Best opening scenes/hooks in novels
In last week’s post I examined the types of sentences that work at the start your novel. If you missed it you can view it here.
Today I’m going to talk about the best book beginning, or hooks, that I’ve read recently and explain what captivated my attention.
First up is ‘All fall down’ by Jennifer Weiner. In the opening scene the protagonist takes her daughter to a doctor’s office for a check up. While waiting for their turn the mother picks up a magazine where she spots an alcohol/drug addiction quiz. As she takes it, it becomes evident that she’s addicted to painkillers but is in denial and is currently in the stage where she is a ‘functioning’ addict.
From the summary of the book I already knew that the story would be about a mother in her thirties and her downfall into addiction. What I really liked about the opening scene is that we are plunged immediately into the story. At the same time the situation is relatively normal – our protagonist is not doing anything that is hard to relate to. After all many of us have taken a quiz before that made us feel uncomfortable, wondering whether our immune system, sugar proclivity or lack of exercise is out of control.
Next up is the beginning of ‘Gone girl’ by Gillian Flynn.
Warning spoiler alerts below
In the opening scene of ‘Gone girl’ one of our two protagonists, Nick describes the shape of his wife’s head and how he would like to open her skull and look at what is inside. The fact that he considers something like this and the way he says it is morbid.
This is a great start since Nick’s wife is missing for the first half of the book and he’s the prime suspect. Thus, this is the perfect scene setting him up and making the reader believe that Nick could’ve actually killed his wife.
In the novel ‘Weightless’ by Sarah Bannan the hook is a description of a pep rally taking place. It is told from a third point plural perspective of the normal high school kids watching the popular kids. The book’s plot and tragedy is centered around popularity, pettiness and high school gossip and thus this is a great scene to plunge into the novel.
‘The way I used to be’ by Amber Smith examines the aftermath of rape and how the protagonist deals with it over the course of the next four years. The opening scene is very powerful as the fourteen year old protagonist lays in bed wondering how it is possible that she was raped the previous night in her own bed by a friend of her older brother.
Finally, in ‘Throne of glass’ by Sarah J. Maas the protagonist Celaena is being schlepped from the salt mines, where she has just spend a year as a slave, in front of the crown prince. The prince asks her to become his champion at an upcoming game. From the way Celaena treats the prince it becomes apparent that even after torturous years her spirit is still intact and that she is a dangerous woman that will change the destiny of the whole empire.
So what do all of these hooks have in common?
1.They throw us directly into the story
They start at an interesting point. There is no long explanation, no long description of the surroundings, no boring mundane action. Instead the reader is directly thrown into the story.
2.They create empathy and/or admiration in the reader toward the protagonist
- Celaena still has her pride/defiance after spending one year as a slave
- The mother in ‘All fall down’ is juggling a career and a demanding, hypersensitive young child
- The protagonists of ‘Weightless’ are looking from the inside in. Most people have felt like the outsiders or the unimportant ones at one point or another in a social hierarchy
In summary, the best opening scenes or hooks throw the reader right into the midst of the story and also create positive feelings toward the protagonist.