How to turn nay into Yay! Hook your reader from the first sentence.

Guest post by Renee Wildes, Author of A Guardian’s Heart

Fabulous Romance Author Renee Wildes

No offense to Sister Maria (Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music), but we as writers do NOT start at the very beginning—it is NOT a good place to start…

All my writing life I’ve been told “You have to open with a hook to grab the reader’s attention.” “Grab first—explain later.” Now as a writing instructor and RWA contest judge, I get to wield that hammer. Agents and editors are so desperately overworked, faced with a deluge of Query emails, hundreds on a daily basis, they’ve perfected the snap-decision process to an art form. First sentence/paragraph/maaaybe page…yay or nay…move on…

Hooks are life-and-death stuff for us authors.

If you watch Indiana Jones and James Bond movies, they always open with the main character doing something related to the main story before the main story problem is introduced. The purpose? Giving the viewer a demonstration of the hero’s capabilities, so we believe he can conquer the main problem when it rears its ugly head. Open with action, a question, something that grabs attention and makes the reader want to know more.

Fantasy writers are very familiar with Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, which advises showing the character in their normal life before everything goes to hell in a handbasket and the main action propels the character into their own epic journey. But “normal” doesn’t mean blasé or boring.

The book that first got me started on the road to writing fantasy romance is Barbara Hambly’s “The Ladies of Mandrigyn.” The opening sentence? “‘What in the name of the cold hells is this?’ Sun Wolf held the scrap of unfolded paper between stubby fingers that were still slightly stained with blood.” A question that needs answering, by a guy you don’t know yet, but between the confrontational question and the blood stains, I wanted to know more!

You can use dialogue, description, character, setting, foreshadowing, premonitions, questions…anything to give the reader a hint of what’s to come. Whether you decide to introduce the character, setting, or plot first, you want a hint with punch. Something that identifies and defines a character, their world, and/or their predicament.

Pull out a book at random and read the first sentence, then the first paragraph. What do you know so far? What questions do you already have? Think about what that author used as their hook to reel you into reading more.

My favorite book in life is “Warprize” by Elizabeth Vaughan. It pulls you in right from the get-go with: “I pulled the shard out just as his wound began spurting blood.” Action and graphic imagery that sets up the tale of a healer, a princess traded to the enemy as part of a peace treaty.

The following are the openings for each of my 7 Guardians of Light books, in order:

1. Rufus-Quickblade hadn’t returned from warning the king. (A Guardian’s Heart, out now)

2. The statuesque blonde warrior was destined to die, lost to the spreading Darkness. Surrounded by boiling rivers of blood, she held off an army of skeletons with a flaming sword…for a time. Until she fell to their blades, consumed by terror and despair in her final moment…

Not if I can prevent it. Cianan ta Daneal’s visions were no longer confined to nightmares. (A Guardian’s Hope—coming August 2018)

3. “Bran, don’t go.” Finora handed him his seabag. Rona, the ginger cat, wound around her ankles with a plaintive meow. (A Guardian’s Storm—coming later 2018)

4. What to do when nightmares become real? (A Guardian’s Dreams—coming later 2018)

5. Daq Aryk’s gaze swept the battlefield as he stood at the edge closest to his village. Too close. They’d brought the fight to his very doorstep this time. (A Guardian’s Destiny—coming 2019)

6. Utter horror nailed Maili to the plank floor of her grandmother’s elevated hut. Wed Pilipo? Old Stone Face? That pig-of-a-snake Toka war chief? (A Guardian Betrayed—coming 2019)

7. Death at the hands of men with no honor? Not my first choice, but a fight’s a fight. Valkyn dragged his bruised and naked body off the hot courtyard ground where they’d flung him and swayed to his feet. (A Guardian Redeemed—coming 2019)

What do you want your story tone/atmosphere to be? What’s your character’s single defining characteristic? How best to foreshadow the coming fictitious disaster your character’s about to confront? Readers want to identify with the main character, so give them a taste of life in their shoes, a hint of the coming emotional or physical risk. A single image, moment, question or statement that defines your character and story.

Hook—that first sentence, first paragraph, first page. Turn nay into yay…

“I want more, send full manuscript, sign this contract, here’s your first royalty statement (and check).”

“Hey, you made the XYZ Bestseller List and won the PDQ Award!”

“Can you sign my book(s)?”

Want more from Renee?

A Guardian’s Heart by Renee Wildes

now available from Champagne Books

from Amazon

from Barnes & Noble


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