Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stuff about openings, hooks and random odds and ends...

Yeah, I'm not really feeling the title this time. Maybe because this is one of the few questions that stumped me. I thought I'd find a pattern.

In a sense, I did, but it wasn't what I expected.

What keeps a reader engrossed in your book or makes an editor/agent ask for more?

I put up a post on RD, asking for favorite openings and why they worked, but the responses split almost equally into four. Interesting character description, a situation that makes you want to know what happens next, a strong hook, and voice.

Voice was one I found particularly interesting because much as I admire Guy Gavriel Kay, I can't get into him "because" of his voice, and even Hambly--one of my favorite authors, is a hard-read unless I'm in the mood.

Halfway through the responses I realized I had asked the wrong question. The right question was--

When you found a new-to-you author you loved, why did that opening work for you?

I went and looked at all the writers I'd found--not people I've read all my life, but people I found browsing through Barnes and Noble or the library.

I like the library because I can "try" people without an investment, so I'm more willing to take a chance. Books I pay for have to be good. If I'm going to shell out eight dollars, I want a keeper.

Recently, I bought a A Taste of Shadows. It drew me in--for the first three pages, and let me go. The same way with Waiting for the Apocalypse. Good plot, decent hook--sagging middle and awright ending. Not something I'd read again.

Illona Andrews captured me for about two books. And in some ways, maybe this post is also about what turns me off. It's not that she's not a fantastic writer, but--while I like urban fantasy, I don't like gross stuff that sticks in my mind. I'm a writer. My imagination is vivid enough.

Probably why I don't watch or read horror, and can't stand dark romantic suspense. In The Professional Leon says, "No women, no children," and I agree with him.

The world sucks enough.

I agree with the character opening. Then again--I agree with the "what happens next" opening. I don't like the hook, because I've read too many stories that hook me and fizzle.

Not a perfect answer--and not generally useful. But openings vary depending on what you're trying to do. We all try to hook people, because that's what we've been taught to do.

Best first line. Best first page. What's your hook?

I think editors do look at the first line, but they also look at general impressions. Is there white space? Does the writer need a grammar refresher? Is it cliched or back story?

Is there a storm moving in? (guilty)
Is the hero/heroine traveling? (guilty)
Is the hero/heroine thinking about the situation? (ouch, yes--guilty)

Maybe the best opening is the character doing something that makes you wonder what happens next opening? I like it because it puts a strong focus on the people in your story and draws the reader in.

And that--I think is the key, not how you do it, because that's a matter of style, but involvement. Getting your reader involved. Making them think. making them wonder "what next?"

Start at the point of change? Maybe.

If you make your character interesting enough, if you engage your reader's brain/sympathy/curiosity, there's a greater chance the reader will turn the page.

Why is this character here? What's he doing? Why is he doing it? Question, question, question--tired=stream of conscious, lol.

I did a series of openings using the same situation and people, but in all four ways. I'll post them tomorrow. Tired=maybe a nap?


Julia Smith said...

Ooo - I can't wait to see your four opening styles. Love that idea.

Kaige said...

I can never get past page one of an Anne Rice book. Never. I suspect it's voice/style that holds me back, but to me it's just unreadable.

I bought into the buzz around Tessa Dare's new trilogy. However, she grabbed me in both openings and held on tight. Her sense of humor was a big part of it, but just wondering why the character is there and what's going to happen next. Now, to figure out how to find these kinds of openings without chopping off the first three chapters ;)

Glad you're feeling better, but when I had the flu in June it was a good two weeks or more before I felt like I was really over it and not exhausted any more.

deanna said...

I hope you get to rest some.

"I'm a writer. My imagination is vivid enough." I really relate to that, and I may quote you on it somewhere. Okay? :o)

Unhinged said...

I can’t wait to read the examples, either!

What hooks me first and foremost is voice. Next would be characters I can like and/or identify with; AND an immediate reason to keep me reading. I’ve read character-driven stories with weak plots, and I’ve read plot-driven stories with characters who keep me at arm’s length—but only because I liked the writer’s voice enough to do so.

I’m too lazy to go after examples. Besides, I’m sure you know what I mean anyway, lol.

jodi said...

Thank you, Julia. Maybe I'm better when I'm grogged up on co-tylenol. :)

You know, Kaige? I'm still dragging, but the entire state of WA is like a mini petri dish, everyone cooking up flu strains and mutated strains makes me queasy everytime someone coughs near me.

Deanna, of course, "okay?" :)

lol, Unhingey--I like that you make me think, because I can immediately think of keeper books I have that aren't very well thought out, but the voice kept me reading. Or plot driven books where the voice kept me reading.

like The Crystal Gryphon by Andre Norton. Love her voice. It's kind of a goofy plot, though.

And any of the Clive Cusslers. Sometimes I wonder what Dirk is doing in those books, but Cussler's voice is just cool.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Huh. I have a difficult time with openings, as you know.
I'm guilty of EVERY one of those no nos.