Hook readers with these first-page techniques
Before you can reel readers into your story world, you have to hook them with your first page. I find inspiration from reading other writers and seeing how they created a compelling beginning.
Here are a few concepts to consider as you craft your beginning with examples from three authors.
Narrative and character attitude. Imagine you walk into a room and you’re engaging with people and observing the feeling of the place. Are the people angry, happy, tired, or sarcastic? Like rooms full of people, stories have a narrative and a character attitude or feeling. Readers will sense the attitude of your story in the first few pages and will notice at some level the characters’ and narrator’s emotional spin or attitude about their world. Check your first page to see what attitude your words project.
Character and reader meaning. Now combine the attitude with character or plot-driven action to introduce a dramatic question or expectation. What details or dialogue reveal underlying emotion, such as fear, boredom, or anger? By now, the story should elicit a reader’s response. Readers will react emotionally and engage with your story if they’re curious, identify with the characters, or feel sympathy. The readers’ interpretation of characters, attitude, setting, and action creates significance. If readers have a reason to care, they won’t say, “so what?” They’ll want to know what happens next.
See how these authors created compelling beginnings:
“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.”
“Mortal” from “The Night in Question” by Tobias Wolff
The metro editor called my name across the newsroom and beckoned to me. When I got to his office he was behind the desk. A man and a woman were there with him, the man nervous on his feet, the woman in a chair, bony-faced and vigilant, holding the straps of her bag with both hands. Her suit was the same bluish gray as her hair. There was something soldierly about her. The man was short, doughy, rounded off. The burst vessels in his cheeks gave him a merry look until he smiled.
“I didn’t want to make a scene,” he said. “We just thought you should know.” He looked at his wife.
“You bet I should know,” the metro editor said. “This is Mr. Givens,” he said to me, “Mr. Ronald Givens. Name ring a bell?”
“I’ll give you a hint. He’s not dead.”
“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman
“Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks. He steadies himself in the knob and shuts his eyes. Chill air rushes under the door; he curls his toes. But the hallway is silent. Only high-heeled clicks from the floor above. A shutter squeaking on the other side of the courtyard. His own breath, whistling in his nostrils, whistling out.
Faintly, a woman’s voice drifts in. He clenches his eyelids tighter, as if to drive up the volume, but makes out only murmurs, a breakfast exchange between the woman and the man in the apartment across the hall. Until, abruptly, their door opens: her voice grows louder, the hallway floorboards creak—she is approaching. Lloyd hustles back, unlatches the window above the courtyard, and takes up a position there, gazing out over his corner of Paris.
She taps on his front door.
“Come in,” he says. “No need to knock.” And his wife enters their apartment for the first time since the night before.”