Each of us writes because we want to. We write because of a passion to share our ideas, our stories, and our information with those who take the time to read our work. It is a priviege that people invest their precious time in our writing. But as with all investors, they want to see returns on their investment. All readers want to be entertained, informed, and emotionally on a roller coaster of ideas. They need to see what our writing promises them to find out if it is worth while them continuing with the story.
This is especially important in a novel or a short story because we can lose our readers' interest all too fast. All readers know that back cover blurbs, often paint a different picture to the real content of the book. That is why they often turn to the front pages, and read a bit of the first chapter or the first paragraph. They want to know if your book, your story will be one they will enjoy and therefore worth their time to read it. Readers are looking to find out whether you will deliver on their investment of time and whether you will sustain their interest.
Every writer who asks readers to spend time and money reading their work bears a huge responsibility and a good start is important both to writer and reader. The writer must, therefore, be brutal when editing their own work. They must make sure they have pruned, trimmed, discarded and mercilessly ripped apart verbose paragraphs so that the readers are gripped immediately and want to read more. Great writers have always lured in their readers with exciting first paragraphs. Here are illustrations of hooks to give ideas of what readers expect and find worth reading on.
1. The Curiosity Hook
Some openings leave the readers with more questions than answers. They become curious and want to know what will happen next and why. Many writers use this hook. They tease their readers with a puzzle. It may be a little piece of information or an incident that sets thoughts racing. Something that will give a brief glimpse of what is yet to come in the story that leaves the reader wanting more.
The Master of the hook was Charles Dickens, whose novels were often serilised in periodicals so he specialised in hooks and cliff hangers to keep readers interested. The beginning of A Christmas Carol is a good example.
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail .
2. The Action Hook
Some authors prefer to start in the middle of the action without preamble, setting, or descriptions of whom or what. The reader must just catch up as the story goes along. The story kick-starts from the word go. If you start a story in the middle of an action-packed scene make sure the reader gets right to it.
One example of this is found in The Da Vinci Code, where Dan Brown, gets the ball rolling from the very beginning.
Reknowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six year old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Sauniere collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.
3. The Character Hook
This kind of hook could be a simple description of a character, what they are up to, who they are and in general familiarise the readership with some of the cast. If you are going to use this, try to imagine the cast of your story and think which member of it is important enough to come at the beginning. It may not be the main protagonist but a more minor character who sets the first scene of the story.
In my first novel, Hunter's Chase it is Jamie Thomson who starts Chapter One
Jamie Thomson swaggered along one of the tree-lined streets in the wealthy Edinburgh suburb of Morningside. To him, the capital of Scotland was really just a big village. Everybody knew everybody else, and tonight, everybody would know Jamie Thomson. He felt it as he moved quietly along the dark street. Excitement. Pop was away, but, although he had just turned twenty, Jamie would show folk it was business as usual. Pop would be so proud.
4. The Picturesque Hook
A picturesque hook begins with a scene or a setting, gripping enough to intrigue the reader. The author may give a description of a place or a location where the action starts. This can certainly test the writer's descriptive powers as they try to be original. The author must capture the colour, the smells the noises or the feel of the place and not just secribe it.If you decide to use this type of hook, try to imagine the place in your head. Think about what you see, what you smell or taste and consider hot or cold, wet or dry the place feels.
Katharine Johnson uses this type of hook vivdly at the beginning of her bestselling novel, The Secret
A Moment was all it took.
Sonia heaved open the doorof the little church, taking in the familiar smell of polished wood, beeswax, and crumbling plaster. A shaft of sunlight crept through the window, spilling onto the centre of the milky white floor, leaving the corners in shadows.
5. The Philosophical Hook
What I mean by this is that the hook may be a description of ideas, thoughts and opinions that asks the reader to share the author's vision. This can be done through grumbling about the way things are or about the past. It could even a wish about how the future will be.
Who better to go back to than Charles Dickens. He sets the scene so wonderfully in Tale of Two Cities.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was an epoch of belief, it was an epoch of incredulity, it was a season of Light, it was a season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
6. The Object Hook
This is unusual, but I have come across a few times. It is difficult to do well because the author must describe an object in great detail in an interesting way that shows depth of research and understanding. They must go into intricate detail about the object to reveal how this is connected to the story.
Stephen King’s classic, The Green Mile starts with a note on the electric chair ‘old sparky’
This happened in 1932, when the state penitentiary was still at Cold Mountain. And the electric chair was there too, of course. The inmates made jokes about the chair, the way people always make jokes about things that frighten them but can’t be gotten away from. They called it Old Sparky, or the Big Juicy. They made cracks about the power bill, and how Warden Moore could cook his Thanksgiving dinner that fall, with this wife Melinda, too sick to cook.
7. The Dialogue Hook
This is where the story starts with sharp dialogue that gets the story going. Dialogue is often difficult to write, especially when the author wants to make a gripping first impression. I begin my fourth novel, Hunter's Blood with dialogue between DI Hunter Wilson and his love Dr Meera Sharma.
“Fucking shit! Did you see that? How fast was it going? It could have taken my nose off!” DI Hunter Wilson roared as a red van raced past them in the outside lane.
“Your nose isn't that big, darling,” Meera Sharma smiled.
“Huh, thanks. I think. Where are the traffic cops when you need them? And really, how fast was that van going?”
“Some are in a real hurry to meet their maker.”
“I just get so angry. They don't even think about who else they could take with them if they crash and that was a business vehicle. I'll bet the owner wouldn't like their employees to be racing around like that.”
“Probably not,” Meera sighed.
There are other types of hooks and ways of drawing in the reader and the opening is not everything. The story that follows and the quality of writing that gets the reader hooked and wanting to come back for more. However, when an author is starting out and trying to impress readers and publishers, a good opening is a useful start. As an author, you need to find new ways to bait your hook and draw in your readers.