How does a writer start a story, chapter, or novel to make it engaging and keep the reader interested? After all, a story can be good, but are there are some key elements to making a story, chapter, or novel stand out? There are actually, and this post will address three of them, and I’ll give some examples of really fantastic starting lines I’ve come across in my reading.
Have you read some of the classics (even just dating back a few years ago) where the authors take the time to build a relationship with the reader? The stories start at a leisurely pace and it may take awhile to see any real action. That was nice and great, but unfortunately to be a writer in this day and age you have to forego the hand holding and get right into it. You can do the hand holding stuff, but do it while you are hooking the reader.
1. Start in the Middle of Action
One of the best ways to engage and hook the reader is to start in the middle of some sort of action. If you are starting a story or novel, then it should be bigger and more attention grabbing action.
What sort of action? Ask yourself this question. If you were starting to read a new book or story what would grab your attention?
Maybe your character is in the middle of fighting off a mugger? Or maybe your character is in the middle of a car accident. You can even do a smaller action like maybe a student just dozed off in class and smacked his head against his desk. Or maybe your character is driving down a dark road and the gas light is blinking and there’s not a gas station in sight.
How big the action is isn’t nearly as important as the action itself. Start with that blinking empty fuel tank light, or your character dodging a fist, and go from there. Engagement in this way creates interest, and then the details can be filled out as you continue further into the story.
Here’s an intriguing action line that opens the book The English Assassin by Daniel Silva.
Marguerite Rolfe was digging in her garden because of the secrets she’d found hidden in her husband’s study.
2. Starting in the Middle of a Conversation
I love this kind of starting point. One of my favorite authors Craig Johnson starts many of his Walt Longmire books (and many of the chapters too) in the middle of a conversation, and some of those conversations are pretty humorous. This always incites my interest, and I read just to figure out what the characters are talking about.
Here’s Johnson’s opening line of the first book in the the Longmire series (The Cold Dish).
“Bob Barnes says they got a dead body out on BLM land. He’s on line one.“
And here’s the beginning of chapter 13 from Lamb by Christopher Moore that starts in the middle of a conversation, has some humor, and leaves the readers asking what’s going on (see number 3).
“I could kick that punk’s punk ass,” the angel said, jumping on the bed, shaking a fist at the television screen.
3. Start With Something That Makes the Reader Ask Why or What’s Going On
Another way to engage and hook the reader is to start with something the reader can’t help but ask why and what’s going on. Like these examples.
I love this opening paragraph from the book Misfit Mage by Michael Taggart.
Sprinting while naked is not an easy thing. I’ve seen streakers before, and while I’ve admired their desire for mischief, I’ve never thought of it as a painful thing.
This got my attention right away. The main character is sprinting naked. Why? And what’s so painful about it? My interested was piqued. I had to read more.
Or how about this one from Severance by Chris Bucholz?
Laura Stein rolled onto her her side, taking care to not crush the bag of urine strapped to her thigh.
Okay? Why does she have urine strapped to her thigh? I have to know more.
And there’s this opening line from The 100 by Kass Morgan
The door slid open, and Clarke knew it was time to die.
Yep. A total hook in twelve words.
Maybe every single chapter doesn’t need a big hook, but it will help you keep the reader interested if you have an engaging beginning to a short story, novel, or the first several (or every few) chapters. Usually it doesn’t take much to come up with a good hook. Just think about your character and what they are trying to accomplish, and what is standing in their way.
Most people begin their story long before it gets interesting. So don’t be afraid to jump straight into the interesting part and spend time later adding in the details. Start the story where the conflict or conversation is going to say the most about what’s going on with your character and what the over all idea of the story will be.
Do you have another way to start off a story, chapter, or novel with a bang? Please feel free to share in the comments.