Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Great Beginnings

I was thinking about what it is about some stories that catches my interest right away, why others leave me wondering why I'm bothering to read them, after far too many pages.

You gotta have a "hook", a "gimmick" or some sort of spectacular beginning to a story to catch my eye, make me care, get me thinking.

Some examples (anyone who can tell me which books they're all from has my utmost respect as a fellow connoisseur of SF and Fantasy):

"I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn't sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed."

I just have to know why the mailman laughed, don't you?

"Death came silently to the Row."

Eek! Are we in for a story about assassins? What's the Row? Who dies, and how?

"It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me. I attempted to wriggle my toes, succeeded. I was sprawled there in a hospital bed and my legs were done up in plaster casts, but they were still mine. I squeezed my eyes and opened them, three times. The room grew steady. Where the hell was I?"

Waking up in a hospital bed with both legs in a cast, no memory of what has gone before...there's gotta be a good story here.

"There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife's blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck. I can call up memories of both, if I work at it."

Nothing else needs be said. This is a nearly perfect hook.

"His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god."


"I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion...no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials...no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes - no income tax. The climate is the sort that Florida and California claim (and neither has), the land is lovely, the people are friendly and hospitable to strangers, the women are beautiful and amazingly anxious to please - I could go back. I could-"

I wanna go there, too! Please, take me with you!

Nearly every book I've ever loved has hooked me within the first page, and often with the first paragraph. If you're an author, you've got a very short time to make a first impression - make it count! Tell me something I've never heard, show me a land I've never seen, turn a phrase that makes me laugh, boggle my mind with a puzzle, grab me by the throat and make me enjoy your book, darn it!


Kathy Martin said...

Those are great openings. The only one I sort of recognize is the one about Sam which I think is a Zelazny.

Jon said...

Very good, Kathy, that quote is from Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny.