Crit partners are essential sounding boards in this matter, but even I'm hesitant to put in my two cents when I'm reviewing someone's hook. A hook establishes your voice, your style and your story in the first few sentences.
My suggestions could never be more than just that. Suggestions. I can point out where I think the novel's best starting point is in order to grab the most interest, but the exact choice of words, the style and rhythm of the narrative is solely on the shoulders of the author. The best a reviewer can do is tell the author if the hook failed or succeeded and why he thinks so.
(Note: When you review, always tell the author WHY you think something worked or failed. Especially if you think it failed.)
Hooks are personal for the reader too. What might excite me may not do anything for the guy next to me. I think there are certain aspects that all good hooks have. Namely, a good hook delivers a stake and the potential for conflict. Using copywriting jargon, it stirs the reader to a call for action. It compels the reader to keep reading because you HAVE to find out what happens next.
Since I won a contest on hooky beginnings, I thought I would dissect the opening lines to my current novel. Here are all five lines at once:
The Reverend Mother used to tell acolytes that if men were going to brawl, they should at least be naked and glistening with oil.
Leda's money was on the hulking brute with the Cydian blade, but right now she needed the other guy to win. That one had information she needed, and she wasn't going to get it if he got himself killed. She was just about to intercede when her quarry tripped on his feet and knocked himself out cold.
Line 1: The Reverend Mother used to tell acolytes that if men were going to brawl, they should at least be naked and glistening with oil.
Right away, I started with something a little startling. Can I be any more sacrilegious? Okay, don't tempt me. LOL. Seriously though, you don't know much yet, but it's probably piqued your curiosity enough to keep reading.
Line 2: Leda's money was on the hulking brute with the Cydian blade, but right now she needed the other guy to win.
I've introduced a character and the scene here. And the mc is conflicted, creating much needed tension.
Line 3: That one had information she needed, and she wasn't going to get it if he got himself killed.
Now we find out why the mc needs this other guy to win. But we don't know if that's going to happen. The tension keeps rising.
Line 4: She was just about to intercede when her quarry tripped on his feet and knocked himself out cold.
Pow! I've given you the set up and the stakes and then pulled the rug out from everyone involved.
Line 5: Idiot!
Here we see a little of the mc's characterization and her voice. Short, (not so) sweet and ready to rock and roll.
Does it work? Well, it won the contest. And let me tell you, it was quite competitive. There were more than 270 entries and once they started to narrow the field it was hard to choose the finalists for the last round. You have to remember too, that this was one editor's opinion. She happened to like my voice --and hopefully the rest of the manuscript.
As a reader, a slow beginning is a deal breaker for me. I need to be involved immediately. I don't have to necessarily like the character but I need to be interested enough to keep reading to find out what happens next.
And that, I think is the key. It has to be juicy enough to intrigue, titillate and promise. It's gotta make the reader want more.