Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Are you easily hooked?

Right now I'm reading a book by Gail Carson Levine called Writing Magic. It's my daughter's book and is written for kids ages ten and up. It's pretty basic, which I like because I can read it while my boys are working on their school work.

Chapter 12 talks about beginnings and she tells you to pull five of your favorite books off your shelves and read the first page of each one. It's an exercise to help you see how each author hooks you into their story. This is nothing new for you writers, I know, but I thought it would be fun to talk about today. I decided to pick 6 books that I loved as a kid because I wanted to show different stages of my childhood ...

Ramona The Pest -- Beverly Cleary

"I am not a pest, Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus."

I love this one. Not only does it show me right away that Ramona is the youngest of the two sisters, but I get a pretty good idea that she really is a pest if she has to say otherwise. Now I want to know why she felt the need to tell Beezus she wasn't a pest.

Little House in the Big Woods -- Laura Ingalls Wilder

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs."

Maybe it's just me being older, but I love once upon a time beginnings. This opening tells me so much in one sentence -- the story takes place a long time ago, sixty years to be exact, and it's about a little girl who lives in the woods inside a gray, log house.

The Trumpet of the Swan -- EB White

"Walking back to camp through the swamp, Sam wondered whether to tell his father what he had seen."

This opening line is awesome because it makes me think. What type of camp was Sam walking to? Is it a campground or is he at another type of camp? Why would Sam wonder if he should tell his father what he had seen? What exactly had he seen? This is a great hook that makes me want to keep reading to answer all my questions.

Charlotte's Web -- EB White

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

When it comes to opening lines, this is my favorite. Just like Fern, I too, want to know where Papa is going with an ax. What does he need an ax for before breakfast? Is it for firewood or something else? Just the fact that this happens before breakfast makes me a little concerned. What a perfect way to start a story!

My Side of the Mountain -- Jean Craighead George

"I am on my mountain in a tree home that people have passed without ever knowing that I am here."

Again, this opening line brings up lots of questions for me. Who is speaking? How can anyone have their own mountain? What kind of home is in a tree? Is it a treehouse? What kind of tree is it? How come people haven't seen this person? This line gives me a lot of reasons to make me want to keep reading.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret -- Judy Blume

"Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. We're moving today. I'm so scared God."

This one is a little different and I decided to list the first few sentences, rather than just one. It's obvious to me right away that a young girl is praying to God. These short sentences make me want to know why she is moving and why she is scared.

So, how about you? Are you easily hooked? What are some of your favorite opening lines and what in particular grabbed your attention?


  1. Gosh, I love this post and how you cover the opening line of each book. I never thought to look at reading that way and find it quite intriguing. Now, I want to go do that tonight when I get home...pick out 5 of my favourite books! :)

  2. I love this post. This is an activity I did every year with my class because strong writing grows from a strong opening.

  3. I'm with Sophia. I'm going to have to go look at books!

  4. I love most all (and all of his early stuff) of Stephen King's books. I like to be grabbed by the throat and then to have the writer squeeze the air right out of me.

  5. My favorite opening line is also the one from Charlotte's Web.

    I'm funny about first lines, though. Some I think aren't that hooky at all, and others seem contrived to be hookier-than-thou. Sometimes I roll my eyes at the latter.

  6. Fantastic opening lines. Charlotte's Web, Are YOu There and Trumpet of the Swan really got me!

  7. I love those opening lines. I'm going to have to go look at my manuscripts and check out my opening lines and make them hook the reader.

  8. Ah, I remember ALL of those lines! The ax one always got me--just that threat of death. "Winnie shoved a second piece of gum into her mouth." Iggie's House. I was a gum chewer and it was my first Judy Blume book.

  9. fun exercise. I should try that. I should read Gails book too. Those are fabulous first lines.

  10. I love the first line of Charlotte's Web.

    I must not be easily hooked. When I'm in the library, I give books the first page test...if it doesn't grab me, it goes back on the shelf. I'm sure I miss out on some great stories that take a little more time to get into.