Baiting Your Hook
As a crime reader, writer and reviewer one of the things that interests me most is that all important first paragraph. A good one grabs me straight away while a bad one turns the air a kind of sweary blue colour.
A good opening paragraph draws the reader into the book and immerses them in the story from the get go. Small errors later in the novel are forgiven or ignored because the reader is so engrossed in the story. Beware though, when it’s bad the reader may never make it far enough to read all the really good bits of your novel or story.
Mundane everyday routine is a serious no no in any part of a novel and doubly so in the opening chapter let alone that all-important first paragraph. What the reader wants is for something to happen and it’s gotta be exciting. We want a kidnap, violence or the discovery of a body to get our pulses racing. Introspection, routine and banality are not what crime readers want to start off with. Sure, use them as character displaying tools later on to round out your novel but wait until the reader cares about the characters.
Take for example these two opening lines I’ve just made up. One should tickle your interesting bits while the other is blander than white fish with plain rice.
- Detective John Harrison washed the plate, returned it to the cupboard and trudged exhausted up the stairs. Creeping into his children’s bedrooms he kissed them both goodnight before undressing in the master bedroom. The hall light shone onto his wife’s beautiful face and he was tempted to wake her, to tell her of his long boring day shuffling endless forms. Deciding against it he slipped beneath the quilt and fell asleep in seconds.
- The severed head of a child bounced off my windscreen as I pursued the Corvette. Blood splattered the now starred glass. Two months I had been chasing the McAvoy brothers. Their paedophile ring was going to get shut down. Today! Reaching beneath my jacket I un-holstered the Sig Sauer I always carried.
The first instance is to my mind bland and dull. It shows Harrison as being mostly desk bound and any cop who lives at home with a wife and kids is unlikely to be interesting to a reader unless he has a double life. This could only be used as an opening paragraph if the next paragraph was the one where the action kicked off.
The second instance starts you right in the action with a car chase, murder and paedophilia (surely the most despicable crime) there is also the prospect of revenge or vigilante action and the pulling of the gun announces its imminent arrival.
Get it right and you’re onto a winner right away. Get it wrong and you are struggling to retain your reader’s interest.
Please share your thoughts as to the opening lines that have grabbed you by the throat and forced you to keep reading or the ones which have repelled you.
Morgen: We often use sentence starts in our writing groups and it’s always amazing how varied authors go using the same thing. From a reading point of view, if a hook doesn’t work and I have to read it a couple of times to work out what’s going on, it doesn’t fill me with confidence for the rest of the book. Thank you, Graham.
Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland.
An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer and interviewer for the well respected review site Crimesquad.com for over three years.
He has three collections of short stories available as Kindle downloads and has featured in anthologies such as True Brit Grit and Action: Pulse Pounding Tales as well as appearing on several popular ezines.
You can find Graham via…
- Twitter – @GrahamSmith1972
- Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/Grahamsmithauthor
- Blog – http://grahamsmithwriter.blogspot.com
- Amazon Author Pages – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Graham-Smith/e/B006FTIBBU and http://www.amazon.com/Graham-Smith/e/B006FTIBBU
- Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/grahamsmith
And his books via…
- Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gutshots-Ten-Blows-Abdomen-ebook/dp/B0089YIOJS and http://www.amazon.com/Gutshots-Ten-Blows-Abdomen-ebook/dp/B0089YIOJS
- Harry Charters Chronicles – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harry-Charters-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B007712QB6 and http://www.amazon.com/Harry-Charters-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B007712QB6
- Eleven The Hardest Way – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eleven-The-Hardest-Way-ebook/dp/B00771BMJ8 and http://www.amazon.com/Eleven-The-Hardest-Way-ebook/dp/B00771BMJ8
- Off the Record 2: At the Movies – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Off-Record-Movies-Charity-Anthology/dp/1291093672
- True Brit Grit – http://www.amazon.co.uk/True-Brit-Grit-Anthology-ebook/dp/B007Y0FBNU
- Action: Pulse Pounding Tales – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Action-Pulse-Pounding-Tales-ebook/dp/B008082QP6
- Flashy Shorts – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flashy-Shorts-ebook/dp/B008QQM4IQ
Graham is also running ‘Crime and Publishment’, a fantastic weekend of crime writing courses (I can say that because I was at the first one last March). 2014’s author tutors are Chris Ewan, Zoe Sharp and Michael Malone. Darren Laws of Caffeine Nights will be teaching attendees how to pitch to a publisher and will also be accepting pitches. More information on Crime and Publishment can be found at http://www.crimeandpublishment.co.uk and https://www.facebook.com/CrimePublishment.
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