What’s the first thing you do after taking a book off the shelf in a store and reading the blurb? You flip to the first page, right? The first page of your novel is arguably the most important page, followed by the first chapter. It not only tells the reader your writing style but also convinces them not to put your book down! What you need is a hook that ends up with your reader sitting on the bookstore floor, buried in your book until a member of staff kicks them out.
In today’s post, we’ll be exploring a variety of hook-worthy ways you can introduce your story to your reader. Each technique we’ll discuss will better suit different writing styles, plots, stories, and genres—and there is no wrong choice for you! Choose what feels right for your novel, and maybe even mix and match!
It’s not entirely uncommon for me to leave quite a frank comment on a client’s manuscript saying ‘I put the book down here.’ This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on editing (not a chance!), it just means if I was a reader, this is the point I’ve lost interest and moved on to another book in the store. Most of the time, this happens within the first couple of pages, but upon reading on, I discover a brilliant scene, setting, piece of dialogue, series of thoughts that immediately have me regretting even thinking about putting the book down. At which point, I’ll recommend to the author to push their first moment forward (or pull it backward) in order to launch into the most engaging moment possible. So don’t be averse to a slight restructure if you find your first moments are uninteresting.
So, with that out of the way, let’s continue on.
Get their heart pumping!
A car crash, a murder, a building collapsing, a battle, an argument! Otherwise known as starting in medias res (in the middle of a scene), starting with something that gets the adrenaline pumping from the moment your reader’s eyes land on the page is a great way to hook their interest. Check out my post on writing sudden events for tips on how to keep your pacing high during a scene.
There are two things you want to keep in mind when beginning with action:
The action should be relevant to your story. Keep stakes, goals, and conflicts in mind; don’t just write action for the sake of action. If you’re going to excite your reader from the get-go, don’t take it away from them by revealing the scene was irrelevant. It may be that the event is directly relevant, such as your inciting incident (such as a murder or an accident), or it may be indirectly relevant, such as a part of your world building or characterisation. For example, starting with your character barricading their home from zombies might not be ‘new’ for the characters if they live in a post-apocalyptic world, but it will paint a pretty good picture of your world for your reader. Starting on a petty argument might have nothing to do with the plot, but it sets the tone of a relationship between two characters.
Consider keeping the action vague until a mid or end point of the scene. It is one thing to keep your reader engaged through movement, but try adding another element of intrigue for your reader by being vague about the reason behind the action, or the context surrounding it. Encourage them to ask questions that they will read on in order to answer.
For example, take a look at the opening paragraph of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:
It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.
Using heated imagery, Bradbury conveys danger and excitement. Close narrative distance shows us what is going on in such vivid detail that the wider picture isn’t clear—but that’s a good thing. This means the reader is wondering what’s going on, and they will keep reading until they find out. The trick to this, however, is to not keep this vague-ness going for more than a