Well, that got me hooked…

by gavrusik

“Man,” said Terl, “is an endangered species.” – What a simple opening to a novel and, over thirty years after I first read it, I still remember it verbatim. I shudder with pleasure at those seven simple words. In case you don’t recognise it, it’s the opening to ‘Battlefield Earth’ and is as good a book as the film is bad (in my opinion).

I’ve written almost every day for five years, three or four million words in total, and I don’t think I’ve ever produced anything quite so compelling as Mr Hubbard. Although I’ve some decent openings, I just can’t distil quite the ‘awesome’ into it that I would like. Without doubt, I’ve spent more time worrying over the first page than on any other part of my prose. – Endings are easy to define, their finality indisputable, but a beginning… Well, that’s not quite so straightforward.

The most recent novel I’ve written is the third in a series, and I noticed the opening hook has a different flavour. In it, I use a familiar character doing something very ordinary, but it felt right.

‘Alspeth, with the cleaning now done, transformed from a cranky old woman into a sixteen-year-old girl, mustard eyes twinkling from a pale face.’

Perhaps because sequels are continuations rather than new beginnings, the emphasis is different. IF this was an opening to book 1, it could be considered uninviting or even bland.

Now, when I look at the opening to my newest standalone novel, I know I’ve yet to convince the reader of anything other than to glance at the first page. – Damn, the pressure is on, and I don’t think I’ve quite grasped what is needed. – Perhaps five years and four million words isn’t enough practice.

Perhaps I’m just not good enough.

Anyhow, my most recent attempt at a hook is:

‘A thousand war drums announced this day belonged to blood and death.’

Is it enough to convince a reader or agent? I don’t know. Is it enough to convince them to read the second and third line? I would hope so. Thing is, I expect in six months I’ll feel the urge to replace it with something I see as better.

So would you read on? Is a hook a one sentence affair, or is it a series of barbs, each sinking deeper into the reader’s imagination, dragging them further into the book?

‘A thousand war drums announced this day belonged to blood and death. A myriad campfires bled smoky trails into the predawn sky where clouds underbellies, stained with golden hues, drifted over the fertile flood plains of Mesopotamia. Across the Euphrates, the city of Dimal hid behind earthen walls that offered its inhabitants scant protection from the thirty thousand strong army camped half a mile away.

Queen Lacita pulled her cloak a little tighter round her shoulders, for the sliver of sun clambering over the horizon was yet to deliver on its promise of warmth. How would the city’s residents welcome her this day once the fighting was done? Unlike the towns and villages before, Dimal’s citizens would not see her as their liberator when husbands and brothers had bled their last, bodies pierced by her warriors’ spears.’

It’s just a few short months since I wrote ‘The Shaded Mountain’ and this is still a first draft. – I doubt I’d change much in the first paragraph, but the second one makes me shudder. Would you read on? As things stand, I doubt I would…

…Yeh, it took a long time before I could do other than congratulate myself at my perceived creative genius. – Time was when I could do no wrong. Now, after writing countless words, I know less than I ever did.

If nothing else, I’m ‘hooked’ on writing.