Where’s My Fishing Pole?

Can I hook a teen? Sure, I have two teens of my own, so I have years of experience. All you need is a really good, sturdy hook, like the one below, and then you gotta bait it with some pizza or an iPhone–

Okay, I’m going to stop now before I get in trouble! This particular contest is about an entirely different kind of hook: The beginning of your story. For me, crafting the perfect First Page Hook is scarier and more painful than a big, sharp fishhook right in the butt (which happened to my sister when she was a kid).

I have a great time writing once the story gets going, but that first page is a killer. I think I’ve revised it 10 times, and last week my wonderful writers’ group told me it’s still not hooky enough. (What would I do without them? Working on a MS which is nowhere near as polished, is the answer!)

Back to that in a minute. Brenda Drake is hosting a super-fun and challenging contest to show off our amazing, shiny, perfect 250-word hooks. Not just any old 250 words, but the book’s very beginning – the exact part which is likely to hook and draw in the readers you’re trying to attract. Kate and Taryn of Teen Eyes Editorial Services will be the judges, and boy am I as nervous as a worm hanging onto the end of a fishing line!

I’ll definitely be tweaking and polishing my entry some more before the deadline on September 23. I haven’t changed anything since writers’ group last week, thinking I’d let it stew, but nothing has really come to mind yet. They think the 2nd paragraph is a bit of an info dump that can be written into the action instead. I’m also going to post the original beginning, in the hopes that maybe some of you can help me sort the problem out.

So this is what I’m using now:

The wind flung debris into my eyes over the pages of the book, jarring me back to reality. A faint glow from the full moon was just starting to show over the tops of the trees. Nighttime had sneaked up on me again. Great. I stopped walking long enough to stuff the paperback I’d been reading into my backpack before I fell on my face, then quickened my steps.

The little pockets of evergreen woods dotting my town are supposed to be haunted. It’s said when the wind moans through the branches on moonless nights, it’s really the sound of otherworldly creatures roaming the trees in search of something they lost centuries ago. Whether or not anyone believed it, they couldn’t deny the trees here seemed older and wilder than in the big mountain forests above town. Especially the narrow strip of pines below the hill near my house: It was always too dark and cold in there, even in the middle of the day. And the sound of the gusts blowing through the branches: Unearthly is the only word to describe it. More like the howling of animals than air rushing through leaves.

So it really sucked that the trail through the woods was the quickest way home. I hated my brother for telling me the old ghost story too many times as a kid, with that embellished, sadistic way only older brothers can do.

And the original beginning:

The wind rattled the door next to me like it was trying to get in, making me jump. My cup of hot chocolate fell off the table, spilling all over my backpack. I grabbed napkins from the dispenser and mopped the chocolate up, then wadded them into a sopping ball, which I tossed at the garbage bin. It hit the side with a juicy splat and slid to the floor.

The cashier shot me a perky smile from behind the counter. “You aren’t leaving already, are you, Nissa? The only book you’ve cracked all afternoon’s been that corny romance.”

“It’s getting dark.” I stuffed the book into my backpack and aimed my cup at the bin, where it bounced off the rim to join the dripping napkins on the floor.

“See you tomorrow?”

I scooped my garbage up into the bin, then cast a nervous glance at the purple sky, where the faintest glow from the full moon was just starting to show over the tops of the trees. “Maybe. It seems like night is starting to come earlier now.” I waved goodbye, then headed across the parking lot. If I hurried, I could probably still make the shortcut through the woods. The wind blew harder as I reached the crosswalk, biting my cheeks with a chill that felt like early winter and smelled like log fires.

Darkness and wind. Not a good combination. There’s an old legend about the little pockets of woods dotting my town.

Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t think the cafe scene was really necessary. Just after that part, she gets to the woods, and then there’s the description about why they’re so creepy. It was this original beginning that hooked Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown and got her to request a full – but then she broke my heart anyway! 😉

I’d love to know what parts of either version you find to be the most hooky. When you start a book, what is it about the first page that sucks you in? An intro to the main characters before adding the conflict? Starting right in the middle of the action? Dialogue, internal narrative, or a combination? What books have you read recently whose beginnings you just loved?

I can’t wait to read the other entrants’ first 250 words and find out all the creative and amazing ways they’re beginning their books!


15 thoughts on “Where’s My Fishing Pole?

  1. Hello, I really liked the second opening. I felt like it was very atmospheric. I really wanted to know what was going to happen next with Nissa. 🙂

    This sounds like a wonderful story, super creepy. I would read on.


  2. I liked the first one becasue the first line just kept getting better until I couldn't stop reading, but I was pulled out when she said the word “sucked” becasue it didn't seem to fit the description of the first two paragraphs. With #2 on the other hand you have the teen feeling all the way through. So I guess my vote is #2


  3. Ok, here's my 2 cents:

    Both are great, so I'm going to be nitpicky:

    The first one gives us atmosphere.

    The second one gives us character insight.

    So, while neither one is wrong, it's now a matter of subjective preference. Do readers like to know their characters first, see what they're like, to decide if they want to read the rest of the story? Or are they drawn in to the setting first, getting a feel of the atmosphere you're setting up for the rest of the story?

    Hm, sounds tricky, huh. As for me, I like getting to know the character first, but atmosphere is always a big plus in my book. I'm a sensorial person so I need to get a feel for the voice and tone of the book. Is it haunting? Chick-lit-like? Humorous? And etc. etc.

    Actually, I just reread your second entry and the atmosphere is there, albeit subtle. So that's a win right there. 😉


  4. I liked the second one. It begins with making her jump, so it adds the atmosphere right away and then keeps it going, all the while we're learning a little about the character.

    The first one starts out fine (although I did wonder how she didn't realise it was getting dark when she was reading. I'd have found it too difficult to read long before the moon came up). But the second paragraph of the first one does slow the pace down and I don't think that's a good idea on the first page of that type of story.


  5. Guess I'm different. I preferred the first, but without the first two sentences. For me, they got in the way. I think you'd have a much stronger start with “Nighttime had sneaked up on me again. Great.” (However, I'd substitute “snuck” for “sneaked” because it's much less formal and we're talking YA here.)

    Great atmosphere and we're all set for something to happen.


  6. I won't help – since you are getting comments both ways. For me… I liked the second one. The cafe scene. I liked it better when I read it, but here is something I got from the agents at the conference… they want to know the character first. I was shocked because I've been hearing, “start with the action” so much, but they said “no.” They want know the character first! Plus, I really enjoyed that one better. :/ EEK – you can smack me now!


  7. I go with getting to know the character better too. That is the buzz I have been hearing lately. A little setting is okay, but it can be too exposition-ey.

    I am totally going to look into this contest. I would love to read others.


  8. Wow! I'm totally amazed and grateful to all of you who've commented so far. This just goes to show that Author Does Not Necessarily Know Best. LOL So I'll keep the coffee shop scene in, but try to combine elements of the two beginnings to improve it. I'm inspired again!


  9. I do like the second one style-wise, but if I opened that in the store I'd probably put it back because it's so full of setup and 'oh, look, haunted woods that I have to go through'. The second one is much more my style (I say this as a teen which I guess might help, but that it with a grain of salt). I don't know why I like the voice of two so much better.


  10. Good luck Kristin! I won a full critique from Taryn a month or so ago and she's great.

    These lines jumped out at me: And the sound of the gusts blowing through the branches: Unearthly is the only word to describe it. More like the howling of animals than air rushing through leaves.

    Your sentence: Unearthly is…. is unnecessary. You told us you meant unearthly, then described unearthly again. IMO, delete the telling sentence. This is a common overwriting mistake – and I do it too! So: The sound of the wind rushing through the trees sounded like animals shrieking at my heels.


  11. Hi Kristin. I have to say I liked the second one better. The hook line did it's job. I was sucked in immediately. What wasn't clear was why she jumped. Did she see something out the window? Was the book she was reading a ghostly romance? I think that's what's missing. You give us this great tension right off the bat, and then you lose us. Stay in that moment. Have your lead barely hear the waitress. Maybe she walks outside, pulls her jacket tight to her, her gaze set on the woods. I don't think the drink spilling and the napkin stuff is necessary. Does she have any hesitation about going through the woods? it is dark, it's windy. Great atmosphere for something bad to happen. Make us feel her tension, her fear, then I think you'll have what you're looking for. Good luck in the contest!!!


  12. I liked the second one. I wanted to know what was going to happen next more than I did with the first one. Best luck with it, you are very talented.

    p.s. I tagged you in a meme on my blog. Come check it out if you get a chance. 🙂


  13. I think that your original puts us into Nissa's head better. We're with her, and I really like that. The information comes out more naturally.

    People who read more adult fiction will like the top one better – that's my guess.

    It's SOooo much better (IMO) to get the story from the ACTION, not from thoughts, memories or musings. You did that with your first one. (The lower one on your post)


  14. I like your original opening better. While you may not think the cafe scene is necessary, I think it gives good insight into the character and also grounds her with a reason as to why she's out at night and has to walk home.


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