By Brian Reynolds-
Hooking the reader’s attention is an important part of good writing. If you can’t quickly gain a reader’s interest, why would they bother reading the rest of your work? The best writing manages to grab readers immediately before it can enjoy the freedom of entertaining, sharing its message, informing, or otherwise fulfilling its purpose.
An introductory paragraph to any story or piece of fiction serves many purposes, from setting the tone to drawing in the audience. A lot rides on it. While we may often be tempted to impress readers with our language skills or paint a vast and detailed picture, full of flavor and description, it is often the short and succinct that best catches the eye. After all, a reader’s attention isn’t unlimited, nor is their time, so you only have a few good lines to generate interest.
Less is often more. But it’s not always easy to generate a good hook, especially when you have so much to say with the rest of your story. So here are some handy tips for pulling in your audience quickly and efficiently.
Keep it short.
Don’t spend valuable words describing the setting – the sky, the environment, the details – in which your first scene takes place. Those details are important, but many of them can be saved for later. Drop a few, and let your reader’s imagination do some of the work. Otherwise, your opening pages may quickly bore instead of excite.
Keep it simple.
If you’re creating a huge world of fantasy there are bound to be things that need explaining. But spending the first pages outlining backstory or delving into your made-up society’s mechanics can make reading feel like a chore.
Hint at something larger.
Use mystery to entice your readers. Use excitement and intrigue to get them asking questions, questions whose answers are promised for later. Focus on one aspect, one nugget of detail, and the reader will naturally want to know more.
Use flashbacks and –forwards to deliver excitement quickly.
By opening a scene with a little action that actually occurs later, and then going back to the exposition, you can easily hook the reader’s interest. The Percy Jackson series has many notable examples of this technique.
There are plenty more creative techniques for hooking your reader, plenty of creative methods yet to be explored. And keep in mind, overuse can hurt your work if you’re not careful: it is possible to pull your hook to hard or too early. Just keep in mind the underlying principle: you’ve only got the first chapter to get them committed to reading the rest of the book; you’ve only got the first page to get them committed to reading the rest of the chapter; you’ve only got the first paragraph to get them committed to reading the rest of the page; and you’ve only got the first sentence to get them committed to reading the rest of the paragraph.
As a writing exercise, write the intro to a story that takes place in a bleak, dreary dockyard. Establish the setting in a full page: the sights, the sounds, the feel of the place. Then rewrite it in just a paragraph. Then, just a sentence.
Compare what you’ve written to the first line in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which describes just that: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Brian Reynolds is a self-published author from the American midwest living in Topeka, Kansas. His first book, The Six Year War, details the life of child soldiers across the globe. You can learn more about Brian HERE and at his website, www.brianreynoldswriting.com.