How To Be A Hooker

how-to-be-a-hooker

The theme of last weekend’s RWA meeting was “Creating a Strong Story Hook.” The entirely delightful Debbie Decker taught the class, and she gave a lot of great examples of stories that began with a great hook and don’t let you go. The beginning of Star Wars, for example – that pounding explosion of music, the crawl of words across the screen, the space battle. We don’t even meet the hero until a good while into the movie, but we’re already hooked.

After talking about some other movie and television examples, we went through the opening and closing of some of the chapters of “The Gift” by Julie Garwood. I ordered it the second I got home, just hearing the intriguing first and last lines of each chapter.

THAT, my friends, is what makes a writer a good hooker. That one line that makes readers stay up late because we absolutely have to see what happens next.

I don’t think I’m really skilled at hooking yet, so I paged through my favorite books, trying to figure out what makes a great hook. If you have a free afternoon, I highly recommend this activity, even though ohmygod the dust. Some of my favorites have rather dull beginnings, which surprised me. I wonder what kept me reading them? But a lot of them had really great first lines, or spectacular first paragraphs. As I combed through the (ohmygod so incredibly dusty) bookshelves, here are some that really jumped out at me.

One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.  – Howard’s End, by E. M. Forster

WELL COME ON. Obviously I’m starting with my all time favorite. Perfect book, perfect first line. One might as well begin there. It’s as good a place to start as anywhere else, and it is, after all, Helen and her sister who are the crux of the entire matter.

Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is. I am forever doing this with the Australian prime minister – committing the name to memory, forgetting it (generally more or less instantly), then feeling terribly guilty. My thinking is that there ought to be one person outside Australia who knows. – In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

I read everything Bill Bryson writes, except that science book because hashtag not smart enough. This book, a travelogue about Australia, is my very favorite one. The first paragraph sets the tone of the entire book – slightly bemused traveler, wanting to be a good guest, mystified by almost everything. It’s a great read, and absolutely hilarious.

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims.  –Beloved by Toni Morrison

I vividly remember feeling confused by the first pages of this book the first time I read it Freshmen  Comp Lit. Everyone else was freaking out about how brilliant it was, but I didn’t quite get it. After I got about a quarter of the way through the book, I went back and started over, on firmer footing (but still totally unprepared for what was to come.) It’s that second line – Full of a baby’s venom – that will never get out of my head. What on earth is a baby’s venom? What can that mean? There is something unholy and terrifying when we mix up the beautiful and the toxic. That beginning sends chills up my spine, and it is what makes Toni Morrison the master of all she touches.

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman. – A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean

I don’t know anything about fly fishing, or Montana, or Presbyterian ministers, but I love this book, I love this movie, and again – the first paragraph is a perfect example of what is to come. Thoughtful, spiritual, funny, and sad.

My son and I were moving caskets – an oak with Celtic crosses on the corners, a cherry with a fish like our dining room table, a cardboard box with a reinforced bottom – each could be buried, each could be burned, each could be blown into space or set adrift. The baby boomers who are buying now do better with a broad selection. I was talking to my son about “protection” – about condoms and careful choices and coming of age. He’d been out too late the night before. – From “The Bang and the Whimper and the Boom”, collected in Bodies in Motion and at Rest by Thomas Lynch

Lynch is an Irishman and a poet and a funeral director in Michigan. His stories appear to be about death and dying, on the surface, but at their heart they are about living life. Before I started reading his books, it honestly never occurred to me that helping bodies into their final resting place could be anything but gross and depressing.

We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle. My sisters and I were all counting on having one birthday apiece during our twelve month mission. “And heaven knows,” our mother predicted, “they won’t have Betty Crocker in the Congo.” Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

If you know this book, you are probably already firing up an e-mail to point out that this is the first line of the second chapter, not the first. I know! But I have always remembered this line – this family bringing cake mix into Africa. I mean. You want to laugh, but you’re cringing inside, right? It’s not the first line of the book, but it’s close, and it’s the one that sealed the deal for me.

I love all of them, and now I want  day to sit and re-read each of those books. Cool?

So now it’s your turn – hit me up with your favorite hookers!

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One Response to How To Be A Hooker

  1. Deb Decker says:

    Thanks so much for referencing my workshop! I’m glad you got some value from it. I haven’t read all of your favorites listed here but I’ve read a number of them and, yes, they’re wonderful! (I’ve even read the Bill Bryson “science” book! 🙂

    Like

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