Archive for January, 2013


Grand Openings

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland

January is the time of year when people set goals and think about beginning anew. So maybe it’s the right time to talk about the beginnings of novels. It is said that you have less than one minute to persuade someone toSilent Storm (2) read or buy your book.  Agents and editors may not read past the first page if it doesn’t grab them. Kids often look at the cover first, then the blurb, then maybe read the first paragraph. You can’t control the cover, but you can control your opening.

Here are my tips for creating opening hooks:


1) Create curiosity: Whether it’s a mystery, romance, adventure, fantasy or mainstream novel, the opening paragraphs of a novel should create curiosity and a desire to know what’s going to happen next.

2) Open during a change in the protagonist’s life. Change can be happening now or about to happen or just happened. Moving, death, new school, new job, vacation or trip, disaster, war, running away, disease, witnessing an event, meeting someone new — these are a few examples of change.

3) The first page or two should introduce the protagonist and situation. (One exception is a prolog, which will be discussed later.)


1) Open with action [in media res]. A fight, a chase, an argument, a love scene, a murder, a disaster, storm, battle.  Many adventure and boy’s action books start this way.

EX: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.” [The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman]

2) Open with an interesting character.  The character is so unique that the reader wants to find out more about this person. But make sure this character is relevant to the story, not a minor character that will never be seen again.

EX:  “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”  [The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway]

3) Open with an interesting setting. This works especially when the setting is a strong part of the book, almost another character. [think the moors, a haunted house, a plantation, another planet, a river, a swamp, mountains]

EX: “Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.” — [Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko] setting is Alcatraz

4) Open with dialog. 

EX: “Somebody must have told them suckers I was coming.” [Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

5) Open with a question.  Critics do not always approve of this method unless it is done skillfully.

EX: “Where is Papa ging with that axe?” [Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White]

6) Open with humor. This sets the tone of the book. It can also make serious topics more palpable for younger readers, especially boys.

EX: “I was born with water on the brain.” — [Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie]

C. PROLOGSSong buffalo boy - pb

I love prologs and used them in nearly all my novels. Prologs contain important information and may foreshadow events.  There are two types of prologs:

1) Set in the present:  then the rest of the book is an extended flashback, often with an epilog to bring the story back to the present.  Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson is a good example.

2) Set in the past: before the events of the story occur; gives background material about the characters, the setting, or historical situations. Often seen in mysteries with a scene showing the murder. My YA novels, Song of the Buffalo Boy and The Silent Storm used this kind of prolog.

A good exercise is to read the opening page of as many award-winning and best-selling books as you can.  Soon you’ll get the idea of how to create a great hook.


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