Most readers do not have the patience to read 50 pages into a book to find out if it is interesting to them or not. Likewise for short stories and compositions, if you don’t grab your reader’s attention in the first few lines, they will lose interest and move on. The last thing you want to do is to bore your teacher who has to mark 3 dozen compositions very similar to yours!
Before we start with the hooks, here are some ways of starting a story you SHOULD avoid.
- Using memorized and pre-constructed intros from model composition texts. For example:
- Fluffy white clouds scudded across an azure blue sky…
- Golden sunbeams reflected off the glistening surface of the pond… You get the idea…
- Starting with sentences like “One fine day…” “It was a sunny day…” or “Riiiiiiing….the alarm clock rang…” – they’re overused and really, really boring.
- Using too much dialogue. Dialogue is good, but don’t start off with an unimportant conversation between characters we don’t even know yet. If you want to use dialogue, use it to intrigue – see Dialogue below
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – readers don’t need to know your toilet habits, what you ate for breakfast, and what you decide to wear (eventually). Get to the point.
- Flashbacks – don’t. Just. Don’t. Why? 1. Too many others do it, and do it so badly, if you do it, the marker marking it is going to go, “Oh no, not another flashback…”. Also, flashbacks are hard to conclude with. Some writers forget that you have to link back to the present at the end. Confusing huh?
Here are some ways you can hook your reader and pull him or her into your tale.
- Make your readers wonder, give them a puzzle!
Put a question in your reader’s mind, make them wonder, what’s going on? What’s going to happen next? Stoke their curiosity and pull them in, hook, line and sinker!
“I’m so dead. I’m so going to be dead…” Charlie mumbled to himself as he trudged towards his school gate. It was going to be a horrible, and rather painful, day at school. ~ The Bully by student from Macpherson Primary
‘Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail .’ ~ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- Lights, camera, ACTION!
Some writers like to plonk you straight into the action. No preamble, no build-up, straight to the knuckles and dust brawl! Think Mission: Impossible, or Avengers: AoU!
Billy dodged a punch and sidestepped the bully’s rush, before hammering home one of his own into the boy’s soft belly. The bully crumpled to the ground with a groan. ~ The Bully by student from Macpherson Primary
There was a sound of impact, a raspy, dry scream, and the vampire went down hard. It lay on the ground like a butterfly pinned to a card, arms and legs thrashing uselessly. Its chest and collarbone had been crushed. By an entire frozen turkey. A twenty-pounder. The plucked bird must have fallen from an airplane overhead, doubtlessly manipulated by the curse. By the time it got to the ground, the turkey had already reached its terminal velocity, and was still hard as a brick. The drumsticks poked up above the vampire’s crushed chest, their ends wrapped in red tinfoil. The vampire gasped and writhed a little more. The timer popped out of the turkey. Everyone stopped to blink at that for a second. I mean, come on. Impaled by a guided frozen turkey missile. Even by the standards of the quasi-immortal creatures of the night, that ain’t something you see twice. “For my next trick,” I panted into the startled silence, “anvils.” ~ Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
- Intriguing, memorable Characters
Introduce your main character/s and make them special! You’ll want your readers to remember them, even if it’s just a description of the character.
Tim was a tall, gangly boy. His head was a mass of unruly brown hair that refused to be tamed by any comb. From this hairy mess peered two vivid black eyes, sparkling with mischief and fun. His mouth was expressive and bold, much used to laughing and joking. ~ The Bully by a student from Tao Nan Primary
‘ He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull’ ~ Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
- Picture Perfect Scene
Description is good when it encourages people to paint a picture in their minds. Keeping it simple is best so it’s the reader who imagines a scene, instead of simply being told by the author. Again I stress, do NOT use those outdated, pre-constructed sentences that a MILLION other kids are also using. Be original!
The light in the alley was dim and flickering, and it reeked of urine and days- old garbage. Jessica felt something squish beneath her expensive new sneakers. She shuddered with disgust and looked around her confused. ~by student
‘May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dust green trees. Red bananas ripen, Jack fruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they sun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun’ ~ The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
- The Dialogue Hook
Dialogue is always tricky to write, especially when you’re trying to make an impression. It has to be sparkling and razor sharp, yet convey emotions, tones and information.
Gloria knew there was someone in her apartment the moment she unlocked and entered. She was reaching into her tote bag when a man’s voice said, “No, don’t”. Her fingers were an inch apart from the steel but of a .380 caliber Browning. “Really,” the voice said, “I wouldn’t”….~Hark by Ed McBain
There are MANY other ways you can start with to hook readers, but let’s just start with these easier ones first. As you become a more accomplished writer, you will then figure out your own voice, and your own style, and reel your readers in with your own hooks!