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This assault on good taste and English letters is concerned with the fine art of creating attention grabbing hooks in the opening lines of your next Pushcart Prize winning short story or Nobel Prize contending novel.
HOW TO BE A HAPPY HOOKER
by Bill Fullerton
For the benefit of any unsuspecting reader, let me state now that this is NOT an article about how one might become a contented courtesan or smiling strumpet. Nope, not even a titillated trollop. As for the Gil Elvgren portrait, it is, of course, simply his skillful depiction of a struggling youug writer so destitute she can't afford work clothes, honest.
Truth be told, this assault on good taste and English letters is concerned with the fine art of creating attention grabbing hooks in the opening lines of your next Pushcart Prize winning short story or Nobel Prize contending novel.
The biggest single rule those eager to become happy hookers should always keep in mind. There is NO single rule that can guarantee success. Not one. There are, however, some guidelines that might be of some help, maybe. Here are five.
1. The mission of those first few words at the beginning of your story is to intrigue--not inform--your readers, and keep them reading.
Don't fall into the trap of using that priceless piece of writing space to describe people, places or things that can be mentioned later. Consider the following opening line by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." One Hundred Years of Solitude
The reader doesn't know who the Colonel is, or any of the other W's (what, where, when, why). But ask yourself, would including any of that information have made the sentence stronger and the "hook" more compelling?
2. Instead of falling back on description, try to open with action. That doesn't mean you need to begin with a car chase, shoot-out or at the climax (so to speak) of a hot, steaming love scene. There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of those. Just remember that action doesn't have to mean frantic activity. Here are a couple examples:
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." 1984, by George Orwell
"They shoot the white girl first." Paradise, by Toni Morrison
3. High on the list of things to avoid describing is the weather. Granted, the opening to 1984 includes a brief mention of the climate. But even if you pull off an Orwellian caliber job, editors, agents, reviewers and other such literary flotsam and jetsam seem predisposed to not liking the practice. No doubt this goes back to the infamous opening line from the novel, Paul Clifford, by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
4. One of the better ways to intrigue and thereby "hook" readers is to begin with a question. It doesn't have to be explicit. In fact, implied questions often work best. For instance:
"Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not on the subconscious level where savage things grow." Carrie, by Stephen King
"There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." Voyage of the Dawn Trader, by C S Lewis
5. If you feel compelled to use a direct quote, try to make it short, as in, very. The problem with any quote is your reader has no idea who is speaking or the circumstances. If the speaker rambles on for several lines, once "all is revealed" readers may stop to go back and re-read the quote. Here's one example of a great short-quote opening:
"Take my camel, dear," said Aunt Dot as she climbed down from the animal on her return from High Mass. The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay
Whatever the genre or format, writing is writing. With all writing, to quote the great Dooley Wilson, "The fundamental things apply." One of the most import "fundamental" is to create strong openings. For when it comes to cranking out successful, commercial fiction, there are no unbreakable rules, EXCEPT, don't bore your reader--hook their interest from the beginning and never let go.