Open a story with a hook. What type of hook?
A punch in a character’s face?
Maybe. Maybe not.
- A narrator says, “I’m going to tell you a story and this is why you must listen, I haven’t long to live.”
- A dark and stormy night (no longer in fashion) means you paint a quick picture of a menacing setting. A train engineer falls asleep at the wheel, standing on a dead-mans switch.
- In other words, give us the stakes.
- Is this a story about a life and death situation?
- A story of lost travelers who end up romantically linked?
- A story of revenge long planned as the main character, protagonist or antagonist, imagines his anger served in a chilled glass of strong tasting liquor.
Another way of talking about this is to discuss foreshadowing or presage. Story openings must make us worry. They must carry fresh tension and trouble into the characters lives.
Beginning at the beginning does not always make the best story.
Often writers begin writing a story in the middle or end then write the beginning. But somewhere at the beginning, readers or listeners need to know the who, what, where, when and why. Not unlike my high school newspaper training.
Photo Credit: Marc Hoffman
It’s about time (& place)
The Ancient Greeks discussed story essentials as needing two elements: time and place. So a single character out of time or place must do tons of stuff to grab and hold our attention.
- Deliver an unforgettable first scene.
- Deliver a character or characters your audience can root for or despise.
- Deliver a setting and time that adds tension, triggers worries, fear or pain.
Example story opening from Egg and Spoon by Gregory MacGuire,
“The heels of military boots, striking marble floors, made a sound like thrown stones. The old man knew that agents were hunting for him. He capped the inkwell and shook his pen. In his haste, he splattered the pale French wallpaper around his desk. That will look like spots of dried blood, he thought, my blood.”
Praise for Egg and Spoon “Parents need to know that Egg & Spoon is an epic fantasy adventure from Gregory Maguire, the prolific author of the Wicked Years series.” Common Sense Media (.org) book review Egg and Spoon
Where the Wicked Things Are’Egg & Spoon,’ by Gregory Maguire The New York Times Sunday Book Review by Leigh Bardugo 8-22-2014.
Kurt Vonneguts’ advice to writers, “Make your character want something on the first encounter with an audience.”
Please visit BookBub – Partners to read C.S. Latin’s post “3 Crucial Editing Phases All Authors Need to Sell More Books” published August 4, 2015. I read most of her blog posts that she shares on Twitter because her experience and advice to writers reference the high standards I have learned from other top writers advice.
Here is a taste of that blog post. “Phase One: Get a structural critique.Just having your book proofread for grammar and punctuation mistakes is not usually enough. All too often writers publish novels that are structurally weak. By all appearances, the novel may be free of copy errors. But when negative reviews and slow sales follow, many writers feel confused as to why their book didn’t skyrocket to best-sellerdom.”