What Hooks Readers by Joan Reeves

Wedding on MS2

All the lovely covers of the novellas comprising Weddings on Main Street

As a reader, what about a book hooks you? The author’s name? The cover? The Book Description? The first sentence?

Chances are it’s a combination of the elements above. For me, the first paragraph I read will have me clicking the buy button. Or not.

When book shopping, I always open a book—whether that’s in a bookstore or online with the “Look Inside” feature—and read the first paragraph. This small amount of text should be crafted to capture a reader with an intoxicating first sentence, first paragraph, first page–followed by equally addicting pages to the very end.

Crafting a Compelling Opening

Each time I start a manuscript, I spend a lot of time thinking up the perfect opening sentences for the story and the character. In a couple of sentences I want you to meet the character and glimpse something about her personality, attitude, and emotional condition that will make you want to read more.

I measure my opening sentence against the yardstick of great story openers created by my favorite authors. Excellent opening sentences capture the reader’s attention–makes readers curious or elicits an emotional reaction: laughter, excitement, sadness, etc.

Sampler of My Opening Sentences

AFB_V2_2400px3200pMy most recent work is April Fool Bride in the Weddings on Main Street Box Set.

The first day of spring in New York featured the kind of weather Madeline Quinn most hated. Cold, gray, wet, and miserable— which made it perfect because that’s exactly the way she felt.

Still The One (I’m fairly certain every woman has fantasized about what she’d do if given the chance to show someone from her past how she has grown from an ugly duckling into a swan.)

Ally Fletcher had waited six years for this opportunity. Six long years. There was no way a mere thunderstorm was going to stop her. Of course, in Texas, calling this a mere thunderstorm was like saying a Texas tornado was a mere puff of wind.

Just One Look (Is there a woman who won’t identify with this paragraph?)

Jennifer Monroe shivered and rubbed the goose-bumped flesh of her arms. A meat locker would be warmer than a doctor’s examining room! Why do they have to keep it so cold? And why do they act as if you have nothing better to do than sit around clad only in a piece of paper and your birthday suit, and wait?

JANE I’m-Still-Single JONES

When she found the person responsible for this, she would make them pay. And pay big!

Nobody’s Cinderella

Darcy Benton wondered if she needed to check into a hospital. Her nervous system seemed to have shorted out, producing feet that felt like blocks of ice and hands that perspired as if it were July rather than December.

Old Enough to Know Better

If you can’t trust your friends, then who can you trust? Stormy Clarkson planned to pose that question to her soon-to-be ex-friend Libby the minute she saw the conniving woman.

Romeo and Judy Anne

By the time most people reach the eve of their thirtieth birthday, they’ve developed a philosophy of life, shaped by the experience of living. Judy Anne Palmer was no exception. She had a philosophy of life, shaped by life’s hard lessons and honed by the last eight years to a stark two-word declaration. Life sucks!


Men looked at Amanda Whitfield and thought she was a hot blonde who knew how to have a good time. Hot? Sizzling. Sexy? Undeniably. Men figured she knew all about flirtation and lust and sex. They were wrong.

The Trouble With Love

Every woman makes mistakes. Susannah Quinn glared at the door to the sheriff’s private office. Yep, every woman makes mistakes, but most women didn’t have to put up with a constant reminder of their not so brilliant actions. And most women didn’t have their mistake showing up at their office, flaunting tanned muscles and polluting the environment with clouds of testosterone and male arrogance.

The Yardstick By Which I Measure

Here are some favorite opening sentences that intrigue or tease with a sense of anticipation, evoking curiosity and/or an emotional response in the reader that can’t be resisted.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Mandeley again.” Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“I never knew her in life.” The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow.” Carrie by Stephen King

“Death was driving an emerald green Lexus.” Winter Moon by Dean Koontz

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

My Confession

The worst thing about reading another writer’s sparkling prose is that I despair of ever being as good. The best thing is that I’m motivated to keep working on my writing, from the first sentence to the last.

Do you want to know the truth? Even though it’s hard work, I can’t think of anything that’s more fun! I’m so lucky. I make my living by writing stories about love, laughter, commitment, sex, romance, and all the funny, crazy things that happen to a man and a woman who are made for each other—but who just don’t know it. Yet.

Post Script

(Joan Reeves writes sassy, sexy Contemporary Romance. Her books are available at all major ebook sellers with audio editions available at Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes. Joan publishes Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers, and I LUV Books, a free subscription newsletter for readers. Find Joan online: Blog, Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

About Joan Reeves

Joan Reeves is a NY Times and a USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance. She lives her happily-ever-after with her hero, her husband, in the Lone Star State. Sign up for Joan's mailing list: http://eepurl.com/Yk61n and visit her at JoanReeves.com and her blog http://SlingWords.blogspot.com.
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7 Responses to What Hooks Readers by Joan Reeves

  1. susanrhughes says:

    Great advice. You know how to write a great opening sentence.


  2. Joan Reeves says:

    Thanks, Susan. Have a great weekend.


  3. E. Ayers says:

    Opening sentences are so important but so is that whole first page! I’ll often flip to something further back and see if the book continues to be well written. I wish people would sample books before buying, then they’d know if they want to read it!

    As for those opening lines, I’ve seen some of the greatest openers by some very famous authors listed at terrible. It was a dark and stormy night…Along with: It was the best of times.. Really? Don’t we wish we could use them? But since they’ve already been used, we have to think of our own!

    I love your openers!


  4. leighmorgan1 says:

    I’m with you Joan, the opening line needs to peak my interest. Then I read the first page, then I open the book to a random middle page if I’m reading paper or I slide to the middle of an e-book and read a paragraph. Usually though, by the time I’ve finished the first few paragraphs, it’s enough for me to buy. All the first lines, yours and the examples, are wonderful. I didn’t remember that first line from Carrie….it’s a beaut!


    • Joan Reeves says:

      Thanks, Leigh. Mr. King has a talent for opening sentences, doesn’t he. Long ago when I read that an editor or agent makes a decision based on the first sentence of a submission, I was outraged. How could they possibly determine the worth of a manuscript from 1 sentence? As time passed, and I grew as a writer, I totally understood how an agent or editor could make a decision based on a first sentence. Every time I read contest entries, I find that validated although I’m probably more lenient as a judge than an editor or agent.


  5. Carol says:

    Wonderful post, Joan. The opening has to grab me also.


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