Shedding Light on Your Audience
“Hook Critique” Series: Article 1, Part 2
If you’ve stumbled onto this blog, you’re jumping into a series—but you’re in luck if you’re an aspiring author! Here’s some context: This is an almost-live editing series. Where real authors send in their work and real editors give real-time feedback. Each of these “hook critique” posts has two parts: 1) The original draft of a book’s opening pages and the notes from the editor on what might make it even better, 2) and the response from the author along with their revised opening page or so. These are great to review because they’ll give you a peek into the editing-and-revision world that helps a book become publishable and marketable. So, enjoy!
Today we’re following up with the second part of our article. Earlier, Rebecca Talley generously allowed us to post a critique of an early first page draft from her novel Aura. (We strongly recommend you start with that post for this one to make any sense. You can see her initial draft and the real-time editing suggestions here.) Following is Rebecca’s final draft of that first page, followed by her comments on what she’s learned in the hook-writing process:
The brisk late-night air wound itself around Matt’s neck while the house keys shook in his hand. He glanced over his left shoulder. Over his right. His heart thundered against his ribs. He scanned the neighborhood. Nothing out of the ordinary—but nothing was as it seemed. Never would be again. He wiped perspiration from his forehead and drew in a breath.
In one swift movement, he opened the creaky front door to the rental house, stepped inside, and closed the door. He locked the door and rested his head against it for a moment before turning around. With three strides he was standing next to the couch, where his wife lay sleeping, bathed in the glow of the television. He knelt next to the couch and attempted to calm his breathing while he watched the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. So peaceful. Relaxed. Unaware.
He tugged on her arm, trying to rouse her. “Pam, honey, wake up.”
Her eyelids fluttered open. He took several breaths, hoping to settle his raging heartbeat.
“Matt? What’s wrong?” She lifted herself on one elbow and pushed a few strands of her long, blonde hair from her face. “You look terrified.”
He didn’t want to panic her or scare her. But he had no choice. “We need to leave.”
She cleared her throat. “What are you talking about?”
“We can’t stay here anymore.” It sounded crazy and unreasonable—even to him.
Pam raised her eyebrows. “Why? You aren’t making any sense.”
I decided to start the story earlier so it would all come together at the end and make more sense. I tried to start with some excitement and intrigue and a sense of fear and immediacy. I’ve learned that I tend to add too many details in the beginning, so I need to dive into the story instead of building up that first scene with background. I need to cut out the boring stuff and get into the meat of the story on that first page.
To finish reading Aura, and to find anything else our spotlight author has written, see below:
Fiction Inspired by Life
Time to hear from you. Is there something you’ve learned about hooks that has been game-changing for you—a way to snag a reader that has changed everything for your writing? Comment below!
I’ve ditched a whole first chapter in order to start a book at an exciting part on the advice of a knowledgable critique partner. It was the best advice I ever received. Sometimes we get so “in love” with our own writing that we can’t be objective, and it takes another unattached reader to open our eyes to better possibilities. That opening scene is the most important part of your book, with the ending coming in a close second. That ending will bring your readers back, or turn them away forever.
Wow. I totally agree Debra. Killing our darlings is often really hard. Sometimes they just need to be moved or truncated, sometimes killed. Even as an editor, when there’s a really cool scene or idea that I like, but that doesn’t serve the story, I’ll spend way too long trying to make it work before I finally give in and suggest a total cut. That’s why I tell authors to save their favorite scenes for their fans–posting really good ones on their websites.
Rebecca, I definitely think starting in a new place was a good move. It totally changes the tone of the story and has much more innate tension. Good call!
Definitely better! Very interesting to read the before and after. As Angela says, sometimes we have to “kill our darlings,” but those darlings always serve a purpose, even if it’s just to give us ideas for later. Really, nothing goes to waste.
This is a great opening page! It brings up so many questions that would keep me reading. After eleven years of writing and editing, I still fight the tendency to include too much backstory in my opening chapters. It comes down to that age-old advice for writers–showing is better than telling. This opening page shows me this character and allows me to ask my own questions and draw my own conclusions and make my own judgments. In short, it engages me as a reader, which is exactly what every author wants to do. Great job!
Thanks! I think I get too mired in trying to give backstory and details at the beginning instead of just jumping right into the story and establishing that story question right away. I just read some great advice when it comes to any aspect of writing, ask yourself, “Who cares?” This is especially true with the first page. Whatever we include has to matter, it has to be important. If it isn’t, cut it out. We don’t need to read about a character brushing his teeth unless there’s poison in the toothpaste. I need to ask myself that question over and over again so I can cut out the unnecessary stuff I seem to keep including!
A much more gripping opening. Love being able to see first hand how a story can be made tighter. Can’t wait to put some of that advice in my opening.