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A Novelist’s Tips on Writing Leads to Hook Readers

In this guest post, novelist William Meikle offers tips on writing leads (“killer opening lines”) – and keeping your readers hooked.

But first, I have to share a quip from Annie Dillard on how to be a successful writer:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time,” says Dillard. “Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book: give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”

Take Annie Dillard’s advice and shmoosh it in with William Meikle’s writing tips below, and you’ll be a writer of leads that hook readers before you know it!  To get a feel for Meikle’s writing (he’s the author of 9 books and several screenplays), click on the book cover.

 A Published Novelist Explains How to Write a Leads to Hook Readers

Starting writing is like casting a hook into a river. The opening line is probably the single most important sentence you are going to write in your piece. Over the years writers have spent large chunks of their creative time getting the “right” start, the one that will draw readers in and make them move on to the second sentence, then the third, until they are hooked. Then the writer can relax a bit and reel the readers in at a more leisurely pace.

Have a look at these four examples. You don’t need to know where they came from… just read them for now.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“All children, except one, grow.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was an epoch of belief, it was an epoch of incredulity, it was a season of light, it was a season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …”

Note that they are all declarative, but they also all set questions running in the reader’s mind. “Who is this single man with a good fortune?”, “Which child does not grow?”, “Why should we call you Ishmael?”, “When is this book set, and where would all these opposites apply at the same time?”

These four sentences, from books considered to be classics, all set up the story with an opening that carries an echo of the content of the rest of the book, and an implied question that creates a desire in the reader to move on and find out more. And all four carry enough resonance that you can probably have a guess at the books they came from. more than 100 years after they were written.

Not bad for a single sentence.

One trick I’ve practised is to take an opening sentence from another writers book, and construct a possible plot from it. You too could try using other authors opening sentences as a springboard to unlocking your own creations.

Just remember to hook your reader first, otherwise they’ll just be another one that got away.

About Guest Author William Meikle: “I’m a Scottish writer with nine novels published in the genre press, and short story credits in thirteen countries and six languages,” says Meikle. “My most recent sales are to the current Wrongworld DVD anthologies “Halloween” and “Teachers.”  I have also had four short films produced from my scripts, with four more currently in production.” For more info about this successful writer, visit Meikle’s blog.

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What’s your favorite way to write leads that hook readers — or to be hooked as a reader? I welcome your comments below!

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2 thoughts on “A Novelist’s Tips on Writing Leads to Hook Readers”

  1. Fanastic examples to highlight your point. I may not write novels, instead I focus on article headlines. The problem is coming up with good ones without spending too much time when you have loads of work to do.

  2. Good advice, and useful for nonfiction writers, as well. I know one of the things that keeps me from starting a piece is the fear of tackling that first sentence. This is a great way to break the block!