Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Write Romance Novel Part Two


Yes, I am continuing on this insanely ambitious blog series on How to Write a Romance Novel. Why not? It’s not like I have things to blog about from my everyday life. I’m a mother of three, two in college, one in high school, who all think they don’t need me any longer (except when they need to BUY something). I’m not traveling right now; my husband and I are doing great (not that I want you involved in my marriage, thank you very much). I am teaching full time, and I could actually fill a year’s worth of blogs with the anecdotes of my students, their parents and the frustrations of a teaching within a school system, but I don’t think any of my students or their parents would appreciate recognizing themselves on these pages and as for venting my frustrations…well, I still have to pay tuition for those two who think they don’t need me. So I’m left with writing and we’re starting at the beginning.

You want to open your book with something--an event, facts, actions, conversation--that will draw the reader in and compel her to read more. This is called the hook. Not being a fisherman myself, I won’t continue the analogy of landing the fish, but you do want to grab the reader. Something has to happen at the beginning of the novel. And you start with the first line. Here are some examples :

Audrey Magill went into the Third Street antique store looking for a chair and found a man instead. (READY AND WILLING by Elizabeth Bevarly, Berkley Sensation, 2008)

Why it works: We have the name of our heroine, and an unexpected twist in the second half of the sentence. It raises questions in the mind of the reader.

The Glitter Baby was back. (GLITTER BABY by Susan Elizabeth Phillip, Avon, 1987,2009)

Why it works: Uses the title. The word “back” raises questions in the readers’ minds.

Justice took inventory of his condition, his weapons, and his chances, as he’d done so many times before in his centuries as a warrior, and came up with:
1. bad
2. worse
3. odds-on favorite to be a dead man in the next five minutes
. (ATLANTIS UNLEASHED by Alyssa Day, Berkely Sensaton, 2009)

Why it works: We have the name of our hero, we have some background, and we know he’s in trouble. The situation raises questions in the mind of the reader.

“Not there,” said Collin. (THE TEMPTATION OF THE NIGHT JASMINE by Lauren Willig, Dutton, 2009)

Why it works: It’s the middle of a conversation. Where will this conversation go? And what’s not there? Or why not there? And other questions.

The aunts had summoned her. (THE WISH LIST, Gabi Stevens, Tor, 2010)

Why it works: Our character is being pulled somewhere. Why? Who are the aunts? Why are they summoning her? Who do they think they are “summoning” her?

You may have already noticed the common element: Questions. The desire to know more. I pulled these books at random from my shelves (with the exception of my own) but they all essentially are making the reader think from the first line. They aren’t giving much information; they simple start the story and ask the reader to come along for the ride.

That’s what your hook has to do: Ask the reader to come along for the ride. To accomplish this you have to start your novel with something happening, not introspective, not backstory. Unless you start writing your first novel after many workshops/classes/advice, most first novels begin with explanation. My first novel began with three pages of the heroine walking up the stairs thinking about her life, how she was an orphan, how nobody loved her, how wicked her aunt was, how sad her life she was. Three pages! And all she did was walk up the stairs! Ugh. And every other author I’ve talked to said they did the same type of thing--started with backstory or explanation.

Start in the middle of a scene. Start where the heroine’s day can’t get worse and then it does. Start in the middle of action. Start in the middle of an argument. Start with something that raises questions in the readers’ minds. If you start with dialog, for God’s sake, don’t start with ”Hello, how are you?” If you start with action it shouldn’t be She walked up the stairs. You’re trying to grab the reader, not put them to sleep.

The hook is more than just the first line, but you get the idea by now. Start with something that drags the reader in. Think of the movies. The opening scene of Indiana Jones has little to do with the rest of the movie except to introduce the hero and his rival. But, oh, that opening action! Look at Star Wars (The real first one, not the pretend early episodes) Look at Gone With the Wind. Look at Notting Hill. Yes, they establish setting and characters, but not in a boring way. That’s what you want to establish at the beginning of your novel.

So continue your writing. The best way to learn is by doing…and then analyzing after you’ve written.

Next week…Elements of a Novel

Books I’m reading now:
Sand, Sun…Seduction! By Stephanie Bond, Leslie Kelly, and Lori Wilde
Burning Alive by Shannon K Butcher
On a Wicked Dawn by Stephanie Laurens


  1. LOVE your example, Gabi! This is a subject I'm passionate about. You must, must, must hook the reader.

    Very nice! I love this series you are doing.


  2. great examples of opening hooks.

  3. What excellent examples of hooks. ATLANTIS UNLEASHED is one of the novels in my infamous Leaning Tower of TBR (R) skyscraper, and based on that hook, I think it just got bumped up a couple of dozen floors.

    I'll look forward to reading more in your series of articles.

    It was great to meet you at LERA on Saturday.