Good beginnings are crucial in capturing a reader’s attention. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. Many readers pick up a book, glance at the first page, and if it doesn’t grab them, simply toss it aside. Of course, creating a good narrative hook for a novel or short story is easier said than done. However, here are a few suggestions that I believe will help to interest readers in your novel:
Point of View:
One of the most important things in writing a successful work of fiction is to develop a unique voice. That does not mean that you must write from a first person point of view.
It is important to create a central character that your readers can sympathize and/or identify with. Whether writing a realistic or fantasy novel, if the reader can't care about the main character, then the reader won't believe or accept what follows.
Regardless of whether or not you use first person narration, try to stick to a main point of view which makes reader identification more likely. This viewpoint should be from the perspective of a major character in the story. This is one way of hooking your readers from the beginning. And it goes without saying that the main viewpoint character should be either the heroine or hero or both in a romantic novel. However, breaking the rules worked for F. Scott Fitzgerald when he used a secondary character as narrator in The Great Gatsby.
Element of Mystery:
Readers enjoy an element of mystery. Every good novel should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It's important to set up some sort of a question that can't be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into. Prick your reader’s curiosity. This needs to be done in the first few pages and if possible from the first paragraph.
Start in medias res:
Start with a bit of intriguing, provocative dialogue or some piece of action. Get your reader involved in the plot from the beginning. Don’t begin with detailed description of people and place. You will lose your reader!
Don’t start with your main character getting up in the morning or doing anything mundane like tooth brushing. Long boring descriptions were fine for Victorian novelists, but remember that Dickens was paid by the word. Plunge the reader into the heart of the story from the beginning words.
When you do need to use description, keep it pertinent. Don’t overdo adverbs and adjectives. Use active verbs. Replace your “is”, “was” and “are” with action words whenever possible. Vary your sentence lengths and structures. You want your writing to be dynamic and exciting. Your reader must be quickly involved, must be made to care about what is happening.
Get your reader focused, placing your heroine and/or hero as close to the main action and problem as possible. Build suspense from the beginning by getting your reader into the thick of things. Weave details and necessary background information into the story as you keep the action of the plot moving along. Introduce the protagonists as early in the story as possible.
Make It Dramatic
Dramatize your story. Don't show, tell. I'm certain you've heard that advice many times before before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialogue for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking a certain way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialogue leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.
Avoid stilted dialogue. One way to accomplish this is by reading your writing out loud. Remember readers have to accept the characters in your novel as real people.
Setting the Scene:
Although you don’t want to overwhelm your reader with too much detail from the outset, settings need to be vividly described so that they seem real. Think like a film director. Create your novel in scenes as if it were a movie.
Finally, take the time to write and rewrite the beginning sentences and paragraphs of your novel, recognizing that this is crucial. You probably won’t get it right the first time through. I confess I never do! I truly agonize over beginnings.
Go back after you finish your novel or story and see if the opening could be more compelling. Ask some fellow writers and intelligent readers to look at your beginning and give an honest opinion.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you create the perfect narrative hook that will compel readers to read your work from beginning to end.
Here’s the beginning of my novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, a YA appropriate for both teens and adults. It’s got elements of mystery, romance and a paranormal edge:
“When my mother talked about Lori, she always got a funny look in her eye — not ha-ha funny but strange funny. When I was little, I never understood. As I got older, I wondered more about Lori, but I hardly ever asked because it just seemed to make my mother sad.
Lori was locked away in my mother's past life like the things in the old attic trunk. I wondered about them too. But Mom would always say when I asked her to open the trunk that the past was best forgotten. Yet, every now and then, I would say something or do something that made her sigh and exclaim: "You remind me so much of Lori!"
Not long ago, I was sitting on the living room couch reading a novel I found on the bookshelf. My mother walked into the room and gasped.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
She stared at me for a moment and shook her head. "No, but for a moment, it seemed like I was looking at Lori. I remember when she read Rebecca. She loved to read old-fashioned romances."
"Mom, what happened to Lori?"
"Danna, I'd rather not talk about her. It only brings back sad memories."
"Sure, except I didn't bring it up."
As a reader and/or writer any comments, suggestions or input you would like to share are welcome here.