The first few words or couple paragraphs of a story are called the Hook. I sometimes refer to the beginning of a story as the “calling” or “invite” where your job as creator is to tantalize the reader and yank them, screaming if necessary, into your tale.
Without the hook, the reader will not care about the line or the sinker.
Here are two terrific novel beginnings from well respected authors, Dean Koontz and Olivia Butler.
Dean Koontz, and the beginning of Midnight:
Janice Capshaw liked to run at night.
This sentence is also the novel’s first paragraph, which makes it all that more ominous. Who runs at night? Isn’t that dangerous? You know because of the importance attributed (It’s the first sentence!) that something bad is going to happen. The tension mounts from the very beginning.
Right off, Koontz hooked me, implanting those questions–the lurking mystery—so I HAD to read the next sentence.
Olivia Butler’s beginning of The Wild Seed:
Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages.
How many villages does Doro have, who is Doro, and what is a seed village?
Both writers grab the reader at the outset, forcing them to continue and answer the questions their well chosen words prompted.
A couple interesting things: each writer named the character immediately Why? A reader identifies with a character, a person, someone like them . . . or maybe not. But the reader does need someone to relate to—this is important stuff; don’t miss it.
In the examples above (and the ones following), the first word(s) is the character’s name, but it does not have to be so—I do encourage writers to name the character in the first sentence, though, or the second at the latest. Readers want to know the “Who” of the story as soon as possible.
Secondly, Koontz and Butler give the reader action and excitement at the start. This is not the place for back-fill, which is often called “Info Dump.” The history of your world and characters, ideally, should be sprinkled in throughout the action, shedding bits of light as the story grows and clarifies.
Reader’s lives are busy, hammered by a myriad of distractions—you must shake their mundane everyday world and pull them into the story you have to tell, and it better be quick.
Here are the beginning two paragraphs of my short story, Nychelle’s Gate.
(In no way do I compare myself to the two masters quoted, but by using my own writing, I KNOW what I tried to do: it’s up to you to decide if I succeeded).
Nychelle staggered through the tent flap, and fell to her knees on the dusty floor. She spun to face her mother and father.
“I won’t do it,” she spat, tasting blood from the Elder’s backhand. The Elder’s slap was not the worst of being “taken,” nor the most painful, and far from the most humiliating. She shuddered and ignored the stickiness down there.
The opening two paragraphs attempt to accomplish the following:
- Introduces the main character, Nychelle, right off.
- Gives the setting, at least at this point in the story, being the tent and probably that of her parents. Using “tent” implies the people are nomadic, or at least have not reached the point as a culture of developing towns and cities. Or they are outsiders. Either way, there is some mystery as to the situation of the people populating the story.
- Confrontation demonstrated by her dialogue: “I won’t do it” shows a problem and her parents are at the center of it. This confrontation is geared to raise the tension of the scene: it’s called conflict.
- There are other hints within these 63 words such as the hierarchy of the culture (Elder), which indicates a clan rather than a kingdom, that she had been struck (tasted blood from the Elder’s backhand), and that she endured something cringe-worthy (shuddered at the stickiness down there).
- Speaks to Nychelle’s character: strong and defiant, even against great odds of opposing her parents and the clan elder.
Another from my published short story, The Accomplice.
Deke turned the headlights off and sat for a moment, letting the plan roll through his mind one last time.
What plan? The fact Deke “turned the headlights off” indicates night, and darkness is when trouble happens.
Introduce your character at the outset, give them a problem, and provide a mystery the reader is drawn to solve. Pretty straight forward, and guarantees the reader will read the next part of your story . . . hook, line, and sinker.
See you on the next page,
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