You've heard the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." But what about, "Don't judge a book by its first page?"
Is this even possible to do?
When we pick up a book, it is most likely the words on the first page that determine whether or not we will keep reading. We've all read a book or two that didn't capture our attention so we stopped reading.
Don't let this happen to you as a writer!
Those first few lines of writing are referred to as the "hook" or the "grabber" because of their task of capturing the attention of the reader and making them want to keep reading. There are a couple of writing techniques that grabbers use to do their job, including:
Begin with dialogue
Ask a question
State a fun fact or a quote
Address the reader directly
Set the scene
Reading Mentor Texts Like a Writer
When we read a book with a writer's eyes, we should pay special attention to how the author captured our attention with their hook.
Check out some of these first lines and see if you can figure out which of the above techniques the author used. Do these lines make you want to read more? Why?
"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling)
"Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life." (The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan)
"Deep in the fridge behind the green peas
way past the tofu and left of the cheese,
up in the corner, and back by a roast,
sat Lady Pancake beside Sir French Toast."
(Sir Pancake and Lady French Toast by Josh Funk)
"Warning: This book contains real-life situations and stuff that actually happened to me. I'm talking lots of awful boy behavior, wretched girls, best friends who are missing in action, and ridiculous amounts of elephant poop." (How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating)
In the classroom, you can pull virtually any book out of your classroom library to use as a mentor text for first lines that hook you. Discuss the first lines with your students. What did they like about them? Not like about them? Did the grabber make them want to keep reading? Why? What specific techniques did the writer use? How might the effect been different if another technique was used?
Spending time in conversation will help your student-writers see the connection between writing a strong first line and the experience the reader has while reading (or not reading).
Trying Out First Lines
As a writer, it is important to pay special attention to the grabber during the revision phase, not the drafting phase. Some students may get so caught up with writing the perfect grabber that they loose steam for developing their draft. Revision is where we fine tune our writing to make it better so this is the perfect time to work on the grabber.
Using the tool such as the one below, students can try on different grabbers to see how they work before choosing one they like. Or, they can pull a favorite book off the shelf, read the first line, and let it inspire the grabber revision.
Either way, mentor texts are the perfect tool to use for writing powerful grabbers! Adding a little fun to the revision process, your student-writers (and you teacher-writers!) will find one that works for you and keeps your reader reading.
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