Friday, May 11, 2012

Writer's View: Best First Chapters

I've had some creative writing teachers tell me that writers have to hook a reader with the first sentence. I don't actually agree with that. I've never chucked a book when I'm not shot to the moon with the first sentence; I've never met anyone who does that. I do, however, think the first few chapters of a book are crucial. Most folks I know will always read a few chapters before deciding whether or not to put a book down.

This just got me thinking about some of the best opening hooks I've read. Here are my top 3:

The First Days by Rhiannon Frater

I just can't stop talking about this series. The novel opens with a mother watching her newly-zombified toddler reach under the door jam with his bloody little fingers. I was reduced to blubbering tears almost immediately. Maybe it's because I'm a mom, and I could totally imagine the horror experienced my the main character.



The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I am a rabid fan of The Hunger Games. I was completely sucked in by the opening of this novel when Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place in The Hunger Games. Again, the opening chapters had me sobbing uncontrollably. My experience of this novel was from the perspective of a parent. I am unable to imagine how awful it would be to lose a child to something as morbid and gruesome as The Hunger Games.


Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Okay, so this opening didn't leave me in tears. (Truly, I don't cry over EVERYTHING -- just lots of things! Like movie previews and newspaper stories.) Instead, it had me laughing outloud. The main character, Hiro Protagonist (I am not even joking -- that is his name) is the "Deliverator" -- aka, a pizza delivery boy for the mafia. Hilarity ensues as he has to battle rush hour traffic and a skateboarding punk to deliver his pizza on time -- or risk the wrath of Uncle Enzo, the head of said-mafia. Seriosuly, how could I not be hooked by something so totally wacky and fun? Oh, and did I mention that the bad guy is a super-sexy badass who rides a motorcycle that doubles as a nuclear missile?

So, what are some other books with killer openings? I've love to hear your thoughts on this!

9 comments:

  1. Aww you already said THG so now I don't have much to say. I personally have never condemned a book for it's first line. I don't know where agents and publishers get these half baked notions. I'm very critical and even I will give a book at least a few chapters before I call it quits. I admit though that I'm super hard to please so it takes about 10 chapters for a book to hook me in. Until then I remain skeptical and wait for something to interest me. Jeez it's a wonder I like anything at all isn't it?

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    1. @ Lan - I agree, I always thought the first sentence rule was bogus too! LOL. I'm pretty critical, too. I *like* lots of stuff, but very few books truly sweep me away. I'm lucky if I get 1 or 2 series a year that does that.

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  3. It's funny how a book can capture us so quickly and how others take forever to hook us. I try to never give up on a book because even if the beginning isn't amazing sometimes it all comes together to be awesome by the end. I've read a few books where the very fist sentence intrigued me but not very often.

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    1. @ Jenny - I admire your patience! I used to be pretty dedicated and finish a book no matter what, but I've lost patience over the years. You're right, though -- there are definitely those books where it pays to stick around!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I totally agree with you, Camille, that needing to hook reader in the beginning isn't totally needed. It's needed, but not necessarily on page 1. I always give a book several chapters before I drop it. In fact, I give it 1/3 of the way until I realize that I just can't stand it and it's not for me. Usually, it takes even longer than that.

    What's this Snow Crash book? Sounds like something I need to read, seriously! That book sounds like it's got my name written all over it. I love zany, over-the-top stuff and cheesy goodness.

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    1. @ Cathy - Snow Crash is a MUST! It's iconic cyberpunk. It's hard to talk about cyberpunk or write about it without including some commentary on Snow Crash. It was written in 1992 -- 20 years ago!

      What's not to love about an MC named Hiro Protaginist?

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  5. I agree, Camille. I don't have to be hooked on the first sentence. I'm a generous reader. I used to read an entire book, even if I didn't like it, hoping for a hook. Now I've given myself a "100 Pages or Die" Rule. I've even made my friend hold me to it. I'm much happier now.

    Those hooks you mentioned are great. The only one I've read is THG, but the others sound great.

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    1. @ Andrea - I like your "100 Pages of Die" rule! Great idea!

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