Have you heard that you need to hook a reader in the first three pages of your book? Decades ago that used to be the case, but now when I teach my “Great Beginnings” workshop, I urge everyone to ensure that their first page has such a strong hook that readers feel compelled to keep reading.
How do you do that? The simple answer is, raise more questions than you answer. Beginning writers frequently make the mistake of giving the reader too much information too soon. As authors, we need to know our protagonists’ backgrounds in order to make them feel real, and it’s tempting to tell readers everything that we know about them. The problem is, at the beginning of a book, readers don’t care enough about characters to want to hear what made them the way they are. While they will care that the heroine is facing homelessness, readers don’t need to know the whole story of who swindled her and why. They don’t even need to know where she lived before disaster struck. Not right away. Those details can (and should) be sprinkled in later.
Readers want to be intrigued from the very first sentence.
I made that a separate paragraph and put it in bold italics, because it’s the key to a successful hook. So, how do you create that hook?
One of the easiest ways is to begin with a provocative line of dialogue spoken by or to the protagonist. What do I mean by provocative? One that makes the reader ask, “Why on earth did he say that?” or “What’s going to happen next?”
If I picked up a book that began with, “He’s going to kill you, Suzanne,” you can bet that I’d continue reading. Who’s going to kill Suzanne, and why? I want to know, and so I’m hooked.
Another compelling way to begin a book is with a provocative (there’s that word again) sentence. That’s the approach I use most often in my stories.
“She was free” is both the first sentence and the first paragraph of A Tender Hope. If readers react the way I hope they will, they’ll ask themselves, “Who is she?” followed by “What is she freed from?”
To really hook readers, you need to continue by introducing other points that intrigue them and that hint at the protagonist’s background but leave more questions open than answered. My first page includes these lines: “It was time for a change” and “A year ago she would not have dreamt of leaving, but that was a year ago.” The final sentence on that oh, so critical first page is “What she was leaving behind were the need for secrecy and the fear that someone would discover the truth she had tried so hard to hide.”
Were you hooked? I hope so. Now it’s your turn. Look at your current WIP and see if you’ve baited your hook with questions and a dramatic first line.
Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of A Stolen Heart and A Borrowed Dream, as well as the Texas Crossroads, Texas Dreams, and Westward Winds series. Her books have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Awards, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers’ Best. She lives in Wyoming. Learn more at www.amandacabot.com