Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Writer's Forum, Narrative Hooks

Narrative Hook
Definition:       a literary device used at the very beginning of a story to engage the reader's curiosity

A story is a promise. As writers, we make a promise to our readers at the beginning of a story. How well we keep our promise depends on how well we tell the story. This promise is also called a narrative hook. Numerous hooks can be found throughout a good story, but they are most common at the end of chapters and ideally they should be found in the first sentence or two of any story.

Not unlike the topic sentences of our school day essays, the first sentence shoulders a heavy burden. It needs to make a promise and reflect the over-all tone and theme of the story.

Here are several of my favorite first sentences (no surprise that they are all my own.)
New York City’s night noises seeped through the wall chinks and window: the jingle of horse harnesses, the stomping of hooves, the mournful howl of a dog, but one noise, a noise that didn't belong, jarred Mercy awake.
(Stealing Mercy, Kristy Tate) This sentence promises danger and suspense. We also know that this is a plot driven novel with a historical setting.
Penny loved Richard and she adored Rose, but her feelings toward pralines and cream were mediocre at best. She didn’t want to look like a giant pralines and cream ice cream cone on Rose’s wedding day.
(Losing Penny, Kristy Tate) This sentence tells us that unlike Stealing Mercy, this is a character driven story and this particular character has weight issues and a sense of humor.
“A lemon that’s been squeezed too many times ends up in the compost pile…” I started out strong, but my words faded away when I noticed Savannah Everett’s father staring at me. He stood beside a cart filled with vegetables, grinning, as if he had caught me in my lie.
(Hailey’s Comments, Kristy Tate) What do we learn? Our main character is living a lie and some grinning man has discovered it.

Think of your own favorite first sentences. Notice how all promise a different reading experience. Think of the first sentence as a movie trailer. If we see a trailer with Tom Cruise carrying a gun--things had better blow up and if they don't, as a movie goer, we're going to be mad. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, (A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens)
I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular patterns of living, (Gifts from the Sea, Lindberg)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice, Austin)
 It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1981, Orwell)
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

I put my own sentences cheek with Austin and Lewis, not because I feel that my work is in anyway comparable, but because I can freely talk about my own writerly intentions. I wouldn’t dare to presume to know the thoughts or intents of the literary great…all I can say is they wrote darn good sentences—first and otherwise.

If you have a first sentence you’d like to share, please leave it in the comment box, along with your title and name (just in case we’re so intrigued with your story promise that we want to rush out and buy it.)


  1. I love your first lines. Fabulous. It's so hard to choose just one, Kristy. I picked the opening from If I Loved You: "Megan could hardly breathe. Her mouth, suddenly dry as desert sand, managed a smile as her eyes connected with his. Instantly, she understood Chaz Duncan’s enormous film success." This is the first in my Hollywood Hearts series. Here's the link to the book on my website, which contains all retail links. your post!

  2. Awesome! I'm so excited to read this! I'm about 60 pages into my new novel, Gemma Goes to Hollywood. We are definitely on the same wave.

  3. So this is the first line of one of my WIP's.
    "I wrap my arms around my waist and imagine myself puking, if he says it again, I might actually do it."
    no title yet but i'll call it Anderson 2016

  4. "Doeg’s requirements in a prospective wife seemed simple enough when he started the search." from Redeemed by Jill Hughey

  5. Good first lines are soooooo hard. Here's are two of mine:

    What was HE doing here in HER Monday morning meeting?

    Wolf in Jester’s Clothing, available on all ebook sites

    Am I watching my dreams burn up along with the building?

    Wolf on Thin Ice, available on all ebook sites

    No, they’re not shapeshifters, just alpha businessmen!

    Ann Macela

  6. Those are great Kristy. Love these others, too.

  7. Here's mine from Saving Justice, due out in two weeks:

    Marlo Croft had never failed to connect with a rescued dog that arrived in her care, no matter how damaged it was.
    Until tonight.

  8. I love the first line from the book "Flight to Freedom" from D.J. Wilson.
    "I killed my husband, a town hero, and then called the police and turned myself in."
    The reader has so many questions with this line. It's wonderful.

  9. This is the first line from, Rescued from the Dark. My first Romantic Suspense.

    An explosion ricocheted behind Jason Michael’s eyes as the pressure mounted in his head and the rush of panic consumed him.

    Thanks, this was fun

  10. I'm late, but here's the first line from my romantic suspense, The Green-Eyed Doll.

    Leave it to mama to die in the middle of the hottest Texas summer on record.

  11. Here's the first line to my upcoming release, My Mr. Manny by Jennifer Garcia.

    "My heart was racing as I stood leaning against the side of my neighbor’s gray, vinyl-sided house. "

    Thanks, this was a great idea.