First, sharpen your knives, next ready your line. Wait. That’s fishing. Have I got your attention? Good, I succeeded. You continued to read to find out where I was going with this. That is the purpose of a good hook—to capture your reader’s attention. I know, you get all of this already, but how do we write a good hook?
The first step, for real this time, is to take a moment and reflect on the emotion in your opening scene. Make a list as you reflect. Continue exploring all the degrees and variations in emotion until your brainstormed list is as long as you can make it. Now, set the list aside.
Next, think about what you want to say in the first sentence. Brainstorm synonyms for all of your keywords and ideas. Again, keep the list going as long as you can. When you feel you’re done with this list, go back and read through your first list for anything else that may come up.
I hope you’re starting to get the idea of what needs to be in the opening hook by now. Yep. It’s the emotion. Human beings are emotional creatures, meaning we respond to emotions whether we like it or not. Investing good time and energy into the emotional part of the opening hook will get you a long way. The best part is the specific emotion does not matter, just that it is a strong emotion. Now, the caveat is to make sure you don’t turn your reader off with too strong of an uncomfortable emotion. It doesn’t mean you can’t use that emotion, just be careful.
Now you have the emotional aspects figured out, go back to the message of your opening sentence one more time. What is the very first thing you want your reader to picture as they start reading your story? I’m not about to give you rules here. Enough of those are floating around already. To me, it isn’t as important to focus on whether you start with dialogue, action, or description as it is on giving your reader a reason to keep reading. Pick what you’re going to start with and really think about how you’re going to paint that first picture. What is the most crucial detail of the first scene? This is what you should direct your reader to.
Finally, write the opening. Read the opening out loud to see how it sounds when you hear it. If needed, rework the sentence, or sentences, until it is good and comfortable. Then test your opening on others. Have some people you trust read through it. Open up some of your favorite books and study how they opened the story. Check your first sentence in the context of the opening scene. Are you certain this is where the scene needs to start?
Unfortunately, there is no sure fire guaranteed way to write a good opening hook. But, with some understanding of psychology and practice, we can find good guidelines. As always, let me know how it goes!