Why the Opening Hook of Your Story is So Important

It’s worth looking at the use of opening hooks in your writing!

Photo by mohamed_hassan at Pixabay

Have you ever started watching a movie and found yourself drifting after the first few minutes? Where you might keep watching, but you’re more likely to turn the movie off and put something else on?

This happens to me when I see movies all the time. The filmmakers have failed to draw me into the story, the characters, the conflict. There’s no reason to keep watching.

The sad truth is that your writing works in the same way. If you don’t hook the reader in your first few pages, sometimes in your first few sentences, the reader will move on to something else.

This is especially the case with editors and literary agents. These are busy, busy people. They’ve got fifty more submissions in their inbox they need to get to before the end of the day.

You want to give them a reason to keep reading, the same way a filmmaker wants his viewers to keep watching.

You don’t want to let them move on to something else… ever!

Think of your favorite films. How do they begin? How do they draw you into their worlds? How do they hook you?

An example of a great opening hook is in The Dark Knight. This film could start any number of ways. Bruce Wayne waking up. Batman answering the call to duty. Shots of the glowing sunrise. Exteriors of Wayne Manor that establish the setting.

Instead, we open with a fabulous extended robbery scene that has nothing to do with the protagonist. It has everything to do with The Joker, and his desire for chaos. In a few short minutes, the tone of the film has been set, and the antagonist has been perfectly established.

This is one strategy to hook your reader. Open with the threat. Start the conflict as soon as possible.

But you may want to start your story with the protagonist, and that strategy works, too. You just have to be careful, again, that you start in the right place.

Don’t open with your main character waking up. Don’t open with your character going about his morning, making breakfast, taking a shower, brushing his teeth, feeding the dog.

Get to the conflict as soon as possible.

Think of The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling gets her assignment to interview Hannibal Lecter to track down a serial killer all in the first few minutes of the film. You are then immediately pulled into the world, her mission, the horror of what’s she about to face, by the time you’ve only just settled into your seat.

And in the next scene, we meet Hannibal Lecter.

You see? No wasted time. No possibility the viewer might jump ship.

You want to look at your writing the same way. Try taking these two steps, and see if they help you…

1. Examine your short story or novel, and think about the opening scene. Is this the right place to start your story? Is it possible to start later, closer to the central conflict? And is there a hook on that first page to draw in the reader? What is it?
2. For the next three films you watch, take note of its opening scene. How did it draw you in? How did it not? Write down your observations.

Remember, you want to hook the reader in whatever kind of writing you do. Don’t give your readers any excuse to put down your story. Hook them in those first few pages… and never let them go.

Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency.