If you want to get readers interested in your story from the very first sentence then you have to create what is called a hook. The hook is generally the first line or sentence of your story, but the hook can also be the entire first paragraph or contained within the first paragraph. You don’t have a lot of time to attract the reader’s attention, so you have to make sure that your hook is used right away in order to get them interested. The hook can be a description, a line of dialogue or an action. An action is usually the best way to get the reader’s attention. Let’s take a look at a few different hooks from classic works of fiction. Light up some legalized bud, and let’s get our story started.
The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
—Stephen King, The Gunslinger
This is a great hook. Immediately, you want to know who the man in black is and why he is fleeing from the gunslinger. You want to know more about this world. King immediately drops you into the action with the chase scene and you have to know more.
Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.
—Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Clarke uses a really unusual hook here that doesn’t tell you much about the story, but it intrigues you enough that you want to keep reading. Questions come to mind such as: is it really true that the dead outnumber the living by 30 to 1? What does that have to do with the story? This is really a terrific way to start and he follows it up with a smooth transition into the story.
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
As you can see, Salinger uses the entire first paragraph to get the reader’s attention. The voice of the character really comes through here and makes you want to know more about him. It is the perfect introduction to Holden Caulfield, and as he tells more of his story you become more and more interested in him.
There are no hard and fast rules for constructing a fiction Hook. The only thing that you have to make sure of is that your hook intrigues readers enough to make them want to continue reading past the first paragraph. A good hook is going to give you a lot more room to snare the reader permanently. If there is no hook, reader start losing interest almost right away and you have to work twice as hard with the rest of your first page to get them into the story.
For more tips on How to Start a Story, check out Reedsy’s article on the subject