The Opening Scene
Those precious few lines where readers decide whether or not to buy your book. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever write, followed by the next scene, and the next, all the way to the fantabulous ending. If you can’t catch their interest in the opening scene, you’ve lost them forever.
With such importance put on the hook, how do you grab a reader, reel ‘em in, and hold them hostage through every page? With manipulation, skill, intriguing characters, and a great story.
A lot of advice tells you to throw the reader right into the middle of the action, literally tossing them in the driver’s seat and racing through a series of heart-stopping action, one after another. That is one way, sure. But some find it exhausting, and it can be confusing if proper introduction is not given to the characters and their world.
The best way to hold a reader’s attention is to get them asking questions, to instill in them a deep desire to know what happens next.
The skeezy Wrezian merchant took a swipe at all three of his nostrils with a deep blue paw, smearing a thick layer of cyan snot over the thin fur. Phug, she hated the merchants on Beta Delphi 5. Unhygienic and dishonest.
“Authentic Pulsevector 5000 prototype, only one in three galaxies. I’ll cut you a deal. Say, two million credits?” the Wrezian slurred as he leered at her.
Sally could tell by the heft of the warp drive it wasn’t anything close to a Pulsevector 5000. It was probably just a box with an algorithm chip inside so by the time you realized the equations running on your system were bunk, it was too late. Bloody Suns, she just wanted out of this backwoods star system and back to civilization.
Who is Sally? How did she end up on Beta Delphi 5? And, what the crap is a Pulsevector 5000 and why does she need it?
If you can get your audience asking questions, they’ll keep reading to find the answers. Ideally, you keep this up through the entire novel. Once one problem is solved, present another, and another. These problems don’t always have to be high action. It can be relationship issues, political controversies, contagious diseases, anything that stops your MC from easily attaining their goals.
Once Sally finds a Pulsevector and gets it to her ship, she finds her boyfriend/navigator has been banging the mechanic and now they’re all stuck in deep space together. With a mysterious killer on board. While mercenaries hunt them for the huge bounty on their heads. Placed there by a powerful galactic CEO. That happens to be Sally’s father.
It should be a domino effect, one hook leading into the next. And it all starts with those opening lines.
I like to begin my tales with a close focus on the MC’s current state of being, then zoom out to take in the big picture. Others like to open on a huge world, then bring it in to the central conflict. Some use a middle ground. Write whatever works best for your story, just make it interesting, intriguing, and introduce a mystery for the reader to solve.
Your story has to have something different from all the other books to convince a reader to buy your book. That can be an MC with a different perspective, a unique world-setting, a compelling author voice. Bonus points if you manage all three.
And, for the love of any god who may be listening, do not info-dump. Sprinkle the details like sugar on cookies, glitter on children’s art, crumbs around gingerbread houses. Readers don’t want to be bombarded by information they don’t care about yet. They want you to make them care with a carefully constructed premise and alluring set-up.
For more takes on how to write your hook, check out these articles: