Don’t judge a book by its cover—judge it by its hook.
If you’ve ever gone fishing, you know the importance of having the right hook. A bad hook will sit there and watch the fish swim by. A good hook—preferably a bright jitterbug—is irresistible to a passing fish. You’ll have a decent catch in no time.
In the same way, if you’re a writer, you want to use the right hook to pull your readers into your story immediately. If you’re a reader, you want a good hook that will motivate you to keep reading. Compelling reads begin with compelling hooks.
A good first line should:
1. Raise a question in the reader’s mind
2. Waste no time in getting to the main story
3. Hook the reader (I mean, duh)
Sure, there are exceptions, but in general, these things are what I look for in a good hook. The opening line of a book should grasp the attention of the audience immediately, and make them decide whether to keep reading or not.
Here are some of the most interesting hooks I’ve encountered:
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
—C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Dry humour at its best.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Austen: 1, Society: 0
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Congratulations, Mr. Dickens. Your intriguing paradoxes have us all wonderfully perplexed.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
If normal means keeping a minor locked up in a broom cupboard, then sure.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
And not a truer word was said.
“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
—Louis Sachar, Holes
The best kind of hook is the one that contradicts itself.
“Call me Ishmael.”
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick
This one made the list because it’s popular, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why.
“I am an invisible man.”
—Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man
I read the title, but thanks for the clarification.
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
If it’s chemistry tests we’re burning, then I know what you mean.
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
—E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
Kind of dark for a children’s book, when you think about it.
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
—Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle
My favorite place to write.
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”
—Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
I’m guessing a walk isn’t the only thing that isn’t possible for Jane.
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”
—Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
And that’s when I knew this was going to my type of book.
“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.”
—Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
*Spoiler Alert* He catches the fish. Spare yourself and stop reading, I’m begging you.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
And how did following that advice turn out for you, Nickie?
“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or, at least, how I try.”
—Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
I have no idea who is narrating. I’d better keep reading to find out.
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
—Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
So odd. I love it.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Simple and to the point. I’m liking it, Tolkien.
Did I miss any good ones? Tell me in the comments.