Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hooking the reader

One thing I think I do well as a writer is "hook" the reader in the first paragraph. I was thinking about this today, and I believe I learned my technique by reading Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein's later plots tended to spin in aimless circles, his characterization was lacking, and his interesting ideas were often buried under a landslide of too much philosophy-- but the man could hook a reader. Some terrific examples of Heinlein's openings:

"Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith" - Stranger in a Strange Land (first published version)

"All my life I've wanted to go to Earth. Not to live, of course-- just to see it. As everybody knows, Terra is a wonderful place to visit but not to live. Not truly suited to human habitation." - Podkayne of Mars

"'We need you to kill a man.'" - The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

"I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not." - To Sail Beyond the Sunset

"As I left the Kenya Beanstalk capsule he was right on my heels. He followed me through the door leading to Customs, Health, and Immigration. As the door contracted behind him I killed him." - Friday

I love writing hooks, but some people prefer books that don't zoom off the starting line quite so fast. As a reader, which do you prefer? And if you're a writer, do your books tend to have a strong opening hook, or do you start a little more slowly?


  1. There are way too many books out there for an author to risk not hooking me in straight away. I prefer to jump straight into the story.

  2. Hmmm. Since Heinlein's one of my faves, I must like the hooky openers. But then, I also stuck with Zelazny, the author who can't seem to get to the beginning for the first two pages. I guess I can appreciate a good hook and a slower start both.

    In my own stories, I haven't really analyzed which approach I take. I do like to start with something happening, but that's not quite the same as a hook. - Charlene, who must go think about this.

  3. Love a good hook. Any author that can real me in right away has got me for the rest of the story.
    I try my best to hook a writer in right away too. In fact, the first line of the fantasy I am working on has been stuck in my head for quite some time:
    As I write this, the first rays of dawn are peeking through the curtains of my cottage and the unicorns are running wild in the hills.
    Next my heroine asks,
    What’s that? You don’t believe in unicorns?
    Then she goes on to tell of how she didn't either until she rode one bareback. I think it's a cool hook, well at least I hope it is