Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beginning With a Hook

And so, we begin. Many people believe that a novel must begin with a strong hook. Think of the hook as a question. Some people confuse the hook and the inciting incident. They are not the same. The inciting incident is an event within the story that incites the protagonist to take action. The hook causes the reader to ask a question.

Where the Red Fern Grows begins with a great hook, “When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me.” If Wilson Rawls had stopped here, we would ask, “What was in store for you?” We are “hooked” at this point because we aren’t going to quit reading until we find out what happened to him on this “beautiful spring day.”

Foreshadowing is one way of creating a hook. The narrator has already experienced the events of the story, so he can tell the reader enough about what he is going to say that the reader becomes curious and decides to stick around.

An opening problem is also a way to create a hook. A novel opens with an earthquake, missing car keys or any other ordinary life event and the reader has a question of how the character will handle the situation. Some of these problems work better than others, but how the character handles the situation tells us something about the character and how he normally responds to things.

What would be wrong with starting with a question? In some cases, we might want to ask the question we are going to answer for the reader, rather than hoping they will ask the right question. It won’t work with all novels, but with first person or third person omniscient, there’s nothing to stop us, if we think it works.