Thursday, September 25, 2014 | By: The Write Way Cafe

Open Velocity or have you HOOKED your reader today?

Writers need to excel at writing a good hook. The Write Way Café welcomes today an expert at that, author Carol Malone.

This material first appeared as a course I taught within the Group Coaching Program for Novelists where I work as an assistant mentor. Click here  for more information about the program where we help novelists write, edit, publish, and market their books in with joy, love, enthusiasm, and smarts.

“Thomas had to die. There were as many ways to kill the man who raped her – nails guns, pneumatic cutters, craftsmen shears, and huge rolls of fabric that could easily slip from their precarious slots at the top of very tall pallets – as there were reasons. Else just needed to get him in the plant – alone.” The Game of Dating by Carol Malone

Did those sentences grab you? 
Were you hooked in? 
Do you want to read more? 

What you just read was my attempt at an opening grabber, hook, or what’s called “opening velocity” in my suspense romance novel.  

Opening Velocity or can you hook the reader with your first few sentences?

What is opening velocity?

It is that writing device or skill with which every writer wants to grab hold of their readers and not let go. We want to start off with a bang and keep the momentum going so the reader won’t be able to put our novels down. In order to accomplish that task, we have to snare our readers from the very first words.

Why is opening velocity or a great opening hook important to a novel? 

How many of you have read stories that begin with a narrative dump? Have you read on and on about the weather, the setting, non-essential characters, yet aren’t getting involved in their story enough to care? I once read the novel from a very famous writer. They had twenty-five pages of narrative about the countryside of Spain as their opening. Needless to say, I skipped a lot of detail to get to the meat. 

Don’t you want a book to jump out at you, hook you by the throat and not let go until you’re reading, “The End.” 

How do we do this? There are a number of ways to write a great hook, or rev up the opening velocity:

1.  Some people start their novels with a few lines of dialogue. It begs the reader to ask, "What just happened?" and they will continue to read because their interest is piqued:  
"Do we go to our death—or worse?" Malkom Slaine gazed over at his best friend, Prince Kallen the Just, wishing he had a better answer for him, anything to ease the apprehension in Kallen's eyes.”
-- Opening line from Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole 

2.  Open with emotion. And don’t just tell the reader your character is angry, you have to SHOW this in your creative way of writing: 
“Charlene Braddock slammed her laptop closed and hurled it across the bedroom.” 
-- Midnight Lies by Ella Grace

3.  Start with something that will scare or excite your reader. “I’m sitting on a cold metal slab, and there’s blood all over my shirt.” Opening from Between Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters.

4.  Use a contradiction to start you story. This works well with stories with more emotion:  
“I started walking to the canal one day out of boredom. It's not that I'm particularly fond of canals;” From Lee Rourke, The Canal

5.  Try to find an interesting description. (No long treatise on nature, please!):  
From J.D. Robb’s, Treachery in Death:  “The old man lay dead on a scattered pile of candy bars and bubble gum. Cracked tubes of soft drinks, power drinks, sports drinks spilled out of the smashed glass of their cooler in colorful rivers.” 

6.  Introduce a fascinating character. The more intriguing a character, the more you pull your reader in to see how the story will play out:  
From Stephen King’s, Full Dark, No Stars: “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:  My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession. In June of 1922 I murdered my wife, Arlette Christina Winters James, and hid her body by tupping it down an old well.”

Any one of these devices would add great POP to the opening of a novel and HOOK the reader from the start. As a great author, we want to hook with a great opening. 

Start your novel right at the moment when our characters are going through a crisis or at the very least, a compelling problem that will engage and hold the interest of our targeted audience. 

Try choosing one of these opening velocity devices and use it to revise an opening line or two from one of your own stories. See how much better your opening line and/or lines can become if you put a little effort into crafting an opening with a BOOM!   

Stephen King instructed authors in his article featured in The Atlantic magazine, July 23, 2013; “How can a writer extend an appealing invitation – one that’s difficult, even, to refuse? … An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

Put in the time and effort to perfect your entire story, then think deeply about the opening line or couple of lines. 
1. Will they reflect what I want the reader to know in one sentence? 
2. Will it grab their attention and not let go? 
3. Will it create interest and set the stage? 
4. Then will you spend months, like Stephen King, or maybe even years perfecting your opening? Hopefully, it won’t take that long because you’ll all be experts. 
It is my hope you will get something from this discussion on how to write with opening velocity. Creating memorable openings is essential. Try choosing one of the above opening velocity devices and use them to revise an opening line or two from one of your own stories. See how much better your opening line and/or lines can become if you put a little effort into crafting an opening with a BOOM!  


“It was a dark and stormy night.” –Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time OR Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, OR maybe Snoopy?

“When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” –Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird

“It was the best of times and the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world.” – Joe Brainard

“Not every 13-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.” –Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

“You’ve Been Here Before.” Douglas Fairbairn, Needful Things.

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” –E.B White, Charlotte’s Web

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Genesis 1

“You better not never tell nobody but God.”–Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“They shoot the white girl first.” Toni Morrison, Paradise

“They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice

“This is what happened.” Douglas Fairbairn, Shoot

About the author:  Carol Malone successfully combined her three passions – romance, sports, and writing in her highly rated book, “Fight Card Romance: Ladies Night.”  With her love story “Ladies Night,” she became the first woman to punch her way into the male-dominated genre of pulp boxing. Her stories to entice readers to scramble into a front row seat for a thrill-ride of romance and sports. When not hammering out new tales, Carol is reading, watching sports or the Food Network, or hanging with her sci-fi author husband.

Carol can be found at her websiteFacebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Amazon.


HiDee said...

These are great tips. Thanks for being with us today, Carol!

CJ Burright said...

Great post - thanks for sharing your knowledge, Carol!

D'Ann said...

Hooks are kind of my thing! Last April I won the Authonomy contest, with almost 800 entries on my first lines!
Good post!

CMalone said...

Thank you for having me, HiDee. I love to write about writing tips. Hooking the reader is one of my favorite.

CMalone said...

Thank you CJ. I do love to share what little knowledge I've gained so far.

CMalone said...

Wow! D'Ann. That's fantastic. Congratulations. That must be some hook. Can you share here?

Cathy Shouse said...

Thanks for the great tips. I like hoe you got right to the point, used examples and quoted experts. This really helped me. I appreciate that you took the time to go beyond the usual advice!