Everyone and their mother wants to know how to get people reading right away. The myth is that you have to hook people from the blurb, and then get them so pumped up from the opening paragraph that they are basically impelled against their own self-interest to purchase your book because you’ve turned them into a reader-zombie who has to eat your story or die.
That’s the idea often promulgated in “HOW TO SELL A GAZILLION BOOKS!” articles and courses, anyway.
But That Doesn’t Work
Because readers, unless they are seriously abusing mind-altering substances, are not zombies, and most of them have some volition when it comes to spending their own money. Treating readers like cattle or sheep which you must prod with tantalizing carrots or other such-like treats at the trough of literature is a short-term solution, and usually blows up in your face (because humans are pretty good judges of when they’re being treated like animals).
How To Build Effective Hooks
A good hook presents the reader with a scenario that they already want to buy. Many, many readers want to experience what we may call the Goldilocks experience; just enough, and no more. Readers, in general, don’t want the most literary piece of literature ever composed by the hand of man; they don’t usually care if the writing is the cleanest prose that was ever scrubbed by the brush of judicious editing, and most of them don’t care if your writing is the most original idea every to originate in the brain of writer-kind.
Well, What Does The Reader Want?
To be seen, to be heard, and to have friends. To feel the same, and to feel a little bit different. To fit in, and to be apart, just a little. To have a home, and a family. To believe in something greater than themselves, and to experience a reality that is purer, stronger, better than their own.
How Does All That Translate Into A Hook?
When you go to purchase a car, what are you really looking for? Unless you are a collector with very deep pockets, you are looking for a vehicle that can adequately and reliably perform a task. The task is some species of transport. Some people are looking for a truck that can haul things, and some people are looking for a vehicle that can transport fifteen bodies. Some people are looking for a commuter vehicle that is steady and fuel-efficient. These different types of needs can, for our purposes, be translated into different genres.
Each genre has a specific set of promises, or deliverables that are expected by consumers of that genre. Romance writers, for example, will talk about the reader’s expectation for a happy ever after ending, and mystery readers, in general, expect a well-plotted and gradually-built murder. When you know your genre, familiarize yourself with the experience promised, in general, by that type of story.
A Science-Fiction Hook:
Vince twisted the cap from his transformative juice bottle, and guzzled down his morning’s allotment of gravity. The sizzle of the molecules, as they gradually passed into his system, made his muscles seem to pull separately down against his bones. He breathed hard through his nose, and rotated his jaw. Today was the day he’d get through the breezeway of the ship; he’d been planning for months, and today was it. If he failed, he’d be pushed out with the other convicts to the moon base, where the miners had an expected lifespan of twenty years.
He wasn’t going to die in a moon base; he’d promised himself that. He was going to find a way into the crew of the J. Havenclad, and then he was going to steal a personal craft.
What Are The Promises In This Scene?
We see a space setting, a renegade ne’er-do-well facing stacked odds, and strange but slightly-plausible technology. Plus, there is the threat of death, and a clearly pass-fail adventure looming on the near horizon.
If you’re working in genre fiction, examine the promises inherent in your area, and incorporate them into your opening scenes.