Saturday, May 27, 2017

First Hooks

I've read many books on writing, and almost inevitably emphasis is placed on the first sentence and the first chapter. Supposedly these 'hooks' grab the reader and keep them reading.

The first chapter is also the material agents and publishing house editors request to determine their interest in a particular manuscript, so those first pages are very important.

While I believe the first chapter must engage readers, I believe the whole story must be a continuing series of hooks, and that the first chapter isn't the only measure of a story. The entire story must work together to keep a reader engaged, and it can fall apart at any moment. The writer essentially borrows the reader's imagination for a while and the goal is to make their time spent satisfying, and hopefully memorable. I've slogged through a few first chapters where I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep reading only to discover my fascination increasing with a building intrigue of ‘what happens next and how will it be resolved’ in the story in later chapters.

At the same time I know it is important to try to engage the reader from the very start, to get them involved in an emotional or unique situation that engages their curiosity. There must be millions of ways to do this because every author handles it differently in every book they write.

Yet that first chapter has much to accomplish besides setting the beginning of an intriguing plot. It has to introduce the main character(s) and begin to establish the setting, which is also aspects of trying to satisfy the reader. While every author is different, this is also true of readers. Each reader's expectations differ in what they want from reading. They also all act differently to beginnings. Readers invest hours of time reading a novel and often make their minds up on whether to continue reading or not very quickly.

If there were a guaranteed method for gaining readers’ interests, it would mean a very predictable start to all stories. This method would most likely defeat the very objective it was made to achieve.

I believe the author has to determine what reader reaction they want to achieve in their beginning chapter: An intriguing moment? A pivotal moment? A deeply emotional situation bound to change a character’s life? In Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale, this chapter is the main character’s ordinary world and the moment where they are called to adventure (any challenge leading to a life-changing event presented in the story). This is the tack I always try to consider when I start a new story, and yes, I write primarily science fiction and fantasy, but I consider these genres the new folklore and mythology of this age.

To read other viewpoints on this topic, please visit these author's blogs:

A.J. Maguire
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Anne Stenhouse
Helena Fairfax
Marci Baun
Victoria Chatham
Rachael Kosinski
Connie Vines
Beverley Bateman


  1. Hi Rhobin, I like the thought that Sci Fi and Fantasy are the new folklore. Also, I agree we need to keep presenting fresh hooks as the story progresses. anne stenhouse

    1. Well, I guess my mind wanders in strange directions so scifi/fantasy is a good avenue for me. You have to admit folklore has many different realities.

  2. I agree, Robin. Stories are a series of hooks that continue the promise of the first one until you reach the end...whatever that may be. Whatever that first hook promises must be fulfilled, though. It's very disappointing as a reader to start a book with one premise and have it end with another.

    Thanks for organizing this. Five years of great blog tours. :)

  3. I'm with Marci and you on the idea that a book is a series of hooks. I can't tell you how many books I have on my kindle that show as partly read. I find a moment to curl up with a good book and when I open it, I realize the book I was reading last wasn't all that intriguing and I argue with myself. Do I continue to slog through it, or go back to the menu of books on my device and pick a different one that might be better? As for writing, I'm more pantser than plotter and one of the things that always bothers me about outlines and plotting is that the presenters, along with a number of my closest writing buddies seem obsessed with chapters being equal in length. But my hybrid style of writing is a little different. I have no idea where my chapter is going to end, but as I write, I'll finish typing a line of dialog or thought and suddenly realize this is where the chapter needs to end because if I stop here, I leave the reader wondering - and hopefully compelled to turn the page and start reading the next chapter to find out what came next.

    1. Well, I am a plotter, but I must admit that during the actual writing the characters can take off on their own and change things.

  4. That series of hooks image has me bleeding all over the place...
    That's why I love English, the most bizarre language I know of.
    However, I do agree with the concept. I said much the same thing in my contribution.
    Rhobin, you and I must watch it: we think too alike, and since I am known as an oddball, what does that say about you?

    Have fun,

    1. I've already accepted my oddness, Bob, in its most everyday form, but I'm always heartened to learn others share the affliction. And yes, a series of hooks does seem a little bloody just to capture the of those fishing metaphors.

  5. Hi Rhobin, I love that idea that a book is a series of hooks. Since I've started taking on editing/manuscript appraisals I've come to realise just how few writers understand this. Writing an entire novel that grips the reader isn't easy, but absolutely have to keep giving the reader reasons for wanting to read on.
    Thanks for organising another great topic. Happy 5th birthday!

  6. Good post, Rhobin. I agree about the book being a series of hooks. I try for one at the end of each chapter. And I love your point about the author determining what reader reaction they want to achieve in their beginning chapter. Then they develop a hook accordingly.

  7. Rhobin, I love the idea of chapter one being referred to as the "call to adventure." :) Everyone has a different idea of how a book should start, and the promise of the extraordinary calling the main character away from the ordinary is always a good way to go.