Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Hooking your Reader

fish-311720_640Hooks get the reader …

  • interested
  • oriented, or
  • let the reader know what to expect from the book as a whole

Hooks/openings can…

Appeal to the Ear
It was a quiet night until…
Thunk, creak, & knock, knock, knock!
Someone is out there!
But who? Jackie Urbanovic, Duck at the Door
In Sooey, South Dakota
In a sloppy, stuffy, sty,
There’s an itchy ol’ straw bed
Where the Bed Hogs pile high. Kelly S. DiPuchhio, Bed Hogs
“Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity–Good. His dad had the pickup going.” Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terebithia

Establish setting

“The temperature of the room dropped fast. Ice formed not he curtains and crusted thickly around the lights in the ceiling.” Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
“Korea, fifteenth century.” Linda Sue Park, The Kite Fighters

“Which would you rather be, fat or dead?” Cherie Bennett, Life in the Fat Lane
“When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me. To begin with, everything was too perfect for anything unusual to happen.” Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows

Generate questions for the reader
“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Look back before the present story actually begins
“Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old. Up until this time, he had had a happy life, living peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea.” Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach
“For as long as she could remember it had been the two of them. ‘Me and Daddy. Daddy and me.'” Norma Fox Mazer, Taking Terri Mueller

Present the protagonist and/or antagonist
“I’m the kind of person who loves being thrilled by a scary book or movie.” Willo Davis Roberts, Hostage
“I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria.” Gail Carson Levine, Fairest

Present the victim
“The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast.” P.D. James, Unnatural Causes

Raise the curtain on the action
“‘Hey, Killer! How’s your boyfriend?’
“Juliet Dove felt her cheeks begin to burn.” Bruce Colville, Juliet Dove Queen of Love
“Something was wrong. Kaeldra knew it the moment she awoke.” Susan Fletcher, Dragon’s Milk

Set the tone of the book
“I’ve always loved a good mystery. Like, how do they squeeze ketchup into those little plastic packets?” Bruce Hale, The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, a Chet Gecko book
“The house looked strange. It was completely empty now, and the door was flung wide open, like something wild had just escaped from it.” Edward Bloor, Tangerine

Shock the reader
“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.” Philip Reed, Mortal Engine
“Worms dangled in Aunt Jessie’s kitchen: red worms swarming over a lump of brown mud in a bowl.” Sharon Creech, Chasing Redbird

Start with dialogue (internal or external)

“Most stories start at the beginning, but I really can’t say I know where that is.” Sara Nickerson, How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
“‘I’m leaving.’ Dad stands above me in the living room.” Lorie Ann Grover, Hold Me Tight
“‘I don’t even know what I did this time,’ I say to my best friend, Harrison Emerson.” Gennifer Choldenko, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog

State motive
“He chose the Lacey family at first because of the sailboat.” Elaine Marie Alphin, Counterfeit Son
“I came up here to make a dead man change his mind.” Hake Talbot, Rim of the Pit

Upset stereotypical images
“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortunate to be born the eldest of three.” Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle

• typos
• once upon a time – too old-fashioned and clichéd
• beginning with a downer
• trying to say everything in the first sentence
• starting in a place of inactivity
• describing irrelevant things in too much detail
• inadvertent mood switches
• baiting the reader with one story, and then swapping it for another
• a weak opening

I’d love to hear other suggestions on this topic. Just include info in the comments.

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