|Spice Up Your Writing,
Write to Entice
BEE BALM – THE HOOK, BEAUTY AND ATTRACTION
Its fragrance attracts bees. Its Beauty attracts the eye and the butterfly. Its smell
intoxicates, hooks the gardener, visitor, casual stranger to come closer, linger a while.
That is what, ideally, your first sentence, but for sure, your first paragraph should
do to your reader. It should attract your reader like bees to bee balm, give them the
nectar they seek.. Bees suck nectar with their long tubular tongue, Butterflies use their
feet to taste—Think of your reader as a voracious cross between butterfly and bee.
Give them something to suck on, to immerse themselves in.
Go to your bookshelf and pull a few favorite books from it. Or go to the library
and pull a few good books or classics to study the openings. What brings you inside?
What calls to your insatiable sweet tooth? What nectar of the gods makes you want to
wade in with both feet?
I’m tempted to use Stephen King as an example here because he is so good; but
he’s been used so much let’s look to new lights to illuminate the bee balm of hook.
Jude Deveraux The Mulberry Tree
“He needed me.” What a great first line. Is it a statement, an excuse, a plea—
what is it the reader begs. “When ever anyone-usually a reporter-asked me how I
coped with a man like Jimmie, I smiled and said nothing.” But she just said, he
needed her, so why—what secret is she holding back, the reader wants to know and
why would a reporter ask in the first place. What was this Jimmie—tyrant or slave
owner or—one wonders. Ms. Deveraux has hooked her reader.
James Patterson, Honeymoon
Begins with a prologue—don’t skip it or introductions when they are in a book as
they lay the ground work for what’s to follow.
“Things aren’t always as they appear. One minute, I’m totally fine. The next, I’m
hunched over and clutching my stomach in sheer agony. What the hell is happening
He goes on to describe the intense and horrific feel of dying via – what? Poison,
gunshot, knife wound? Is he dreaming, once again the Bee Balm pulls the ever
searching butterfly (you may substitute reader) in for a look see at what’s unfolding.
Let’s try Michael Crichton, State of Fear.
“In the darkness, he touched her arm and said, ‘Stay here.” She did not move, just
waited. The smell of salt water was strong. She heard the faint gurgle of water.
Then the lights came on, reflecting off the surface of a large open tank, perhaps
fifty meters long and twenty meters wide. It might have been an indoor swimming
pool, except for all the electronic equipment that surrounded it.
And the very strange device at the far end of the pool.”
Right away the reader wants to know what are these people doing? What is this
swimming pool that isn’t? Water, electronic equipment, my hackles bristle—water
and equipment sounds like experiment—are these people scientists thieves, spies
involved in espionage—the title State of Fear flashes across my mind and I have to
Michael Connelly, The Harry Bosch Novels – Trunk Music
Has an interesting beginning. One that slowly pulls the reader in but takes a
leisurely written first page, as we ride along with Harry Bosch to the scene of a crime
in LA. But he pulls us in because first, we want to know about the music he hears—
“It came to him in fragments of strings and errant horn sequences, echoing off the
brown summer-dried hills and blurred by the white noise of traffic carrying up from
the Hollywood Freeway. Nothing he could identify, all he knew was the he was
heading toward its source.” He goes on to describe the scene he approaches with
squad cars, detective cars, yellow crime scene tape “used by the miles in LA,” and a
uniformed giant with a Billy club (baton) with the black acrylic paint scratched away
to reveal the aluminum beneath. “Street fighters wore their battle-scarred sticks
proudly, as a sign, a not so subtle warning. This cop was a head banger.” Then he
gives the cop the name “Powers”.
The reader needs to know –what is it that happened here calling for all the attention of the
police and detectives? Is this cop Powers part of the problem or the solution? What is the
music Harry Bosch hears?
Now lets take a look at one or two of the classics, what is it that makes them so
enduring—what, how do they hook the reader?
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
“Christmas won’t be Christmas with out any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the
The first sentence is a tug at your heart strings, whether woman or child, no
presents at Christmas—unthinkable you need to know more.
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
We begin with a picture of our heroine, Scarlett O’Hara. Her beauty. We want to
see her aristocratic life, but it’s the second paragraph that grabs the reader.
“—But for all the modesty of her spreading skirts, the demureness of hair netted
smoothly into a chignon and the quietness of small white hands folded in her lap, her
true self was poorly concealed. The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were
turbulent, willful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor.
Her manners had been imposed upon her by her mother’s gentle admonitions and the
sterner discipline of her nanny; her eyes were her own.”
Then we begin to wonder what secrets those eyes will reveal as we watch from
our perch on the tip of Margaret Mitchell’s pen.
I can’t leave this topic without looking at my three favorite authors.
Patricia Cornwell, Trace
“Yellow Bulldozers hack earth and stone in an old city block, that has seen more
death than most modern wars, and Kay Scarpetta slows her rental SUV almost to a
stop. Shaken by the destruction ahead, savaging her past.
“Someone should have told me,” she says.”
This beginning is loaded with questions. Between the Yellow Bulldozers, earth
and stone, we are tempted to think cemetery because we see the words more death
than modern war—where else? But we’re thrown by “the old city block,” and why
would or should someone have told her—Kay Scarpetta. As you continue you are
plunged deeper into questions, plot, reasons and the definitions of the main character.
“Where you used to work when you were young and full of hopes and dreams and
believed in love, well—” We need to know—used to work? No longer young? Why
come back, and more questions crowd in and beg to be answered.
Mary Higgins Clark, My Gal Sunday; A Crime of Passion
“Beware the fury of a patient man,” Henry Parker Britland IV observed sadly as
he studied the picture of his former secretary of state. He had just learned that his
close friend and political ally had been indicted for the murder of his lover, Arabella
As we continue we get seeds of Henry Britland’s life at the moment. The
questions from his pampered wife. We know where we are and many circumstances
of the person accused of the murder and more. We are invited to be in privy to the
lives of aristocratic indulgence.
Questions—oh yes, tons of questions.
Do you see a pattern here? When an author peaks your curiosity—when
questions jump out in the mind of the reader—the need to know grabs us on the
author’s hook and we are tethered for the journey.
Everything you read tries to snag you away from the myriad of other distractions
with which you may be inundated. Children’s stories, if they’re good are no
exception, in fact they are a greater challenge for the writer – the good part is the
naturally inquisitive nature of the young.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, has a power, a magnificent grace with her words that
draws the reader. The Little Princess tugs you in and bets you to lose yourself in the
adventures of a delightful little girl, but it all began earlier with The Secret Garden.
“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle
everybody said she was the most disagreeable looking child ever seen”
Why, we want to know and how does one look disagreeable? Hodgson Burnett,
continues and supplies those answers, but then the reader wants to know why a child
so young could, would be sent away and why she would be allowed to get away with
being such a disagreeable child – and why then was she sent to her uncle in the first
Now let’s try one on our own.
Spice Up Your Writing Billie A Williams 8
“Life offers you a thousand choices and this is what you choose,” Alexa said
throwing her hands in the air in defeat. (This is our first sentence for each – what
follows in each category will be the second, and subsequent sentences)
--Does that pull you in? What questions do you want answered right away?
If we continue on we could turn this in to:
or any genre you want to write.
A. (A Comedy) She bent down and retrieved the chicken suit. Slipping first
one foot then the other into the yellow and white costume, marabou
feathers tickled her nose and breathed into her mouth with every breath.
“Hey, you wanted to cater children’s parties, so you get to be the chicken,”
Cathe said giggling at Alexa’s struggle with the feathers and wings that wouldn’t
move like arms are supposed to.
“But I wasn’t planning to be a billboard sign standing on the corner of
Edenton’s busiest street handing out flyers to motorists who are paused at the
stoplight. I feel like a nut.”
Cathe cocked her head and raised an eyebrow, “and—” she said with a
B. Alexa bent over the body to feel for a pulse. The yellow chicken suit was
smudged with mud, the feathers matted with the dark red stain around the
knife standing perpendicular to Garrison’s chest. “I told you it was too
dangerous,” she whispered. Her badge glinted in the sun that was swiftly
sliding down the skyline. She reached for the radio on her shoulder.
“Officer down, in the alley at Wells and Gossamer,” she spoke her voice
uneven, detached from the personal angst she was feeling.
C. (A Romance)
Alexa watched as Jerard drove his bucket of rusting Chevy into the
driveway of the parking lot beside the building. He had been her high
school sweetheart before they went their separate ways. She to Harvard law
school and he went to the University of Minnesota on a football
scholarship. They had stayed in touch all those years, there was no
romance left, and now he needed her. Alexa slid her hand across the leather
embossed name plate on her desk. Becoming a full partner in the
prestigious law firm of Bacon, Taylor and Mercedes had been a hard won
feather in her cap. Some football player, turned rock singer just didn’t fit in
her plans at the moment. The intercom buzzed, “Jerard Klew here to see
you,” the secretary’s voice laced with derision and rudeness announced.
Jerard sauntered in and plopped the chicken suit on her desk. “Here it is, I
want to sue the jerk,” he said slamming his body into the chair across from
her desk sprawling his long legs wide, his arms bent and hung on the back
of the chair.
Arrogant, crossed her mind as a description of his behavior as she felt the
electricity of his gaze undoing her composure as he always did.
Questions—Oh I’m sure you could come up with better beginnings than I’ve offered you.
Don’t stop with mine – do some of your own.
1. Pull five of your favorite books from you shelves or the local libraries shelves.
Sit down and copy word for word, the hook— the sentence, first paragraph or
what ever you think provides the hook. Until you are teeming with questions
to ask the author – ask yourself what is it that is pulling you in to read more of
this particular book?
2. Do this with at least five books to get the feel for it.
3. Then write your questions and read to see if they are answered and how long
before the author answers them—how did the author give them up. Were they
all at once or sprinkled nearly through the whole book?
4. Now write five of your own hooks.
5. Then use one of them to write the first paragraph or page of a story, if you feel
so inclined continue until you run out of words to apply to that particular hook
and then start again with the next.