Great Hooks from Books

by Amber Lanier Nagle

Having trouble composing a killer hook? Sometimes when I’m stuck, I study how other authors started their stories. Here are a few very notable hooks from my book cases and the virtual shelves of my iBooks and Kindle:

  • “First I had to get his body into the boat…I had lain awake all night, trying to imagine how I would get him off the bed and down the stairs and into the row boat, since he weighed at least a hundred and fifty pounds and might have gone stiff.”  —Rhian Ellis from the first page of After Life
  • “I was on fire.”  —Jeannette Walls from the opener on page nine of The Glass Castle
  • “It was seven minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shear’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as though it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.”  —Mark Haddon’s hook from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”  —Alice Sebold’s opener from The Lovely Bones
  • “Three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died, Grandpa came to our house for his early morning snort of whiskey, as usual, and said to me, “Will Tweedy? Go find yore mama, then run up to yore Aunt Loma’s and tell her I said git on down here. I got something to say. And I ain’t a-go’n say it but once’t.”  —Olive Ann Burns from the first words of Cold Sassy Tree
  • “All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was late June 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward.”  —Laura Hillenbrand from Unbroken: a WWII Story of Survival
  • “She was old all my life. Even when I was sitting in the red dirt, fascinated with my own toes, Ava’s face had a line in it for every hot mile she ever walked, for every fit she ever threw.”  —Rick Bragg from the prologue of Ava’s Man
  • “When I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. I’d been shut up in my hotel for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out; and my heart scrambled and floundered at even the most innocent noises: elevator bell, rattle of the minibar cart, even church clocks tolling the hour…”  —Donna Tartt from The Goldfinch
  • “…Out of a six-year-and-two-month sentence to the state prison at Milledgeville, I served it all—August 1954 to October 1960. I was crazy a while, and then I wasn’t, and then I was. That’s how it went. One second I’d be a free man—with Susan beside me and the boy on my lap—and the next I’d be awake on my back and looking up into the dirty light coming through my cell window.”  —Judson Mitcham from The Sweet Everlasting
  • “The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen. The sun low in the sky, a minor light, a cooling star. Gust after gust of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end.”  —Jonathan Franzen from The Corrections


Take a look at a few of your favorite books and add to my list of interesting hooks by leaving a comment. Tell us why you like the hook so much. And please don’t forget to give credit to the author and title of the book.


Amber Lanier Nagle is the author of Project Keepsake ( and two eBooks (Southern Exposure and Have a Seat). She’s also the editor of Northwest Georgia’s Good Life Magazines and contributes to many national and regional magazines. Learn more at

Amber Nagle

Freelance writer. Author of "Project Keepsake." Wife. Engineer. Reader. Speaker. Blogger. Writing Coach. Aunt. Sister. Daughter. Friend. Hiker. Biker. Runner. Gardener. Volunteer. And so much more.