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Monday, October 18, 2021

The Happy Hooker by Lois Winston


The Happy Hooker

By Lois Winston

No, this is not a post about the world’s oldest profession. It’s about opening hooks. Because attention spans aren’t what they used to be, authors have precious few seconds to grab a reader’s attention. If you don’t hook a reader with the first page of your book, chances are, she won’t read the second page.

Too many writers make the mistake of opening their books with long passages of description and back-story. Bad idea! Especially when you open with a description of the weather.

There’s a reason Snoopy kept getting all those rejection letters whenever he submitted his novel, which opened with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” It’s also the reason that a well-known annual writing contest for the worst opening lines in books is named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the author of that famous line. It appeared in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. If you’ve never read the complete opening sentence, here it is:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Pretty bad, right? The sad truth is that too many writers open their stories in a similar manner. That’s why I’m a firm believer in hooking a reader with the very first line of my books. I want my readers to be intrigued enough by that first line to continue reading.

A book’s hook doesn’t have to be defined by the first sentence, but that first sentence should

make the reader want to read the next sentence. And then the next. Those first sentences should form a paragraph that makes the reader want to read the next paragraph. And then the next. Until the reader has read a complete page that makes her want to turn the page and read the next page. And finally, those first pages should create a first scene that has sufficiently hooked the reader so she can’t put the book down. She has to keep reading to find out what happens next.

The opening of a book should suck the reader into the world the author has created. Back-story can come later, trickling in to tease the reader to continue reading, not as information dumps that pull the reader from the story. A good opening will include only the barest minimum of back-story that is essential for that moment.

As for description, it should be woven into the narrative and dialogue. Nothing bores more than long paragraphs describing everything from the length of the protagonist’s hair to the color of her toenail polish. It, too, pulls the reader from the story. And pulling the reader from the story is a definite no-no. It adversely affects the pacing of a book. Good pacing, especially in a mystery, is imperative for a well-written novel.

Solve any murders over the weekend?”

That’s the opening line of Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth and newest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. I hope it entices you to want to read the next sentence…and the next…and the next….

Do you have a favorite first sentence from a book you’ve read?

Stitch, Bake, Die!

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10

With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.

The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.

Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?

Crafting tips included.

Buy Links

Paperback (available Oct. 4th)

Kindle https://amzn.to/3ylMivw

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/stitch-bake-die

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/stitch-bake-die-lois-winston/1140036766;jsessionid=25A7F9659AD9C525D5EAB0BECCEA6D09.prodny_store02-atgap06?ean=2940162610267

Apple Books https://books.apple.com/us/book/stitch-bake-die/id1582066729

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

10 comments:

Jim Jackson said...

If you’re famous, readers give you time to set your story. For the rest of us, we need to hook them and hold them.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I agree with Jim. First sentence ("it was a hell of a night to throw away a baby" Julia Spencer-Fleming) and first paragraph.

Kait said...

Margaret posted my favorite first sentence. It was such an effective hook that it hooked me on the entire series! All the best with the latest, Lois.

KM Rockwood said...

While I realize the theory (and reality) behind the "grab them with the first sentence," I also enjoy reading books that set the stage. Admittedly they tend to be older books.

Lois Winston said...

Jim, I'd argue that even famous authors need to hook readers from the start if they want those readers to keep coming back.

Margaret and Kait, Julia's first sentence is certainly one of the great ones.

Molly MacRae said...

Promise a riveting story with the hook in the first line, and then make sure the whole rest of the book lives up to that promise. An easy recipe without too much pressure. :) Yet we keep at working at. Good advice, Lois. Congratulations on the new book!

Marilyn Levinson said...

A great post, Lois!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Molly and Marilyn!

KM, you can certainly set the stage and open with a great first sentence hook. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Thanks for writing today. You definitely make a great point about the first sentence. I think too many of us get lost in establishing background and lose that point.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for inviting me today, Debra! With all the books out there, it's hard to grab readers' attention. That first sentence can really help.