Writers Campaign: Hooked on Hooks

Thanks to Kimberly at Zook Book Nook, for hosting an opening hook challenge. Below is the opening paragraph to Moon Over Donamorgh, a fantasy novel. The entire first chapter is available under the Upcoming Novels tab, if anyone wants to read the whole thing.

I’m looking forward to comments. Would you keep reading? Why/Why not?

Edited to add: The first two comments on this opening were negative, and thankfully, the commentators gave some reasons for their thoughts. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Since we can post a couple of openings, I’ve added an earlier version of the opening to this book. So if anyone else wants to comment, perhaps you could tell me which one you like better. It’s possible I need to completely rethink it, but this is a start. Thanks!

Current Version:

The room rose and fell in balance-defying swells. Seamus Firnan sat propped against a row of boxes and watched a coiled rope that hung on the wall across from him. The rope signaled each drop of the room by moving outward from the wall, alerting Seamus that his stomach was about to rise into his throat. He had already puked twice, once upon his waking to the world gone mad with movement, and again after he’d settled against the boxes, when a sudden dip caused sharp daggers of pain to pierce his head and neck.

Earlier Version:

A protest from his stomach brought Seamus Firnan from a dizzy dream to groggy consciousness. The world pitched and rolled, and his fingers grasped weakly at floorboards. He tried to open his eyes but when a hint of light stabbed his head, he gave up with a moan. Bloody hell, what had he been drinking?

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14 thoughts on “Writers Campaign: Hooked on Hooks”

  1. I will be honest, I would not keep reading. These would be the three reasons why. 1. The descriptions are vague and the language does not paint “a beautiful picture.” 2. There is nothing about a character that captivated me or I could relate to. 3. It didn’t give me a strong question. I need a question to answer early in a piece to drive me to keep reading to find the answer.

    I hope this helps. This is just my opinion, not a critique per say.

  2. I do see what you were trying to accomplish with this, but if I’m being honest, I will have to partially agree with the first commenter. It’s almost too wordy, and yet doesn’t paint the picture at the same time. I didn’t realize he was on a ship (he was, wasn’t he?) until the end, and that last sentence might need to be reworded (the use of the word “caused” is strange to me). I think it can be worded better. Maybe with some tweaking, you could paint your picture better.

    But I do like how I was able to feel that same sickness your character was feeling.

    Sorry if this is harsh! I just hope to help….and like the first commenter said, this is just my opinion. And opinions are subjective. 🙂

  3. I would keep reading, but maybe for a rather shallow reason.
    Why keep reading? I fracking love the name Seamus. Don’t ask me why, I just do. So I would want to keep reading just to figure out what’s got the lad so sick.

    What stopped me? I was doubtful but hopeful that the reference to swells meant that the character was on a ship. I had a bit of a hard time trying to picture the scene because I wasn’t sure if he was on a ship, in a simulator, on a planet experiencing gravitational spikes and changes (sorry, crazy imagination of mine). So I couldn’t pinpoint anything other than the guy who’s name I liked is really, really sick because the room he’s in keeps going up and down or something like that and he’s using the rope to determine something about how sick he’ll be…I think.

    So because I want to WANT to read this more, I’d like to throw out some suggestions to toss, use or cringe out for blatant silliness. I’m basing the suggestions on the assumption this is a wooden ship:

    Seamus slid from his makeshift bunk, crashing painfully to the floor. After stifling several groans, the stowaway lurched to his feet, bare toes tipping across the wood planks. He’d hardly settled into a shadowy corner when another swell pummeled the ship. His eyes followed as a coiled rope in the opposite corner swung far left, prompting his stolen meal from the night before to erupt from the shrinking confines of his belly. Slipping unto the maiden voyage of the Dementia seemed a fine idea at first. Now one week in and sullied by his seasickness, turning himself in to the patrol had a certain appeal.

    Okay, so I admit I have NO idea what this story is a hook for, but please allow me to break down what I’ve done;
    First, established where the character is (and of course kept the name I so love.)
    Next, I gave the coiled rope a bit more purpose with relation to the character.
    Then, I established his place on the ship. For your story, he may not be a stowaway in hiding, but I made reference to things that cemented his place as an unwelcomed person.
    Then the final hook by establishing why it mattered he was on the ship at all, to get away from his other option of going to jail.

    I hope this helps at all because I do want to see what shall happen next with Seamus.

    1. This is really helpful, Angela. I realize you don’t know the rest of the story, but I can use your ideas here to help set the scene a little better.

      I love the name “Seamus” too! There’s no doubt in my mind it’s the perfect name for this character.

  4. Good idea to include two versions! I like elements from each one: I like the imagery the rope creates in the first, because its presence created intrigue and questions in my mind. I like the combination of scenery, action and thought in the second version. I think what might make the first version not as strong as it could be are the long sentences and possible unnecessary information. But a reason I kind of like the first version better is because the rope is a unique element. While the second version is easier to read and hooks the reader because of that, it doesn’t stand out to me as having something unique about it as there are probably a few other stories that may begin with the main character waking up drunk or sick. So my suggestion would be to tease out what makes this opening scene so unique that you chose to open with it. What in it plants a seed for the entire novel? Is it the rope? Did something happen with it or will something happen with it? All of these questions show that I am very interested in this idea 🙂 Great start by having two different versions!

  5. I also liked the 2nd version better. Better but not enough. It’s too general, I’d like something unique that grabs me and makes me ask questions about what has happened. I think you give the answer “What have I been drinking” too soon. Even if it’s not the right answer, for the time being you’ve kind of closed the opening.
    I really liked the phrase “from a dizzy dream to groggy consciousness”. I hope you’ll keep it. 🙂

  6. I hate to say it, but your original version (the second) in my opinion is just heaps better. I like it a whole lot — it conveys place, character, and mood in a very clear way. So yes, the takeaway is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! (the challenge I guess is determining when it IS broke…)

    1. Amazing, isn’t it? It’s always a trick to figure out when something is good. I’m always nervous about my openings, so I fiddle with them a lot. I do this especially if several queries to agents are rejected based on the first few pages.

  7. This is tough, I like elements of both and would keep reading on. I think something in between the two versions would be best. The original is easy to read, yet I would want more details than floorboards and the movement. The rope is good, it emphasises that he is on a ship,

    The second version I think would be better if you broke it up a little. One long paragraph looks a little daunting.

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