In the Beginning

The beginning of your story, whether it is a short story or a novel, is the most important part of your book. It is where you hook your reader, and hooking your reader is a definite must. Many a book has been laid down only to never be picked up again because the reader found the first page or two to be boring.

You can have the best character ever created, but you need to get that character into some type of action that will grab and hold onto the reader's attention. He/she needs to be hungry for more and more of your story. So you need to choose an opening action that can be built upon. According to Chris Roerden in Don't Murder Your Mystery, "Caring about the main character is the ultimate hook." This is so true because you can build upon this in so many ways.

The reader needs to identify with the character's feelings, and there must be contradictions of some type. It is good to introduce the main character as quickly as you can into the story. The reader should wonder about who, what, when, where, how, and why. Curiosity will keep them reading. As the author, it is your duty to keep their curiosity going throughout the whole book until the end where you will satisfy and answer all their questions about the story and the main character.

Even though it may be necessary to include backstory and description, these can be added later in the story and must be kept to only what is needed to satisfy your reader's curiosity. Backstory can be worked into the action, adding more interest and adding fuel to the reader's interest. Adverbs and adjectives must be minimized also.

So what is the best hook? One that can be built upon? The main character, of course, and the problems with which he/she will be faced. Remember, the job of a hook is to stretch the reader's interest beyond the first sentence; and if the author does it right, the reader's interest will go well beyond the first chapter.

Which of the following would grab your interest?

It was a dark and stormy night.


Maggie's hands gripped the gun as she looked down the barrel at the fear in the eyes of the man who raped her.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murders and Sarah's Secret
Member of: Sisters In Crime
                   Writers on the Move


Anne Duguid Knol said...

Hi Faye,
How right you are. I am at the moment judging the mystery and thriller categories of the global e-book awards and with so many books to read, I find that first page hook is vital and makes quite a difference to the way I go on to read the book. Thanks for making this clear.

Magdalena Ball said...

Good reminder Faye that the opening of the book needs a hook and that backstory and introspection can come later. I tend to err on the side of too much instrospection and at least making sure it doesn't come too soon is important for the reader.

Heidiwriter said...

It's especially important when you're submitting to an agent or publisher, too, because they receive so many every day that if the story doesn't grab them right away, it'll immediately go into the Reject pile.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Your examples show the difference between a boring start and a great hook.

Karen Cioffi said...

Faye, great information on beginnings. They certainly are the most important part of your story. If the beginning doesn't have a good 'hook' it may never get past the editors once over.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

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