Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hooks: The First Page

Myth – Your Heroine Must Be Proactive

I’m continuing my topic on ‘Hooks’. Last Thurs I showed you examples of good and not-so-good first lines but I wasn’t sure about copyright laws so I used all my own writings. This week I wanted to use actual published books so I went through my book collection, found a dozen worthy First Page hooks and sent out a pile of emails. The following excerpts are from the authors who responded. Brenda Coulter who has a website full of writing resources, said in her email, ‘using a couple of paragraphs as an illustration for teaching purposes, would be covered under the U.S. Copyright Law's doctrine of fair use.’ And then Michele Dunaway said, ‘Harlequin requires you keep any excerpt to under 750 words, or about 3 pages...’ I’m well within those guidelines, so, now that I have the green light, let’s find some interesting first page hooks and maybe debunk a myth while we’re at it.

1. Excerpt – Legally Tender by Michele Dunaway, Harlequin American Romance

First line: She had never felt so incompetent in her life.

Second para: This time it wasn’t because she’d burned the Thanksgiving turkey. No. This time she’d ruined Halloween.

Last para: Christina blinked and glanced down at her eight-year-old daughter. Bella sported black cat whiskers. A beaded black headband complete with furry black-and- pink cat ears held her dark-blond hair away from her…

This is a good example of writing out of the box because we’re told that a heroine must be proactive vice reactive especially on the first page. Yet this first page clearly has the heroine in a reactive situation. So what's the hook here? Well, will the heroine be able to redeem herself in her daughter’s eyes? And is she always 'getting into trouble' or just on special occasions?

2. Excerpt – At His Command by Brenda Coulter, Homecoming Heroes, Love Inspired

First line: Texas attorney Jake Hopkins was severely allergic to two things: peanuts and a sweet young army nurse named Madeline Bright…

Second para: Jake knew better…All he had to do was clap eyes on the chestnut-haired, blue-eyed beauty and his pulse raced, his throat closed up and his brain stalled out…

Last para: It had been four years since the sudden onset of his peanut allergy, and in that time he’d learned to give a wide berth to…

This time it’s the hero in a reactive situation. He’s on the defensive and the heroine hasn’t even appeared yet. We know how he’s feeling and I want to know if Maddie feels the same. I think this scenario works very well. Actually, is it just the heroine who’s supposed to be proactive?

3. Excerpt – The Surgeon’s Meant-to-Be Bride by Amy Andrews, Harlequin Medical Romance

First line: The divorce papers burnt a hole in her hand as she carried the large yellow envelope to her soon-to-be ex-husband’s sleeping quarters….

Second para: Just knock on the door, hand it over, then leave…Do not stop for a chat. Do not go for a coffee. Do not let him make love to you.

Last para: They were getting divorced…They were just having a little difficulty remembering their differences in the haze of lust that descended upon them every time they got a little too close…but she certainly knew…

Yowza! Why on earth is she divorcing him? Doesn’t she realize how many women crave a relationship like that? Their differences can’t be that big, can they? Tell me you don’t want to turn the page. This heroine is very proactive. Right there on the first page we see her going after what she wants. We just have to turn the page to see if she gets it.

4. Excerpt – Perfect Target by Stephanie Newton, Love Inspired Suspense

First line: Bayley Foster held a dead man in her arms.

Second line: …Mostly it took all her concentration to keep swimming for shore.

Last para: Maybe she should call him Bob. Or not. He kind of looked…

Why is she dragging a dead guy to shore? The fact that she gave him a name signifies he’s a stranger and they’ve been out there a long time. But why is she hanging on to him? This is a good example of starting a book in the middle of the action yet there is no doubt what the scene entails.

5. Excerpt – Sadie’s Hero by Margaret Daley, Love Inspired

First line: Bachelor number forty-six: Andrew Knight, 37, is a senior vice president of International Foods…

Second para: Sadie Spencer read the description in the catalog, then looked at the man who was number forty-six…She had to agree with the catalog’s description. He did inspire dreams.

Last para: “The opening bid for our next bachelor offered on the…

Will she be proactive and bid? If she does, will she win him? Why would she bid on him? (Remember, this is an inspirational so think nice.) And what exactly does she get if she wins? So many possibilities abound for this one simple hook.

6. Excerpt – The Maverick Preacher by Victoria Bylin, Love Inspired Historical

First line: If Adelaide Clark had been asleep like a sensible woman, she wouldn’t have heard the thump on her front porch.

Third para: The thump had sounded like a rotten tomato. The sooner she cleaned up the mess, the less damage it would do to the paint…

Last para: Whoever had caused the thump could be lurking in the dark, waiting to grab her. Adie had been grabbed before—not…

Here, the Proactive/Reactive situation is reversed. In this case, going outside in this circumstance sounds like the last thing she should do. But if she hides in the dark, she’s being reactive. What will she do?

I hope these examples show there isn’t a clear, defining line between what you should or shouldn’t do on a first page. As a writer, you have to take every story in its own right and decide what’s the best way to start. Write it down, analyze it, question it. If it raises more questions, you’re on the right track. If it doesn’t, why not? That’s your missing element.

Do you agree that a first page can start with the H/h in a reactive situation? If not, why? Do you consider the above books to have good hooks? Or is it just me? Do you have an example of a great first page? Please share it with us.


Captain Hook said...

I liked your examples of first page hooks (Blast you for teasing us like that! I can't afford to go get any books.)

I think reactive, like anything, can work if done right. What qualifies as "done right"? I don't know how to explain,but I know it when I read it.

Here are 2 examples from my own writing.

Absolutely Livid

Itouched the knife in the pocket of my skirt. Had to be sure it hadn't fallen out during my walk. Still there. Walking up to the group of teenage boys in front of me, I trembled. I forced myself to remember what they had done and that the cops had let them go free. "No evidence," they told my parents. No way to be sure they were the ones who raped and killed my big sister.

But I knew. She told me in those few moments when she opened her eyes for the last time.

I forced my mind away from the past and let my anger have free rein. Swinging my hips a little more than usual, I sauntered up to the group. "Hey, guys. What's up?"

A tall boy with curly dark hair turned and eyed me up and down. "Get lost, twerp."

My anger surged at his words. How dare he? "But . . . But I've heard you like to party."

"What's it to you? Go home baby girl." The blond boy who spoke shoved me back a few steps.

I planted my fists on my hips. "I am not a baby."

"You don't even have titties yet," he said, laughing. "I should know. Just had my hand on your chest."

"Oh, yeah?" If they kept this up, I'd never do what I came to do. Sucking in a deep breath, I yanked my shirt over my head, revealing my tiny A cups. "Does this look like nothing?"

My throat clenched and went dry as one by one they turned and stared.

"Well, well, well," the first boy spoke again, dropping his finished cigarette to the ground. "Maybe you are ready for some partying after all. What do you say, boys?"

They all nodded or murmured their agreement, their eyes glued to my twelve year old chest. Now that I had their full attention . . .

Cassandra's Secrets

Ten years ago, Cassie Bridgewater sat at the dinner table eating her birthday cake. With pink frosting all over her face, she said, "You're going to die tomorrow, Mommy."

"What?" Her mom stared at her, dishes teetering in her hands.

Her dad, heedless of the frosting, reached across the table and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him. "That's not funny."

Cassie nodded. "A car's gonna hit her and she's gonna go smoosh."

"I said that it's not funny, Cassandra. Now stop it." Her father stood, arms braced on the table, looming over her.

The corners of her mouth drooped and her lower lip began to tremble. She looked to her Pops and Nana. "It's true. I saw it. Even putting her in the ground."

The dishes fell to the floor with Cassie's mom right beside them.

He dad lunged to catch her mom and missed. "Look what you did!" He backhanded her across her face. Crouching down, he pulled her mom into his lap, brushing her hair back and murmuring to her.

Pops cuddled Nana who'd begun to cry hysterically. "Look at what you've done. Completely ruined your birthday." He snatched Cassie out of her booster seat. When her feet were firmly on the ground, he smacked her behind. "Now get to your room and stay there!"

I'm curious what you guy's think of them.

Jeanne Ryan said...

My favorite first lines will always be Kelley Armstrong's Bitten.


I've been fighting it all night. I'm going to lose. My battle is as futile as a woman feeling the first pangs of labor and deciding it's an inconvenient time to give birth. Nature wings out. It always does.

I'm not sure the effect this has on women who haven't given birth, for me (2 kids), it was incredibly powerful and I immediately identified with the heroine and felt for her. I didn't know what she was fighting and I needed to find out. We don't find out she's a werewolf until page 3.

Silver James said...

Anita, you always come up with the most confounding AND interesting subjects! Now I'll have to go back and look at all my MSS to see where they fall into the spectrum. Drat!

Why yes, I am procrastinating on editing. Why do you ask? LOL

Anita Mae Draper said...

Capt'n - Absolutely Livid is absolutely riveting. I can feel her angst and but my mind kept telling her to get out of there. However, it works out to about 320 words and first pages run about 250. I checked where 250 would leave you and it's where she pulls up her top and says, '"Does this look like nothing?"
So yeah, that's a good hook, too.

Cassandra's Secrets runs in at 220 which means you can add another para. That's good because I actually didn't like where you ended it. I wished you had brought it back to the present day with a statement of whether her predictions were true and maybe a bit of foretelling even.

Great hooks and good writing, Sarah. Thank you for sharing.

Karyn Good said...

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assauged, he was seldom self-conscious ...."

"When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long, before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radly come out."

This is a portion of the first page of one of my all time favorite books, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. For me, the first line and the second paragraph of the first page are what hooked me. How had Jem broken his arm? The Ewells? Dill? Most importantly, who was Boo Radley and why did they have to make him come out?

Not a romance, but I love it and thought I'd share.

Here's one from one of my favorite Julia Quinn novels, When He Was Wicked.

"In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and clear that one feels as if one's been hit in the chest, all the breath knocked out, and one knows, absolutely knows without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt that one's life will never be the same.

For Michael Stirling, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton."

Such a good book!

I don't know exactly why I like these two examples but I do. They're definitely different. One kind of gently pulls you in, and the other is more, as you say, reactive but immediate.

I don't think there is a tried and true formula for a first line, or a first page. I guess in the end its up to a reader to decide.

I like your first page examples, Captain Hook, they certainly raise a lot of questions and draw you in.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jeanne, my first thought was that she was a vampire and then when I read the lines, it totally made sense. So, I guess a werewolf would work, too. Heh.

Yeah, after 4 kids, it makes so much sense. With my first, the nurse told me to stop pushing and wait for the doctor. Yeah, right. Like you can stop Niagara Falls.

Thanks for sharing, Jeanne.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, it's not procrastinating if you go back to your wip and see how you can improve it. I'm not saying it needs improving, mind you, but you did say you were editing. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn, you mention TKAM a lot and I'm curious if you have a copy of it there and what condition it's in or do you know the first paras by memory? And yes, it was a very good book.

Your second example by Julia Quinn is interesting as well. I really like her voice.

Thanks for sharing today, Karyn.

Suse said...

Hi Anita, I'm with Captain Hook. You've hooked me with your teasers, but I don't have the time to read all those books.

Here are a few first page hooks from my stash of books that I found intriguing:

1. "Hard Eight" by Janet Evanovich.

"Lately, I've been spending a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth. The rolling around has nothing to do with my sex life. The rolling around is what happens when a bust goes crapola and there's a last ditch effort to hog-tie a big, dumb bad guy possessing a congenitally defective frontal lobe.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I'm in the fugitive apprehension business ... bond enforcement, to be exact, working for my cousin Vincent Plum. It wouldn't be such a bad job except the direct result of bond enforcement is usually incarceration - and fugitives tend to not like this. Go figure. To encourage fugitive cooperation on the way back to the pokey I ..."

2. "The Total Package" by Jennifer LaBrecque. This is part of 3 story collection with Stephanie Bond & Rhonda Nelson (3 Guys You'll Never Date 2006)

"'I want a woman.'

Abby Vandiver placed a pen on the desk, sat up straighter in her hi-back leather chair and really looked at Deke Foster, chief computer guru for Mansell and Cowart Limited, MCL for short. She'd been too focused on wrapping up her recommendations on her current report to take much notice of him. And obviously she'd misheard what he'd said. Because she could've sworn he'd just declared he wanted a woman...and well, that would be weird in the extreme. Not weird that he'd want a woman, but that'd he'd tell her.

'I'm sorry, I needed to finish up some notes,' she said, shifting mental gears and offering him a smile. 'Is there a problem with one of the software update releases?'

Deke pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. 'Uh, no. No problem with the software update.' He shoved once again at his glasses in the last two seconds. 'I'm here because I want a woman.'"

3. "Maggie By the Book" by Kasey Michaels

"According to Saint Just, this is all perfectly logical, easily explanable, and all of that.

Maggie Kelly - dear girl, really, if a bit muddled at times - created us. Granted, she did it within the pages of a series of rather prodigiously successful mystery novels, but as Saint Just says, she did it quite well. Well enough, in fact, that eventually we came to life, first inside Maggie's head, and then inside Maggie's Manhattan apartment.

Not that it happens every day, this sort of thing - but it is possible.

After all, we are here, aren't we?

To the world, Saint Just is more than Maggie's very distantly related English cousin, and she took some of his name - and all of his physical attributes - to create her perfect storybook hero, Alexandre Blake, the Viscount Saint Just.

Along with Saint Just, Maggie created his good friend, Sterling Balder (that would be me. Hallo!), both of whom have now, according to Maggie, traveled across the pond to reside for a time with her."

Karyn Good said...

I have a well loved and used copy that I pull out and read every so often.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I think you've given us a good representation of the kind of opening hooks possible. It all depends on the kind of book you're writing. A suspense needs an exciting, in the middle of the action opening, while a Historical or regular contemporary romance might be better served by an opening that introduces the characters and lets us get to know them a bit.

One of my favorite openings is from Bethany Campbell's "The Guardian" (Harlequin Superromance,1999):

The shark was dusty.

Nearly six feet long, it was stufffed , mounted and hung on the wall ablve the sagging couch. Its downturned mouth grinned with cruel teeth.

On the shark's head was a black baseball cap. In white letters, it said UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE.

A tall, man, naked except for a towel knotted around his middle, stood before the shark. He held the phone and listened to a voice half a continent away. His face was grim.

I don't want to get involved, he thought with deep distaste. Those days are over. I'm out of the game. For good.

But because it was Corbett talking on the other end of the line, Hawkshaw listened.

"There's no choice," Corbett said. "She's got to get out of town. She knows its. I can't keep her safe."

I like this opening because it paints an intriguing picture of the hero and the kind of man he is. He doesn't want to get involved, but he will because he's a loyal friend. This opening hints at his past occupation and at a past sadness as well.

Great post Anita!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Suse, those are good examples of hooking the reader. The second one particularly intrigued me. :)

Thank you for sharing.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn, I can 'see' you with it. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, yes, I like that excerpt of yours. I really like Superromances but in 1999 I wasn't reading them so I missed out on that one. :(

You're right about the genre dictating the mood, but what do you think about the proactive/reactive myth?

Molli said...

I enjoyed this one, Anita, both your examples and reading through the comments. Here are three opening sentences from three very different authors.

Tamsin paused in front of the mirror, the lipstick held in one hand and the magazine article on 'How to seduce the man of your dreams' in the other. (India Grey, Harlequin Presents: At the Argentinean Billionaire's Bidding)

Who am I? And how, I wonder, will this story end? (Nicholas Sparks, Warner Vision: The Notebook)

Linnea Brandonberg was neither asleep nor awake, but in a whimsical state of fantasy, induced--this time--by the rhythmic clatter rising through the floor of the train. (LaVyrle Spencer, Grafton: Years)

One proactive, one reactive, and one passive. To me they all point out the wisdom in your words that a writer has to deal with each story as is right for the story.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Molli, LaVyrle Spencer is another of my favorite authors.

I'm not crazy about Sparks, as he doesn't give me a satisfying HEA.

And almost anything from the Presents line is going to be...interesting. ;o

Great examples, though. I was beginning to think I wasn't clear of what I was trying to get across. So thank you very much for sharing.