Getting Hooked on Women’s Fiction

No hooks were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

I love a great first line.  I enjoy being impressed with the savviness of the author in his or her ability to draw me in.  That’s not saying I’ll devour a whole book based on the first bite.  I won’t.  That’s also not saying that some of the best books I’ve read have not had the best beginnings — because I’m sure some have.  But to me, memorable books are the ones whose story, characters and prose reveal an author’s talent.  That’s what sticks with me.  And what better place to prove that than the first line?

I especially love being hooked by women’s fiction because I see it as a teaching tool for my own writing.  What’s in there? How does it work? What are the components?  Can I do that too? Hooks, in my opinion, should not just exist on the first page.  They must exist throughout the book — at the start and finish of chapters and sections.  There can even be a hook at the end of the book — a hook in the sense that it makes the reader want to read more of that author’s work — or something that leads the reader to contemplate what may have happened in the unwritten next chapter.

But for the sake of today, I’m thinking about the very first line of a book of women’s fiction.  There are a number of blog posts scattered around the internet that focus on beginnings.  There are books that do the same thing.  But rarely do these focus solely on women’s fiction.

Which is why we’re here.

In women’s fiction hooks I think there’s a balance that should be struck in order to fulfill the need of women’s fiction readers. Revealing inklings of character work very well in a character-driven novel, but there has to be story notes woven into those few words as well.  If the thrust of the first line is what instead of who, it should still hint at a character that will engage the reader.  Women’s fiction is usually about relationships in one way or another — so perhaps the best first lines show us a part of a relationship, be it past, present, future or even imagined.

The best beginnings stick with me even when the rest of the book does not.  I marvel at a well-crafted hook where ever it pops up. I’m partial to short paragraphs at the beginning of books.  I think even with a hook – it gives me mental space to digest.

What makes a hook?  Something that grabs on and doesn’t let go. Certainly books ebb and flow – even paragraphs within a page-turner will give the reader a moment to catch his or her breath – but if that first line makes me think or smile or gasp – wow – I am hooked.

Are first lines important to you?  Do you like to be grabbed from the get-go when you read women’s fiction?  I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped reading a book because I didn’t love the first sentence – but loving it is better, don’t you think?

How did you approach your own first line?  Do you write the kind of hook you like to read in women’s fiction.  Is it more or less important in this genre than in any other? (I’m asking a lot of questions, I know, but this isn’t a soapbox, it’s a conversation!)

These first lines stuck with me.  There are many more – this is just a sample!

First lines from women’s fiction I’ve read and loved:

1. “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.”

First off, what I like about this line is the humor. It makes me blurt out HA but then it niggles at me with a sense of sadness.  And it makes me wonder who on earth would do this — and why.  And I can picture it.  Can’t you?  Yes, all that in one line.  Props to Cathy Lamb, this is the first line of Julia’s Chocolates – her first published novel.

2. “I wasn’t surprised when mama asked me to save her life.”

This is the first line in Randy Susan Meyers’ The Murderer’s Daughters.  I swallowed TMD whole when it first came out, but didn’t think of it as women’s fiction – I thought of it more as a family drama – a book that would appeal to anyone at all – not just women (I assume this is a compliment or at least I mean it as one although it is convoluted, I agree).  But I have seen it referred to as women’s fiction – and the protagonists are sisters.  And since we’ve determined on this blog (the arbiter of all things women’s fic, wouldn’t you say?) that women’s fiction is a broad umbrella, I’m calling it that to call attention to that first line.  I mean, truly.  What do I like about it?  Who’s the “I”?  I must know.  What on earth happened that the mama needs her life saved?  And what happened before that that the narrator wasn’t surprised?  It’s full of questions and mystery yet it’s also very direct.  Ten words with the impact of ten thousand.

First line from a friend’s WIP:

3. “Josip stepped out of the farthest corner of the restaurant, where the cigarette smoke was as thick as a dust storm.”

As I was writing this blog post I discovered that Pamela Toler’s first line — with the rest of the first paragraph — won Honorable Mention over at Tartitude.  No wonder then that it worked for me!  This first line of Pamela’s WIP, Balkan Stomp, conjures up a very vivid image for me.  There’s mystery about Josip is, who’s watching Josip and where and when could this be taking place?  We all bring our personal experiences to reading and I live in Illinois (as does Pamela, my friend and CP) where there is no smoking in restaurants — at all.  So another question to be answered by reading the book!

Two books on my TBR list:

4. “Beneath the surface of any problem, if you scrabble a bit, you’ll find a secret.”

This first line is from The Bird House by Kelly Simmons.

5. “When I was six years old, I found a baby in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria.”

This is the first line from The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel.

I happen to know more about these books based on the recommendations of friends, but even based on the first lines alone – I’m hooked!

* * *

What I found when going to through my Read It/Loved It and To Be Read piles is that not all books have singular first lines that hook.  The hook for my novel, The Glass Wives, is two sentences. Sometimes there are two are three lines or a paragraph that go together to create that hook experience.  We’ll discuss those another time — because now I have a list!

Share your favorite first lines — other author’s and your own — whether you’re published or not quite or just toying with some ideas.  Comment on each other’s — say what works and what it evokes for you.

C’mon — if you add your own first line(s) — not paragraphs, not pages — in the comments, I’ll add mine!  😉

56 thoughts on “Getting Hooked on Women’s Fiction

  1. Well…I’m a little nervous to leave my latest first line here, but I will. This is from my latest WIP, the one I’m working on now. I am so not even close to being published, but…here goes:

    “Everyone discriminates against smokers.”

    That’s it.

    Some of those lines you’ve listed are some of my favorites in Women’s Fiction too! Great post…I can never learn enough about what grabs a reader’s attention.

    Of course, now, I may have to change my latestet first line. 🙂

    Like

    • April,

      YAY for you! Thanks for sharing your first line first. 🙂 You win the blog bravery medal of the day!

      What I like about your first line is that it’s a generalization and assumption. I realize that may be what some people might not like maybe – but it intrigues me because I really wonder what’s next. I don’t get a sense of the tone of the book from it – and I’m curious if the narrator is a smoker discriminated against or the one doing the smoking! If you want to add the next line or the first paragraph now that we’ve seen the first line — I’d love to see it! Your call!

      Amy

      Like

  2. “On the first of her last five says on earth, Grandma Faith woke to Grandpa Luke’s side of the bed emptied.’

    That’s the first line of the novel I’m working on now – the last in the Graces trilogy. But, I don’t know if that will stay the first line, of course. I’m not sure about the first part of it – I’ve taken it out and put it back and fiddled and dee dee’d with it! But, there ya go all the same 😀

    I won’t ever stop reading a book just from a first line, or first paragraph, or first page, or even 20 pages later – I like to give a book a big chance. However, if I keep struggling, if I just can’t become engaged in the character, I’ll finally give up — and that doesn’t happen often, but it has happened!

    In fact, it happened recently with a NYT best selling author’s book – I was so surprised – but, I just couldn’t keep reading – I had another book on my beside I was itching to get to, so down the NYT bestseller went -maybe I’ll try that author’s book again later!

    Like

    • Hey Kat,
      Thanks for sharing your first line — which is so evocative because I know the characters! Stepping away and pretending I don’t, it’s really telling and enticing. We know Grandma Faith is going to die, we assume she had a long marriage to Grandpa Luke. We wonder who the narrator is (although I can guess but I might be wrong). So cool to get the inside peek — whether or not this remains the first line! Thanks, Kat!

      🙂
      Amy

      Like

  3. Okay, thank you! That’s kind of what I thought too about the first line. It’s intriguing…here are the next two lines:

    “Even today, my husband’s funeral. As I stand outside the church, dressed in my long, black skirt and my black silk tank-top and my black stiletto heels, I watch everyone step into the air conditioning only after sending me narrow-eyed glares.”

    Like

    • April,

      Yep, that first line leads very well into this full “hook” in my opinion. Now the reader really can imagine where this is headed. We know about the character, how she dresses, that she just lost her husband and that although she’s a smoker she’s rather self-conscious about it. I’m still not sure if she’s angry or sad, and I”m not sure I want to know this soon (maybe?) so I’m curious what’s next. And that in and of itself is always a good thing when someone is reading a line, paragraph, chapter or full manuscript. I’m not sure if narrow-eyed glares would be considered cliché — or if that matters. It’s definitely accurate (I did it to see, and yep, narrow-eyed glares are what a smoker would get!).

      Thanks for kicking off the day with a contribution!

      🙂
      Amy

      Like

  4. Ok, I’ll play too.

    This is the first line from The Glass Wives, the novel that’s on submission:

    “Evie never expected to get divorced, let alone sit Shiva for her ex-husband in a house with a Christmas tree.”

    This is the first line (of the moment) from my WIP currently titled, Lying to Izzy Lane:

    “Tonight I’ll confess, then do the dishes.”

    The latter is destined to change…but if I don’t have something I sort of like, I can’t continue – I get stuck. Same goes for titles, but that’s a post of a different color!

    ~ Amy

    Like

    • Oh, I like them both. Definitely makes me want to read more, and not just because I’m curious to know about the story but also because I want to know who Evie is that she’d be sitting Shiva…in a house with a Christmas tree!…for her ex! Who would DO that? Why the Christmas tree at a Jewish tradition?

      And the other line…what in the world is she going to confess? And can it be so unassuming that she can then go back and do something as mundane as the dishes?

      Oooh, this is fun! I’m glad you posted too!

      Like

  5. Thought I’d throw mine into the mix. (Love the sitting shiva and Christmas tree line, BTW.) I’ve changed my first line ad nauseum, but this is how it stands now.

    Most memories fade with time, but blood and adrenaline make an indelible mark, like a tattoo on your brain.

    Like

    • Hi — you typed Densie but I wonder if it’s Denise? Either way — good morning and thanks for playing along!! 😀

      I love the blood and adrenaline/tattoo part of your first line – it’s so true and it makes me wonder what the character did to get that “tattoo.” I’m not sure how it fits with fading memories or if for me, that part detracts from the intensity of blood and adrenaline – but I know you do know how it all fits! Feel free to add more of your hook if you want!

      Like

      • It actually is Densie, not Denise. But, believe me, after years of practice, I answer to Denise just as readily.

        These are the first three lines. I’ve futzed with the second and third line as much, if not more than the first. I’m much more comfortable writing dialogue. First lines, not so much.

        “Most memories fade with time, but blood and adrenaline make an indelible mark, like a tattoo on your brain. If you hide it well, you can pretend it doesn’t exist. But only for a while.”

        Love seeing everyone else’s first lines!

        Like

  6. These are so great! I love first lines, and they definitely hook me into a story, and then it’s several pages later and I didn’t realize I’d been hooked. 🙂

    I also love when the first line of a WIP comes out exactly the way it is supposed to. 🙂 (Hey, it happens! Sometimes. LOL) Other times it is tweaked as the story comes along.

    This is one that has changed as the story progresses, so it may change again. Who knows? 🙂

    “It was an anniversary dinner I’d never forget, no matter how hard I tried.”

    Like

    • Donna,

      I know what you mean – the first line isn’t the whole hook but it is a great gotcha. What I like about your first line is that I immediately want to know about that anniversary dinner! Makes me think it was a real doozie!

      Thank you for sharing it here!!

      ~ Amy

      Like

  7. Thanks for a fun post! I enjoyed everyone’s first lines. I especially loved “Tonight I’ll confess, then do the dishes.” The idea that she thinks it’s something that’s just going to take a second, and then she can get back to normal life; it hooks because you *know* something more will happen. Very effective hook, imo. I also love Densie’s–the blood, the adrenaline, and the promise of a strong voice. Nice!

    Here are mine:

    “I lost my twin to a harsh November nine years ago.” – The Last Will of Moira Leahy (pubbed 2009)

    “My sister began staring at the sun shortly after our mother died, because she swore it smelled like her.” – work-in-progress

    Like

    • Therese,

      I already knew I loved TLWOML first line — and the one for your WIP is great too. Really evocative and makes me so curious.

      I know that a great first line does not a great book make (does that even make sense?) but when they work — woo hoo — I get the chills!

      Amy

      Like

      • You’re absolutely right that a first line does not a great book make. It’s every reader’s hope that the first line is a dangling sampler of what’s to come — like a delicious appetizer at a restaurant that has seemed full of promise. (Can you tell I’m hungry? Ha!)

        Like

  8. “I was born on a Tuesday morning. It was a difficult birth, because I was thirty-four years old.”

    That’s the opening of my novel ME AGAIN. Originally it appeared on page 2 or 3 of an early draft, until an astute beta reader said, “Dude, HERE is where your story should begin.”

    Like

    • Jael,

      Of course I adore this – but specifically what I love is that it mixes something familiar with something unexpected. Bad things coming in threes is a common myth/folklore/perception (whatever you’d call it). And then to add what you don’t expect in terms of the deaths and the funeral – there’s an element of surprise also because of the separation of these things which could also be construed as one thing (to me).

      Awesomesauce.

      ~ Amy

      Like

      • (Heh. The next line is actually “Other people would say these are all the same bad news. To me, they’re different.”)

        Mixing the familiar and the unexpected is a fabulous way to grab people’s attention, I think — definitely intentional in this case!

        Like

  9. Ooh, this is really fun. I love all of these . . .

    Here’s the first line of my WIP:

    “I watched her.”

    And the first line of my MS currently on submission:

    “No matter what, there’s a tiny place in your heart that never gives up, never stops believing.”

    Like

  10. First, let me say ‘bravo!’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hooked by the first line only to find that the rest of the book doesn’t have the same stamina; it’s as if all the effort was put on the first page and neglected throughout the remainder of the work. I love that you point out that hooks should be everywhere!

    I think first-line hooks are important in any genre, though. And, yes, I’m much more drawn to a book with a great first line/first paragraph.

    Some of my favs. They are mostly literary, but still kind of fall under women’s umbrella, I think:

    “She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to.” – from All the Living, C.E. Morgan

    “Two days after my father had a massive stroke, my mother shot herself in the head.” – from The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

    “If I could tell you one thing about my life, it would be this: when I was seven years old, the mailman ran over my head.” From The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

    “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark, I’m changed to five, abracadabra.” From Room by Emma Donoghue

    Great post! Thank you so much for sharing. And PS – Therese Walsh’s opening was one I was going to mention (and Randy’s!).

    Like

  11. Great hooks and first sentences! Really enjoyed them, but I think I’d have to say that both as an author and a reader, I don’t focus a lot on those first sentences. I do admire authors that pull it off well, especially the humorous ones. And to be honest, the only one that resonates with me so many years later is: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. (A Tale of Two Cities)

    So for me it’s more that first paragraph and first chapter that hooks me in……….either with a setting or with a character. The novel I’m reading now, Friendship Bread, managed to do that right away with the author hinting at a “tragedy”…..right there, I was hooked and HAD to know more!

    Like

    • Terri,

      Thanks for chiming in! I agree that the first page and chapter are what wind me in and keep me going, but those first lines just have a special place in my heart. Actually, good lines throughout books are like potato chips to me. Can’t have just one – or too many!

      I’ll have to check out Friendship Bread!

      *See* you soon!
      Amy

      Like

  12. Ditto what Kat said. I heart all these hooks and admire the guts exhibited.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the weight of a great first line. Back when I belonged to RWA many stressed the importance of a great hook, and then the next sentence, paragraph, so on and so forth. For me it developed paranoia. Whenever I looked at the first page of my WIP I froze. It’s taking me a bit of time to let go of that portion of my writing journey. I do believe, though, that if there is beauty in the prose then I’m hooked without a hook. 🙂

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  13. Hi! So happy to find a blog devoted to the kind of fiction I love & write. To add to the intriguing lines already posted, here are the 1st lines of two of my NYT bestsellers:

    Modern Women: At first she wasn’t sure what happened. If anything.

    Husbands And Lovers: Carlys Webber Arnold was a woman who never took anything for granted.

    Like

    • Hi Ruth,

      Welcome!! I hope you’ll visit again and consider doing a guest post or allowing me to interview you. I’m currently scheduling the blog for October and beyond! Always love words of wisdom from new-to-me authors. The more I read the more authors I want to read.

      It’s funny that way, this world of books!!

      ~ Amy

      Like

      • Hi Amy, Thanks for the warm welcome. I’d love to do a guest post or interview, whichever you prefer. Just let me know. As to words of wisdom, don’t be too sure! lol Ruth

        Hi! So happy to find a blog devoted to the kind of fiction I love & write. To add to the intriguing lines already posted, here are the 1st lines of two of my NYT bestsellers:

        Modern Women: At first she wasn’t sure what happened. If anything.

        Husbands And Lovers: Carlys Webber Arnold was a woman who never took anything for granted.

        Like

  14. Absolutely love every single one of there. There have been so many times that I’ve committed to a book on the promise of a first sentence, and I’m at once loving all these listed above. If only I had more then one set of eyes…I’d simply read and read all day long. Not just these lines, but the books attached to them :-).

    This is my first line from The Secret of Lies:

    “Maybe it’s the raw brilliance of the pale white moon suspended in a hard black sky that somehow makes everything about this night feel harsher.”

    Thanks so much Amy and everyone for sharing. Fun, inspirational, and definitely intriguing!

    Like

  15. “I have been many women. Most of them were women Troy wanted me to be.”

    From the novel I’m revising. I know it’s two lines, but I think it reads like one, and I didn’t want to use a : or ;

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  16. Amy, I love the first line of your WIP, and how right away it says so much about your the character—that she has a secret, that she’s probably oversimplifying its significance, that she has housework to do. It’s so very rich and telling.

    Like Keith’s, my first first line was also originally not my first line–it was in my second chapter, which everyone kept telling me should be the first:

    “I was built in 1962, on a block with only one other house on it.”

    Like

  17. I am totally a first line geek. In my chauffeur days (you know, when my boys were teens), when I’d find a spare half-hour between this and that, I’d stop in the library and read ONLY opening paragraphs! It’s a great exercise. And I love a lot of these!!

    The opening of the novel I have on submission, DANCE OF THE FALLEN SPARROW:

    Trapped within muscles that will no longer respond, the dance continues.

    Kathryn

    Like

  18. Love this topic; there are some great first lines here!

    One of my favorites goes back to my teenage years when I read every Mary Stewart in the library: from TOUCH NOT THE CAT: ” My lover came to me on the last night in April, with a message and a warning that sent me home to him.”

    One of my WIPs starts with this: “I’ve been called a bitch. And that’s by my friends.”

    Like

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