Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Hook

There's a lot of debate about the most critical part of a book. Some writers say it's the first three pages that have to be the most compelling. Others say the first five while others would argue it's the first 16 lines. I say it's the very first sentence. The thinking is that if you can't hook a reader by that time, she will have probably closed your book and moved onto the next.

Sure, there's the title and the book jacket. (Or your query letter, if you're submitting your manuscript to agents/editors) Those are certainly hooks, too. They will tease the reader to open your book and read some more. But, in my opinion, if you don't convey enough intrigue, enough emotion in that very first sentence, especially in YA, the reader will have probably moved on. That sentence needs to reach its hands off the page and grab the reader by the collar.

When I get an idea in my head about a book, I can usually write very quickly. I become like a pitbull that can't let go until all the words are poured out onto paper. But, I'll take my sweet time with that very first sentence. I've been known to agonize over it for weeks, maybe even a month, making sure it's perfect. And sometimes it pops into my head at the weirdest times--like in the middle of the night or when I'm driving my car. Sometimes it's long; sometimes it's only a few words. It all depends. But it's got to be just right. Like the porridge.

What about you? What's the most compelling part of a book for you? As a writer and a reader?

10 comments:

John said...

Definitely has to grab on the first page, no matter the genre.

Bookworm said...

Liz, how do you feel about Prologues?

Liz Fichera said...

Bookworm - I'm not a huge fan of long Prologues (e.g. more than 1 page). It kind of depends on your story and how you're trying to weave the reader into it. If you're going to use one, make sure it's necessary and intriguing. That said, I don't agree with the people who think they're never necessary either. I've written one book with a prologue and one without it. The very first book I wrote had a long prologue and that book hasn't seen the light of day for very good reason. :-)

Suzanne said...

I usually give a book a little more chance than that. I can pretty much tell after the first few pages, though, whether I'll like it. You can tell a lot about a book by then.

April said...

I tend to agree--the first few lines of a book can tell a lot about whether or not I'll like a book. As a writer, those are the most critical for me, too.

Anonymous said...

In YA, even the book cover is critical.

Chris said...

I usually last at least through the first chapter before deciding whether to proceed, as long as the chapter isn't more than 10-15 pages long.

Francie said...

Like you, I spend a lot of time on the first line, the first page, especially. I think this important regardless of the genre.

Ally said...

I write to grab my readers/editors by the first page. Absolutely critical.

Robert said...

Agreed. First line has to be killer.