Friday, April 2, 2010


My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973.
These first sentences from Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones, knocked me to the floor. Dynamite, don't you think? Immediately we know who we're reading about, in what perspective, and why. And the why, wow. That past tense is chilling.
All of that is Sebold's hook. A hook is a device especially in music or writing that catches the attention.* In this case, just two sentences had it.
Sebold's hook didn't allow me room for pause. I was off, into the novel at breakneck pace, into Susie's narrative. And I'm not done reading it yet, but still, I feel that hook. Hers is one I'll refer to as I work with my own.
Think about the hooks that have most grabbed you. What made them work? Were they tight and concise, like Sebold's? Did they build over paragraphs or pages?
Have you written an effective one?
Share with us.
*as defined by Merriam-Webster Online


Jessica Nelson said...

I think, maybe, I have an effective one. :-)
I love a good hook. IMO, a good hook allows the reader who suffers from editoritus to become immersed in the book and forget about critting it.
I really, really want to read Sebold's book. I've heard so much about it.

Terri Tiffany said...

You are finally reading that book! I felt the exact same way when I read those lines. FLoored me too! I want to be able to write a good hook like that!

Tom Stephenson said...

What were the first lines of Nabokov's (greatly misunderstood) 'Lolita? I seem to remember they were fairly hookish.

septembermom said...

"It might be most dramatically effective to begin the tale at the moment when Arnold Baffin rang me up and said, "Bradley could you come round here please. I think that I have just killed my wife." That's how Iris Murdoch's "The Black Prince" opens. Murdoch always knew how to get the reader's attention quickly. I think she dangles many hooks for her readers in her stories.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh, I adore hooks. Coming up with them and reading them. I like Enger's, "From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with..." from Peace Like a River.

A quick read, that Lovely Bones.

~ Wendy

Katie Ganshert said...

I need to read that book. It's really gotten great reviews. That is an excellent hook.

I think I have an effective one for the third novel: The summer I turned twelve, I tried to kill myself.

I think that's sort of intriguing.

Rachel Burton said...

I've read the first few pages of that one in a bookstore - it was intense. I've been meaning to read the whole thing. Let us know what you think when you finish!

Kara said...

I love the hook! In fact, I think I am best at writng a hook but it's the rest of the story I struggle with, lol. I think I was meant to be an advertising or marketing exec:)
I love the first line of Lovely bones, it is an amazing book.

Tamika: said...

I love hooks!

Mine: "It's hard to live with yourself after you kill someone."

Susan R. Mills said...

That hook in The Lovely Bones is one of my all time favorites. Who would be able to stop reading after that? I'm working on my hook right now. I hope to get it even half as good as that one.

Lorna said...

Great hook, and great question :) I'm going to be on the lookout for great hooks when selecting my next novel...

patti said...

Great hooks are the ticket, aren't they?

Love 'em.

Don't know if mine are so hookish. I try, though!!!


Travis Erwin said...

I just finished reading Magic Hour. Thanks again for sending it.

Unknown said...

I love a good hook, unfortunately I can't think of any books that have hooked me (not that there haven't been any... my mind just wanders! lol)

Angie Muresan said...

That is one of the most powerful hooks ever. I can't wait to read your book, though. Happy Easter, Janna!

Deb Shucka said...

Isn't is the most amazing book? I agree about her hook, and think a great one is really hard to do. Even harder to write a story that lives up to a good hook.

Analisa said...

I remember those lines when I read it. Seems like it was over 5 years ago. Is that possible? Yes a good hook will pull you in...but the story like that one will keep you on the hook.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Yes, Siebold's words reeled me in like a fat fish. I couldn't put the book down and made the mistake of watching the movie, which couldn't TOUCH the elegant writing. Too bad.

I can't remember for sure, but I think that in the Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver says, "When I first saw Africa, I though it was a cloud." I don't have the book here, it is in my cottage in Maine, but I think those are the first words.

Provocative post. I love it. And yes, I think I wrote a good hook on my middle grade novel, but my business manager won't let me share it. DARN.

All joys to you and yours,

Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

Melanie Hooyenga said...

I'm surprised you haven't read TLB before this. I LOVED it.

Kathryn Magendie said...

You know - I've read books with stunning hooks like that one and ones that start off with something really simple ...but somehow something in the character kept me reading . . . of course, maybe the hook was there and I just didn't think of it as a hook! :-) But, some authors are really good at that hook right off, as Sebold was in her book!

* said...

For me, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 did that, I was off and running with the first few lines. And then savoring them again and again.