're a writer, please share the opening line of your current WIP. If you're a reader, what's the first line of the book you're reading now and why do you think it's a good one or not?

45 comments:

Eliza Knight said...

Great post Emily! The first line of my current WIP is: Dead.

Aislinn said...

Here's the opening line to my current WIP: William Battencliffe wagers five thousand pounds that Miss Julia St. Claire will become the next Countess of Clivesden.

Ann Lethbridge said...

I love the examples you give Emily.

I want to play too. My all time favourite Laura Kinsale Flowers of the Storm starts: "He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate."

My current wip starts: Only a man dedicated to duty travelled to Yorkshire in January. Whether it will survive the editing process is another matter. lol
Best Ann

Dalton Diaz said...

Can I play? First line of my new WIP is barely 48 hrs old and unedited, but it did the trick to move me forward.

Excuse me?” Jo couldn’t possibly have heard her boss right, misogynistic bastard or not.

EmilyBryan said...

Eliza--Brevity is the soul of wit!

EmilyBryan said...

Aislinn--Good way to set up the conflict right up front!

EmilyBryan said...

Ann--I just finished my first Laura Kinsale book, "Lessons in French"!

Ordinarily, I say don't start with the weather unless your hero is a meteorologist, but in this case, you're using the weather to show something of his resolve and character.

EmilyBryan said...

Dalton--Definitely raises questions in my mind

Barb H said...

Enjoyed the post, Emily.
My current first line: "Damn, he hated the silence--it screamed trouble."

I have several 'favorite' first lines, altho when I read your new first line, the playfulness of it reminded me of one from an early Christina Dodd medieval: "She had all her teeth."

Juliet said...

I'll play too. First line of my wip, which is still young and unedited.

Russ slipped his shirt back on and tried to sneak out of the house before Wanda discovered he was missing.

Julia Hunter said...

Great points and examples, Emily!

I still remember Harlan Coben's first prologue line from Caught.

"I KNEW opening that red door would destroy my life."

For my native american time travel WIP...

"The aura of the canyon seeped into her veins, ritual drums echoed in her mind. Would she find the source of her recurring dreams at these ancient ruins, or was she going crazy?"

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Emily! The opening line is so important in gripping readers. The first line of my WIP, an historical romance, is

"Help! Help me!"

EmilyBryan said...

Barbara--Love your opening. And Christina Dodd's too! Having all her teeth is a good quality for a heroine!

EmilyBryan said...

Juliet--Oooo! Russ is a very bad boy.

EmilyBryan said...

Julia--The red door example reminds me of a "whatever you do, don't" type warning. Sort of a Pandora's box deal. Works in fiction every time. Disastrous in real life.

Your opening is very evocative. I'd have known it was native American even if you hadn't told me.

EmilyBryan said...

Susan--I heard one author say we should begin our story at the point where our hero or heroine's life changes. Sounds like you're at a flashpoint. Could you give your readers a detail that will anchor us more firmly in your story's world?

Susan Macatee said...

The second line does that. It's...

The high-pitched, plaintive cry drew Cassidy Stuart's attention from the pots she was drying. She strode to the kitchen window scanning for the source.

Obe said...

Gosh these are wonderful. Here is my attempt.

Joaquin Balboa De Montanna sat on the porch of the Ranger's office, enjoying the shade, and watched the shenanigans going on across the street. Whoever brought a woman along on a freight run was asking for trouble.

Its from my work in progress, A Ranger's Revenge

Gillian Layne said...

Hi Emily! What fun! I love the variety of everyone's lines.

You've already heard the opening line of my 2nd wip. The opening of my GH final is: “Cook cannot complete dinner preparations, my lord. There appears to be a dead body in the kitchen.”

Dalton Diaz said...

Wow, Gillian. Now that's a first line!

Gillian Layne said...

Thanks, Dalton. Actually, "misogynistic bastard" had me laughing out loud. :)

Hey, the new Mistress by Mistake-Maggie Robinson--just showed up in the UPS truck. Here's her first line:
"Honestly, Charlie! You're ruined anyway! What difference does it make?"

That's three, but still...what a great opening! (It's her debut, if you didn't know.)

Donna said...

Hi,

My alter ego already stopped in to visit. I decided I'd come to play also. Here is a line from a MS that is finished and now undergoing a full revision.

Jamie opened her apartment door, desperate for food, a hot shower and sleep, but found devastation and vile threats instead.

Dalton - loved your line and want more, write quickly

Gillian - you cracked me up. Love it.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

Emily, I love your subject line...LOL And I completely agree, I think it's extremely important to hook our readers from the very first line. The first line can set the tone of the book as well as give insight into the author's voice. Here is the first line of my wip, Home Is Where the Heart Is...which I hope doesn't suck now that I've said all that...LOL

"You know, Bianca, I never thought I'd admit this to anyone, but I'm sort of glad to be back."

Louisa Cornell said...

Some intriguing and clever lines here! I'll play!

All of these are from Regency set historical romances.

Here is the opening line from my finished manuscript The Raven's Heart :

“Something is amiss at the Hall.”


And from the manuscript I am putting the last (God, I hope so!) polishing touches on before getting it off to my agent! The Deceit of Desire :

“What does one call a male whore?” Cain Overley muttered as he counted the thick stack of pound notes on the dressing table.

And from a newly started manuscript. His Charming Seductress

No one said anything about snakes.


And finally from the sequel to The Raven's Heart : The Nightingale's Song

The dull shush of her slippers on the thick red Turkish carpet simply refused to convey the magnitude of her seething anger.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

Louisa, I recently judged The Deceit Of Desire in a contest, and I loved it! I definitely remembered that first line. ;-)

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh, thank you, Donna! Aren't you sweet! Cain has been one of my favorite heroes to write!

emeraldbelle said...

Hi! I just joined the Eastside RWA, and thought I'd weigh in with the first line from my WIP:
"She had seen him die before."

EmilyBryan said...

Susan--Oh good! Your heroine isn't the one crying for help! Like that a lot.

EmilyBryan said...

Obe--I like it. I wonder how it would scan if you flip the order of the sentences and started with Whoever brought a woman along on a freight run was asking for trouble? You set up the conflict. Then you can introduce your hero. Just a thought.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--I'm with Dalton. That's a great first line, made great by the unflappable British calm with which it's delivered.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--Thanks for sharing that Maggie Robinson opener. She and I will be writing novellas for the Brava IMPROPER GENTLEMEN anthology (coming July 2011)

EmilyBryan said...

Donna--Good opener. You've set your heroine up for one thing and smacked her with another. Just the sort of "world tilting" we want for the jumping off place of a story.

I agree with you on Dalton's first line. In fiction, I love having mysogyistic bastards to hate. IRL, not so much.

EmilyBryan said...

Donna Marie--Your first line goes well with your title. My only concern is that there seems to be little conflict. She's surprised about being glad to be home. It might be more intrigueing if she confides that she expect to feel glad, but doesn't. Gives her a chance for a growth arc too.

However, I'm sure you've got some conflict headed her way!

EmilyBryan said...

Louisa--"No one said anything about snakes." Shades of Indiana Jones! I love it.

Thanks for sharing.

EmilyBryan said...

Donna Marie--Thank you for being a contest judge. When I first started writing, I entered as many contests as I could afford because the feedback showed me where I needed to improve. You are doing so much good by volunteering your time for that.

This is one of the things I love about the romance world. We all help each other.

I think it's because we write about love.

EmilyBryan said...

Hey EmeraldBelle! Eastside was where I got my start. Please give my girls there a shout out from me.

Your "She had seen him die before" is delicious! Raises so many questions.

Glynis said...

Your Red Pencil sniffed out my opening line. It was hidden among the many words I had scribbled. :)

Kitty shivered from the chill of the night air, and as she did so, she lost her footing.

Thanks.

Obe said...

OH my god! That really punched it up. Thank you !

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--The line may have been buried, but remember, my dear, YOU wrote it.

It's a little like Rodin, who chipped away at everything that wasn't part of the statue he was trying to create. Sometimes we have to do a little chipping of our own.

EmilyBryan said...

Obe--Glad to help!

Glynis said...

LOL, Emily it has changed again! See what you have done to me. *grin*

KK said...

Susan Wiggs has some really great first lines. This is the first line of At the King's Command:

Stephen de Lacey, baron of Wimberleigh, walked into the Royal Bedchamber to find his betrothed in bed with the king.

Jen said...

You came and talked about this at this past R/T Convention. I loved listening to you speak. It helped me so much. Thank you.

The first line of my WIP is:

"Run! Now! Don't look back! Just go!", I screamed at the boys, as I clutched the baby to my chest and ran.

EmilyBryan said...

KK-Well, that's the sort of thing that could ruin your whole day, isn't it?

EmilyBryan said...

Jen-Very exciting. You've dropped us into the middle of something.

However, I'm reminded of what Heather Osborn (the editor from Tor) said: "Every time you use an exclamation point, you kill a kitten."

That said, it sounds like your opener requires them.