Opening Hook winners announced Reply

The winners of phase 1 of the Presbyterian Writers Guild writing contest have been announced! Here are the top 10 Opening Hooks, in order of votes received:

#1       Melissa Bane Sevier

The bedroom felt oppressive at 3:30 a.m. His arm around her, though relaxed in sleep, bound her to time and place, to anxiety and despair. She longed for the dim stripes of sunrise to seep through the partially open blinds, bringing the dawn of yet another pretense of normalcy. Then she would slip from his grasp, wearing the night’s fear into the day as if it were an invisible shroud.

#2       Elsie Gilmore

Whoever had that light on in the attic window has it on no more. It was like a beacon, like a dim city set on a hill of household happenings. It guided me from work to home each night. So dependent was I on its steadfastness that I drove past my own gate the first night it was missing. Its absence haunted me like a missing key to my own existence.

#3       Cary Speaker

In the spring of 1963 my best friend, Barry, and I were standing on the toilet in one bathroom stall looking down on our friend Roger who was sitting on the toilet in the other stall, with his pants on. We were all three in the eighth grade. Barry and I had searched all over the school for Roger. We were angry and looking for a fight. When we found him we changed our minds.

#4       Ariel Lenarduzzi

What do you look like in color? Your photo is in black and white.

A picture in the back of the bulletin. Square. Like a picture from a passport for a foreign traveler who has long been forgotten by the passing of time.

The last time you spoke; the last time you preached. I was sitting too far to see you. I heard you. Your voice, your message, your call to action, your forgiveness.

#5       Alan Cutter

I woke up about 0430, buckled up my .45, grabbed a bottle of Johnnie Walker, and went outside to wait. The early air was already hot, a still humid haze hanging on the bay, morning light lifting the darkness, hinting at the tantalizing possibility of a beautiful day in Vietnam. Pouring three fingers, taking the day’s first sip, I said aloud, letting the words challenge the oppressive humidity, “It’s a good day to die.”

# 6      Matthew Rich

“It is fine,” he had said. Last year a few more new members joined the church than saints entered life eternal; steady giving with the expected December bump; a preschool full of laughing toddlers; programs every night of the week; no significant conflict. Yes, everything was “fine.” And yet . . .

Looking out the window, he wondered if fine was faithful, as someone slid behind the green dumpster. Who was she? What was she doing?

#7       Susan Baller-Shepherd

The vicodin settled in nicely as Stephanie pulled into the church parking lot for second service.

“Where in the world could I have put those? Have you seen them, Steph?” Joan asked at home, guessing her Rheumatoid Arthritis meds weren’t actually lost at all.

“Mom, you’re so forgetful, I swear!” Stephanie protested.

Getting out of the car, Stephanie held onto the door for support, nauseous and lightheaded, she felt herself going down for the count.

#8       Andrew Taylor-Troutman

On the morning her preacher promised that God would annihilate the world by fire, she awoke and crept outside, only to watch the pagan squirrels in her backyard scolding one another as they raced headlong around the ancient trees. By the time dust bit into the far horizon, she was unable to pray. But, damn it, could she ever curse!

#9       Lara MacGregor

I turned 40 that summer and I was between churches (an ironic way of saying “unemployed,” since “between” implies something on either side). Turns out, circulating a résumé when you are married with a toddler isn’t the same as looking for a new job when you’re single. Mobility becomes an issue. Money is more of an issue. And then there is your spouse’s job to consider. Where does God’s call fit in all of this?

#10    Deb Hadachek

The day she made three little boys and one mother cry during Sunday school, God made clear she was trying to claim a gift she did not possess.

The Opening Hook Reply

The Presbyterian Writers Guild is sponsoring an Opening Hook contest. We are seeking opening hooks that address real-life issues that people confront, not unlike what Jesus did in his parables.

Whether you are at an airport bookstore, browsing the Amazon website, at a yard sale, or thumbing through a book at a friend’s house, what is it that causes you to pause and consider taking the time to read a particular book? If you send your best efforts to an agent or editor, why will that person take a second glance at your work? Unless you are famous or infamous, the most likely answer is what they see in the opening pages. For busy people, you often have an opening paragraph or two to HOOK the reader.

Consider what your opening hook needs to accomplish in order to attract a person to continue reading.

First, it must establish the tone and setting of the book.

Some people like reading 18th-century novels and others don’t.

Some people like the mysterious and the frightening and others prefer history or romance.

The beginning should be a vivid invitation that entices us to commit several hours to read.

Second, people are attracted to a new perspective, the unexpected, or the humorous.

Readers want to be introduced to something fresh, but they don’t want to be fooled into thinking they are reading a mystery and it turns out to be a sci-fi fantasy.

The opening lines should be consistent with the core nature of the book.

Third, a reader should be able to grasp at least the basic quest that your novel is answering.

What is the human yearning that the story seeks to address?

The idea for the story that your hook proposes may deal with an ethical quandary, prejudice, what makes life meaningful, or how humans respond to the challenges of living in a church community. You may only have the germ an idea, but you can capture the essence of the story in a few sentences. Whether you ever write the story or not, our hope is that your first few lines may cause people to urge you to continue because they want to read it.