Like the best hit songs, good books need to have a great hook. There are all sorts of different ways to hook readers right at the beginning of a story. Do you know how to use all of them?
Baiting the Hook
How a story begins is really the most important thing about it, because there are readers out there who will look at this and nothing else. If you don't catch those readers who nibble on those first few lines, and get them reeled in, you'll lose them for ever. There are many different literary devices which can be used to hook readers. Get to know them, learn how to use them and then figure out how to make them your own.
- Flashback: Go into the distant past to hook readers with a flashback scene. Show what life was like before the stuff that happens in the story, and make it look really amazing. This works well when the book will be showing events that are totally different.
- Flashforward: Look back at the events of the book with some perspective, dropping tantalizing hints about how the things that happened affected the world, the characters or whatever. This is a common narrative plot device, but a good writer can still make this an exciting technique.
- Story-within-a-story: It's always interesting to begin a book as a story that's being told to someone else. An example of this occurs in Arabian Nights, in which the storyteller is using short stories to stave off execution.
- In media res: This sounds like a very fancy technique, but it's really one of the most commonly used. In media res means beginning a story right in the middle of the action. I use this all the time because it's an effective way to hook the reader right away. If something is already happening, why wouldn't they keep reading to see how it resolves itself?
- Third-party storyteller: This isn't a literary technique per se, because I just came up with that name, but it's a technique that works. Introduce a story through someone who's not connected to the story, such as a local newspaper or television station. Hearing the introduction through a dispassionate and uninterested source adds an element of mystery to the beginning of the book, because the reader doesn't know right away who the story is about -- though they do get a taste of what it's about.
Hook your readers with one of these devices, or one of your own design. Get them interested immediately, because if you don't you won't be able to keep them. Polish up your hook, and catch lots of interested readers with it.