I’m revising the opening chapter of my novel and struggling with whether to begin with a scene that jumps right into the action, or one that gives insights into the plot and the personalities of two of the main characters. I’ve repeatedly read that we have to hook a reader with the opening sentence or paragraph. While I agree with that sentiment, I’m not sure how to apply it to my story.
Readers have different tastes, and though they may like the same genre, they may not be hooked by the same things. I’ve been researching hooks to help me resolve this dilemma and I found some useful tips.
For a hook to be effective, it should do at least one of the following:
1. appeal to the readers’ emotions
2. raise questions about what will happen
3. reveal something that isn’t anticipated
4. indicate that something is about to change
How do we accomplish this? Perhaps by starting the story at the point where a change is taking place. Maybe the main character is facing a major crisis, an unexpected encounter, or a difficult decision. Reveal enough about the situation to make readers curious, and withhold enough to make them read on for the answer to the questions the hook raises.
People want to read about interesting characters doing something interesting, not wade through a boring description or explanation of the back story. If the opening introduces something unique happening, or about to happen, chances are you have an appealing hook. Then you just have to worry about keeping them hooked through the rest of the story…
Here are a couple of sites that offer useful tips on hooks:
Edit October 25, 2009: Here’s another excellent site I found which explains the importance of an opening hook, and how it must be supported by what happens later in the story: http://www.fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue27/writinghooks.htm
Edit September 23, 2010: I like the explanation of the difference between using a “cold opening” and “in media res” that I found at http://beingabetterwriter.blogspot.com/2010/09/post-19-building-better-opening.html
Do you generally like to start a story in the middle of the action, or prefer to get to know the characters a little before jumping into the main conflict?