3 Comments

  1. Elena Gleason
    August 6, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    Personally, I like stories that don’t bother to ease you into things–I much prefer being dumped into the middle of the conflict. I need something startling, bizarre, or action-packed in the first paragraph. I’m tough to hook though. I was a bit of a holdout when we did the hook exercise at Alpha, often one of the last to raise my hand.

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  2. Catherine Krahe
    August 6, 2010 @ 11:15 am

    I’m not always in favor of the Alpha hook exercise; like the Bulwer-Lyttons and Lyttle Lyttons, it favors jokes and punchlines more than a real beginning.

    I hate the, “I have a point, I promise!” explosion-then-flashback. It especially doesn’t work with short stories– seriously, you have four thousand words and you don’t trust yourself to hold the reader’s interest through the first thirty-five hundred? Not all interest is explosions. Entire books have been written without explosions, and they hold readers like crazy.

    Hold your readers with good prose, clear ideas, and general competence. I’ve read books where, in the first paragraph, I felt something in my mind relax and say, “She knows what she’s doing.” It didn’t matter what was happening on the page; I was finishing that book because the author had won my trust with basic sentence-level competence.

    So much of a good beginning is, “don’t screw up.” It’s easier to point out bad beginnings and how they fail than to dissect a good one. I think that the Red Line of Death is a better indication of a beginning’s quality than the Alpha hook thing for that same reason.

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  3. Amy Treadwell
    August 6, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    Rachel, this was a great overview. I especially agree with trimming your first scene/paragraph/page. I almost always have to do that.
    About Cassie’s point about writing that pulls you in by its competence: Ender’s Game is a good example of how this can be captivating. What pulled me in was the tight, intimate 3rd person pov. (Granted, the first scene is also troubling and central to the plot, but the pov is what hooked me.)
    I think the same thing can be done with ‘atmosphere’ but you want to be extra careful with giving too much description at the expense of action if you choose this strategy. Some subgenres are more open to hooks via atmosphere. Humor is one. Another is gothic mystery. It can also work well for period pieces, such as steam punk, historical fiction, and alternate history.

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