No hooks were harmed in the writing of this blog post.
I love a great first line. I enjoy being impressed with the savviness of the author in his or her ability to draw me in. That’s not saying I’ll devour a whole book based on the first bite. I won’t. That’s also not saying that some of the best books I’ve read have not had the best beginnings — because I’m sure some have. But to me, memorable books are the ones whose story, characters and prose reveal an author’s talent. That’s what sticks with me. And what better place to prove that than the first line?
I especially love being hooked by women’s fiction because I see it as a teaching tool for my own writing. What’s in there? How does it work? What are the components? Can I do that too? Hooks, in my opinion, should not just exist on the first page. They must exist throughout the book — at the start and finish of chapters and sections. There can even be a hook at the end of the book — a hook in the sense that it makes the reader want to read more of that author’s work — or something that leads the reader to contemplate what may have happened in the unwritten next chapter.
But for the sake of today, I’m thinking about the very first line of a book of women’s fiction. There are a number of blog posts scattered around the internet that focus on beginnings. There are books that do the same thing. But rarely do these focus solely on women’s fiction.
Which is why we’re here.
In women’s fiction hooks I think there’s a balance that should be struck in order to fulfill the need of women’s fiction readers. Revealing inklings of character work very well in a character-driven novel, but there has to be story notes woven into those few words as well. If the thrust of the first line is what instead of who, it should still hint at a character that will engage the reader. Women’s fiction is usually about relationships in one way or another — so perhaps the best first lines show us a part of a relationship, be it past, present, future or even imagined.
The best beginnings stick with me even when the rest of the book does not. I marvel at a well-crafted hook where ever it pops up. I’m partial to short paragraphs at the beginning of books. I think even with a hook – it gives me mental space to digest.
What makes a hook? Something that grabs on and doesn’t let go. Certainly books ebb and flow – even paragraphs within a page-turner will give the reader a moment to catch his or her breath – but if that first line makes me think or smile or gasp – wow – I am hooked.
Are first lines important to you? Do you like to be grabbed from the get-go when you read women’s fiction? I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped reading a book because I didn’t love the first sentence – but loving it is better, don’t you think?
How did you approach your own first line? Do you write the kind of hook you like to read in women’s fiction. Is it more or less important in this genre than in any other? (I’m asking a lot of questions, I know, but this isn’t a soapbox, it’s a conversation!)
These first lines stuck with me. There are many more – this is just a sample!
First lines from women’s fiction I’ve read and loved:
1. “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.”
First off, what I like about this line is the humor. It makes me blurt out HA but then it niggles at me with a sense of sadness. And it makes me wonder who on earth would do this — and why. And I can picture it. Can’t you? Yes, all that in one line. Props to Cathy Lamb, this is the first line of Julia’s Chocolates – her first published novel.
2. “I wasn’t surprised when mama asked me to save her life.”
This is the first line in Randy Susan Meyers’ The Murderer’s Daughters. I swallowed TMD whole when it first came out, but didn’t think of it as women’s fiction – I thought of it more as a family drama – a book that would appeal to anyone at all – not just women (I assume this is a compliment or at least I mean it as one although it is convoluted, I agree). But I have seen it referred to as women’s fiction – and the protagonists are sisters. And since we’ve determined on this blog (the arbiter of all things women’s fic, wouldn’t you say?) that women’s fiction is a broad umbrella, I’m calling it that to call attention to that first line. I mean, truly. What do I like about it? Who’s the “I”? I must know. What on earth happened that the mama needs her life saved? And what happened before that that the narrator wasn’t surprised? It’s full of questions and mystery yet it’s also very direct. Ten words with the impact of ten thousand.
First line from a friend’s WIP:
3. “Josip stepped out of the farthest corner of the restaurant, where the cigarette smoke was as thick as a dust storm.”
As I was writing this blog post I discovered that Pamela Toler’s first line — with the rest of the first paragraph — won Honorable Mention over at Tartitude. No wonder then that it worked for me! This first line of Pamela’s WIP, Balkan Stomp, conjures up a very vivid image for me. There’s mystery about Josip is, who’s watching Josip and where and when could this be taking place? We all bring our personal experiences to reading and I live in Illinois (as does Pamela, my friend and CP) where there is no smoking in restaurants — at all. So another question to be answered by reading the book!
Two books on my TBR list:
4. “Beneath the surface of any problem, if you scrabble a bit, you’ll find a secret.”
This first line is from The Bird House by Kelly Simmons.
5. “When I was six years old, I found a baby in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria.”
This is the first line from The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel.
I happen to know more about these books based on the recommendations of friends, but even based on the first lines alone – I’m hooked!
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What I found when going to through my Read It/Loved It and To Be Read piles is that not all books have singular first lines that hook. The hook for my novel, The Glass Wives, is two sentences. Sometimes there are two are three lines or a paragraph that go together to create that hook experience. We’ll discuss those another time — because now I have a list!
Share your favorite first lines — other author’s and your own — whether you’re published or not quite or just toying with some ideas. Comment on each other’s — say what works and what it evokes for you.
C’mon — if you add your own first line(s) — not paragraphs, not pages — in the comments, I’ll add mine! 😉