Tricia Sutton wrote an interesting post about opening hooks a few days ago. She wrote down the first sentence out of 10 books, and asked which ones interested her blog readers enough to want to read more of the story. Only 1 caught my interest.
Since my own novel’s opening is causing me problems, I thought I’d copy Tricia’s idea and take a look at some of the first sentences in the genre I’m working in—suspense. I randomly chose 6 of the suspense novels I own, and looked at the first sentence. Here they are:
“I told you this was a great place.” First sentence of the prologue of Killer Dreams, by Iris Johansen
“Embraced by stone, steeped in silence, I sat at the high window as the third day of the week surrendered to the fourth.” First sentence of Chapter 1 of Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz
“The one called the Gavel waited patiently.” First sentence of the prologue of In Silence, by Erica Spindler
“Ten-year-old Liza was dreaming her favorite dream, the one about the day when she was six years old, and she and Daddy were at the beach, in New Jersey, at Spring Lake.” First sentence of the prologue of No Place Like Home, by Mary Higgins Clark
“The cutting edge of a winter storm made the old house sigh and moan as if someone was dying.” First sentence of the prologue of Always Time to Die, by Elizabeth Lowell
“It began when Mary and Brad Johnstone went to the psychic fair and happened upon the tent offering readings.” First sentence of the prologue of Deadly Harvest, by Heather Graham
What I found interesting wasn’t so much the first sentences as the fact that 5 out of 6 used prologues, which I’ve frequently read are not popular. Each of these books was published within the last 5 years, so I don’t think it’s a matter of being outdated. Perhaps prologues just fit the suspense genre better than others.
Getting back to the original topic of opening hooks, I have to admit these didn’t really affect my decision to buy the books. These are authors I’m familiar with already, so a quick perusal of the back cover or jacket flap to see what the story is about would have been enough motivation for me to plunk down my money. I’m more likely to read a few paragraphs before buying a book by an unknown author, but I still wouldn’t judge one by the first sentence.
The point of what I’m saying here is that I think many of us worry too much about our novel opening. What appeals to one person won’t necessarily seem like a great hook to everyone else, and there are other factors that affect someone’s decision to read a book. A great opening line is helpful, but it isn’t going to be enough to keep anyone reading if the rest of the story stinks.
The important thing, in my opinion, is to write the best story we can, with an opening that suggests what’s ahead, followed by sentences that each flow naturally into the next one. Hooking the reader with every sentence will work better than counting on one sentence or paragraph to do the job.
Do you read the first sentence, the first paragraph, or several paragraphs when deciding whether or not to read a book? If the opening pages of a book you start reading don’t interest you, how likely are you to finish reading the rest of the book? Do books in the genre you read most usually have a prologue? Do you buy books by certain authors without bothering to see what the story is about?