If you are a reader, you know how that first sentence in a book hooks you and makes you buy the book. Or it doesn’t.
In the book biz, that first sentence is called the hook sentence, and that’s exactly what it should be: the hook that pulls you into the story.
If you are a writer, and you have been working at your craft longer than a nano second, you’ve already learned how crucial that strong introductory sentence is.
In fact, it’s the key to getting readers to read your book or blog or article, essay, or whatever is hooking them with that first sentence and then reeling them in.
Become A Happy Hooker
A few years ago, I gave a presentation to a room full of novelists. Since I know not only the importance of a strong hook sentence but also the importance of a good title, I called the workshop The Happy Hooker.
Yep, that packed the room. Seriously, that's what you always need to keep in mind when opening your piece of writing whatever it might be. You have a few seconds to hook the reader.
The Art of Fishing
I always think it's like fishing. You bait the hook. The bait is the title and/or any artwork. You want to capture the reader's attention so that he or she stops and looks.
Once the hook is baited, you wait for the fish to bite. In this analogy, once the reader stops cruising–whether you're talking about a reader in a bookstore or a reader on the Internet–because you've captured his attention with the bait, you have a few seconds to see if he will bite and be hooked.
Those few seconds are when he reads the first sentence of either the blurb aka Product Description or the first sentence in the book itself. That sentence has got to have something compelling in it to make him read the second sentence and the third. If he reads the second and third and keeps going, you have succeeded in hooking the reader.
With print books, when the reader is hooked, the book is bought. The same is true of the digitally published books. When the reader is hooked by the Product Description, the book is bought or a free sample is downloaded. Now the book's actual first sentence must hook the reader so the book will be bought.
I suspect, from a lot of web copy and blogs I read, many writers don't realize the importance of crafting a compelling sentence even if they’re writing a Product Description or a daily blog post. Or, sometimes, the book itself. I read a lot of ebooks, and a lot of them have mundane first sentences that do little to draw the reader into the story.
Perhaps many writers are stumped when it comes to creating a compelling description of the book they've spent so much time writing. Maybe they think the book will speak for itself. In the traditionally-print published world, publishers have editors who write these descriptions. In the indie published world, chances are the writer must do the task.
Perhaps many writers try to "write their way into the story" and think that the reader will follow along. Sorry. That's not going to happen–unless the reader is your mom or brother or beloved.
Expecting readers to buy your book is the real world of publishing, and books that don't ensnare the reader don't get bought. That's true in the real world of bookstore shelves and in the online bookstores too.
There are many wonderful books and blogs out there to help improve writing skills so start studying. Work at your craft. Take advantage of the wealth of resources offered for free. Here are some ways to help you get started–whether you're writing a book or an article.
5 Ways to Create Hook Sentences
1. Make a startling or interesting statement then follow it with a factual statement.
2. Begin by evoking an emotional reaction in the reader. Laughter, tears, anger, disgust–whatever you elicit–make sure it has a universality which gets the same response from someone in Houston as it does from someone in Rio or Prague or London. We are all basically the same human animal once you remove the trappings of our respective cultures and ethnicities. What makes me cry or laugh more than likely makes someone in Tokyo emote in the same way. Evoking emotional reactions will cause the reader to stick with you from the first word to the last.
3. By description, but only if it is a compelling description of something or someone remarkable. Most people don't get hooked by reading about an amazing sunset unless you're talking about the sunset as seen from a bar in Key West AND you use such evocative terms that make the reader lust after an ice-cold mojito on the deck of that bar.
4. By speech, meaning you directly quote or paraphrase what someone said. Maybe it's a joke Leno told that is germane to what you're writing about or something a kindergartener said about Life. Maybe it's the dying words of a soldier. Again, the keys are: compelling quotation and appealing to emotion.
5. By name dropping. Hey, face it. We're a celebrity culture. There are millions who will stop to read: Real Housewife of Wherever gives fashion advice to female prison inmates. They'll turn a blind eye to: High school home economics teacher gives fashion advice to female prison inmates.
These are just 5 ways to get you going. Study the narrative skills and find the other ways. When you can easily craft a great opening sentence, you'll be a happy hooker too.
Don't be afraid to write a beginning and toss it away. Sometimes you have to write just to figure out what you’re trying to say. Don’t look at your words as if they are carved in stone. Be willing to experiment.