Monday, March 1, 2010

The Narrative Hook

Open bookImage by Honou via Flickr
Lately I have been having trouble finding time and energy to come up with new material for my novel, and the last chapter I wrote took me almost twice as long to finish as all of my other chapters. Finishing this particular chapter was a little bit of a milestone for my project and marked reaching the half-way point. So, to celebrate my hard work I decided to take a little break. Now I didn't want to stop the project completely because it really is something I enjoy, but I did want to take a break so I could come back with fresh ideas for the second half. In order to keep up with my progress and also take a refreshing break I decided to go back to my first chapter and really think about my book's opening.

I haven't really looked back at it since I wrote wrote it  a while back, and re-reading those first few paragraphs over again really made me think about just how important they are. The first chapter, or sentence even, is what draws the reader in. It makes them interested in your book and, essentially, keeps them reading through to the end.

Think back to all of your favorite opening lines. Here are some of mine:

1. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
2. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
3. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
4. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
5. It was a pleasure to burn.
6. It was love at first sight.
7. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

All of these lines had some sort of narrative hook or method of drawing the reader in. Narrative hooks are the author's pick-up lines, and cheesy cliche's aren't going to get you the phone number. Whether it was Jane Austen's blunt honesty that made you want to read on to find out why she believed as she did or a simple teaser making you wonder just what advice F. Scott Fitzgerald's character got from his father, you wanted to read on, to find the answers you were looking for.

After reading my opener again I realized just how much work it needed. A strong opening can make for a strong novel, and my first sentence just wasn't cutting it. So I looked again at my favorite book openers and went back to the drawing board. I guess the lesson I learned, and want to share, is simple. Don't be afraid to make changes, but most of all, don't forget to objectively examine your work to discover when changes need to be made.
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