I knew you wouldn’t listen to my advice, you just wanted to start writing, and you know you want to keep those readers reading. So you have to take a look at the hook. You certainly can’t open a story without a hook. You need one, at least one, to capture the initial interest of your readers.
Good news. Hooking a reader with a great opening is a skill you can learn. There are a host of tomes dedicated to the art of the opening hook. I’m even going to list them for you at the end of the blog. Along with several other sites where you might be able to pick up some much-needed craft tips. How do I know they’re good places to go? Because I’ve used them myself.
But for now, let’s address the nature of the hook.
The ability to consistently and productively hook your reader is a difficult lesson for some of us, and comes naturally to others. What doesn’t come naturally, again–can be learned. When and if you are the type of writer who looks to your favorite novels to study the craft, remember tone of the novel and writers voice influence opening choices. Not only must you choose a hook for your opening line, but the opening paragraph,opening scene, and opening page.
But the first sentence is usually the one that seals the deal.
“The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.”
—Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction
“You better not never tell nobody but God.”
—Alice Walker, The Color Purple
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“They shoot the white girl first.”
—Toni Morrison, Paradise
“The time has come.”
—Dr. Seuss, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!
“Don’t look for dignity in public bathrooms.”
—Victor LaValle, Big Machine
“On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”
—Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
“The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.”
—Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
“In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.”
—Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
“I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.”
—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Each and every one of these opening lines serves the purpose of grabbing the reader’s attention. Above and beyond getting the reader’s attention, we need to work hard to keep that attention focused on the story we want to tell.
Intelligent readers identify right away when the hook is set that there is more to the story. This is what keeps them reading. To open a story with summary is to dump the backstory in the most unappealing fashion possible. Also, it’s telling–the cardinal sin of good fiction writing. But that’s a subject for another time.
The top ten things you need for a killer opening are:
- set up for the story question
- story worthy problem
- the inciting incident
- initial surface problem
- Killer opening sentence
- a TINY amount of backstory
- introduction to character
- a glimpse at the setting
- excellent word choices
http://www.darcypattison.com/ read her book, Six Winning Steps Towards A Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter.
http://lesedgerton.net/ Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
http://sherrysoule.blogspot.com/p/author-bio.html How to Craft a Gripping First Chapter: Learn How to Create a Riveting and Compelling Opening Scene (Fiction Writing Tools Book 1)
http://jamigold.com/ No actual single book at present, but a gold mine (no pun intended) of information for writers, from guest blogs to beat sheets.
Some food for thought, and a few sites to try out, or try on for size.