How do you get your reader to want to read your story? You grab them by the throat! The first few lines should stimulate thought, invoke a mental image, intrigue them, offer something, make a promise and perpetuate the desire to know more. In other words, engage the reader – mind, body and soul!
The trick is to accomplish this feat within the first few sentences of the story. In the fast-paced world we live in, we only have so much time to captivate and keep a reader engaged. If we do not do it quickly and effectively they will not be willing to invest precious time and attention to read your full story.
Think of the first paragraph of your story as a contract. The sentences formulated to show the reader what you have to offer them and why they should make the commitment to form a partnership with you in this reading venture.
You can seal the deal in five easy steps.
1. ACTION. The opening of the story should involve a character, or characters, in action.
This does not mean they must be involved in a sword fight, although they could be. I mean, start the story out with the character(s) doing something important to the story. The beginning is not the time for flowery descriptions of flowers, pensive thoughts on tea leaf designs in a cup, waking up, or brushing their long golden hair.
Your reader does not have time for this, yet. Your first mission is to suck the reader into the vortex of immediate interest. Make them question who this character is, why this is happening, invoke a desire to know what comes next.
Plunging them into a lively, character-in-motion scene, will help hook the reader.
2. ACTIVE VOICE: Your writing should not meander. Use a clean, crisp style that actively, as opposed to passively, describes what is happening in the opening of the story. In other words show what the subject of the story is doing. Like this:
Joan ran into the kitchen and. grabbed the broom. She raised it above her head and screamed.
The kitchen was where the broom was kept and Joan went and picked it up. Holding it over her head, she began to scream.
The first example is told in an active voice and is more engaging than the second, passive example.
Catching yourself writing in a passive voice is fairly easy:
The active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. It follows a clear subject + verb + object construct that’s easy to read. A passive voice will put focus on the object first.
An active voice is more interesting to read.
3. KEEP IT BRIEF. Avoid the desire to cram in as much detailed information as possible in the first paragraph. Think of it like a swimming pool. The reader just arrived poolside, they need to ease in to it. Bit by bit, reveal the story in smaller pieces. Allow the reader to acclimate. By this I mean, do not serve up a twenty line paragraph to cram everything in right off the bat. Four tidy, well written sentences should get the reader into your pool.
4. TENSION: There should be some tension in the story from the very beginning. Show, or insinuate, to the reader there is some kind of problem or conflict to be dealt with.
Reading the first paragraph of a perfect world is not necessarily attention grabbing, unless you can mix in the scent of coming trouble. There has to be some sort of tension that draws the reader in to wanting to find out more. You want them to think, ” Hmm, where is the leading?”
5. GRAMMAR/PUNCTUATION: The importance of using correct grammar and punctuation is sometimes lost to writers. We can sometimes feel the need to tell the story is the most important thing. Certain that it trumps the need for following specific rules of language in the written word.
Readers are intelligent creatures, who will notice immediately when sentences do do flow easily due to poor structure or lack of proper pavement of punctuation. AND it can be the sole reason a reader stops reading your story, no matter how interesting or thrilling it may be.
The best thing you can do for your reputation as an author is find a good editor. The editor will ensure what you have written reads well, without changing your message.
In summary, hooking the reader requires certain crafting skills and may take some practice. Consciously implementing these five tricks in the beginning of your story will ensure greater sucess and a growing readership as these practices carry throughout the body of your work, as well.
Happy writing, friends!