How to hook a reader – foreshadowing

Posted: July 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

As a mystery writer, foreshadowing is a favorite device of mine.  Give the readers just enough info to hint at what’s coming next, just enough to get them intrigued but not enough to give the plot away.  I always check the end of the first chapter as one of my criteria for reading a mystery.  The last paragraph has to be a page turner, and foreshadowing is a great way to take a reader into your story.

Penny Warner’s mystery “Dead Body Language” just came out in the Kindle version a couple of months ago and I’m enjoying it very much.  Before I tell you about the book, here’s the final paragraph of the first chapter:

Perhaps if he had, I wouldn’t have gotten poison oak, my underwear would still be in my top drawer, and a few more Flat Skunk citizens would still be alive.

Just one simple sentence, but she sure got you wondering what was going on, didn’t she?  Hints of events to come.  The poison oak doesn’t sound too threatening.  The underwear raises your eyebrows.  But then we come to the dead citizens (not one, but a few) of a town with the strange name of Flat Skunk.  How can you not wonder what is going on there?  What are the stories she is going to tell you?

The author is also giving you a hint of the humor you’ll find in her book, a little tongue in cheek playfulness that I’m enjoying.  I love mysteries with a touch of humor.

Penny Warner’s “Dead Body Language” features Connor Westphal, a deaf reporter in the California Gold Country.  It won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, and was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony Award.  I can understand why.  Warner builds believable characters we can easily envision, gives us an interesting plot, and does it while allowing us to see little bits and pieces of the world of the deaf.  She takes us on that journey through her sleuth Connor Westphal’s self-deprecating humor.

Here are two examples from my own work that I hope you will find intriguing.  The first chapter of my book “Banker’s Murder List” ends with:

The three strangers passed out into the morning light, never dreaming that before the day ended their lives would be inexplicably intertwined, and one of them would be dead.

My next book, “Shark’s Murder List” ends with a question:

The man groaned.  Alice Anne stiffened, but it was too late.  The last thing she thought, before dropping the gun and doing a slow slide onto the floor, was a question:  How did this happen to me?

Hopefully you want to know more of what is going on.

What are your favorite examples of first chapter endings?  Do they leave you wondering what’s going on?

  1. writecrites says:

    If you have a book referencing sharks, I have to read it. I’m co-author of a nature book called Sharks and Rays of Hawaii, but my almost-finished novel is also shark related. The first chapter’s final line reads: “On the floor of the office, a woman lay unconscious, her wrists and ankles bound with eighty-pound-test fishing line.” I hope that leaves readers wondering what’s going on and anxious to turn the page.

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