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Our local writer’s group has hosted a noted western writer as guest speaker several times. His discussion about the publishing process left an indelible impression on me. He spoke of visiting his publisher in New York where he hung around the offices after a meeting. The staff had had a very long day, yet they ordered pizza and then kicked back to go through the slush pile, a huge backlog of unsolicited manuscripts. He said he watched as they “tossed” one manuscript after another. If the first sentence or two didn’t grab them, well, “that’s all she wrote”, so to speak.
There’s a reason it’s called a “hook”. We bait our hook with the best story in us, cast it into the great ocean of readers, and then hope to get a bite. I have daily access to nearly 80,000 books (I work at a library). Since the day I heard that writer describe the “tossing” process, I’ve developed the habit of reading the first sentence of many, many books over the course of a work day. The stories that make me want to turn the page all seem to have one thing in common. They create a question that I must know the answer to.
Does this make you want to read on? “It dropped out of the sky at 3:41 p.m. central daylight time on Friday, May 10, 1963, into a field in southeastern Oklahoma eight miles west of Tishomingo.” What, pray tell, dropped out of the sky? That’s the first sentence from Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon.
“I remember…I was supposed to be sad that day.” Why? That’s from Dan Walsh’s The Discovery.
“The screech of brakes split the silence just before the Buick smashed through the guardrail and tumbled down the steep embankment.” Nicola Beaumont’s Silent Witness makes me wonder who wrecked and whether they made it or not.
All three examples caused me to nibble and download to my Kindle.
So, what question are you creating in the minds of your readers with the first sentence or two of your WIP? I’d love for you to post some of your first sentences. Here’s mine:
“Bailey’s not going to like this. Dizziness swirled my brain to jelly the moment I realized I’d have to tell her.”