1. beehoney

    beehoney Member

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    How can I write a unique/skillful opening that hooks the reader?

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by beehoney, Jan 14, 2018.

    Hello Writing-Community,


    Do you also think to use dialogue or describe a setting to open a story is boring?

    I mean those technique to hook the reader are overused. It’s very difficult to find another way to hook the reader. But you have to go this way if you want that your story is read.

    So. How can I write a unique opening? Or better: How can I write a skillful opening?


    Bye,

    Beehoney
     
  2. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    Those categories are so broad that it's impossible for me to say one way or the other. Both have been done badly, both have been done well.

    Remember that cliches became cliches for a reason--because they work as a way to get the reader hooked and quickly convey important information. For me, originality can't be everything--it has to fulfill a function and do it better than the tried-and-true ways, or it just becomes novelty for the sake of novelty.
     
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  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think openings often take a lot of rewriting. That's been my experience.
     
  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Write it last (a rough draft sooner is OK) or once you've got a lot of the book written. Get feedback. Don't resist killing your darlings. (My trick with pieces I love that have to go is to simply keep them in a separate file. It feels less fatal.)

    I found these two books quite useful:

    Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron.

    Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton


     
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  5. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Done well, no.
    What is an opening? What does it need to do?
    Simply, the opening needs to hook the audience. Ultimately you want people to ask- Why? What?, Who?, etc.

    Think in terms of movies. If you start a movie and the first five minutes are a guy eating a picnic in a field under a sunny sky....will you keep watching or turn it off?
    If you start a movie and it begins with a guy eating a picnic under a sunny sky...and there is a growing dust cloud in the distance and he looks in that direction a few times.....will you keep watching or turn it off?

    In general, most will turn off the first and keep watching the second. The second has suspense and tension. Who is this guy? Why is there a person/people coming? Who are they? What do they want? What do they want with the guy? What is the connection with the guy?

    A general 'rule' in crime fiction is to put the body at the beginning. It is a simple way to hook the audience with all those questions they want an answer for.
     
  6. Gregory Bertrand

    Gregory Bertrand Member

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    I think it's always best to start in the middle of an action.
     
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  7. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    Uniqueness is over-rated. Go for skill and clarity. Often when people are striving to be unique it comes off as very forced, because they don't have the skills to back it up. When you have the skills, then you can add unique twists that are believable.
     
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  8. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    To begin with, you could open about 20 books and read the first few sentences. If you don't have them available at home, go to a library, or even to a bookshop and have a look. Then try writing something different.

    As for hooking the reader, that's usually done by way of dangling the proverbial carrot in front of their faces. Show them a hint that something exciting is going to happen. I don't think I've seen many books start with dialogue. Most start with some sort of description, by which I don't mean a whole page describing the sunrise, or anything like that. I just started reading a book where the first two paragraphs were about how snow falls down and I was rolling my eyes that this was exactly the type of opening which online writing communities would totally destroy. But by the end of the second paragraph the snow was falling onto a dead body and the whole scene came nicely together. Besides, it was really beautifully written and at no point I was bored. The hook, of course, was who was the dead person and why was he killed. Of course the writer could have put the dead body in the first paragraph, or even in the very first sentence (and opened up "with a bang", as the writing advice goes). But they didn't and the result was just fine because it was "skillful", by which I mean it kept me intrigued. Every sentence got my full attention and I felt eager to hear more of the story.
     
  9. Mark Lemohr

    Mark Lemohr Member

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    I use a quick visual description that places the reader next to the characters in an interesting environment. If they immediately feel transported into the story they may just walk around in it with me. Happy Writing! Mark Lemohr
     
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  10. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    What about narration? There's plenty you can do there. Omniscient, having-it's-own opinions kind of Godlike narrator describing a theme, idea or character.
     
  11. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I always tend to focus on character with my openings. Lock in on a character quickly, and show them in an uncomfortable situation. Doesn't have to be anything big, scary, or mind-blowing--just somewhere they'd rather not be or doing something they'd rather not be doing, and make sure to show that discomfort. For me, the purpose of doing that is both to create immediate conflict, even if it's small-scale, and also to showcase how the character acts and thinks in a stressful situation.

    That can get old fast, though, if you don't vary it up.
     
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  12. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My favorite openings tend to be those in which character is immediately in jeopardy - Frankie McPhillip sneaking into the boarding house in The Informer, the widow standing on her porch watching as a young woman she doesn't even know being shoved into a sedan in The Story of Beautiful Girl; or being immediately thrust into a quandary - Bob Munson waking to the news that the president has named Bob Leffingwell as his nominee for Secretary of State in Advise and Consent. Radar O'Reilly listening for approaching choppers in M*A*S*H.

    Dickens famously begins A Tale of Two Cities with setting, so you know that can be done if you can make it as riveting and as enduring as Dickens did.

    And then there are those that are just plain intriguing, that make us want to know more about the character:
    "Mother died today; or was it yesterday? I'm not sure." Albert Camus in The Stranger.
    "I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific...but people always get in the way," James Michener in Tales of the South Pacific.
    "I believe in ghosts." Christina Baker Kline in The Orphan Train.

    I agree with @GingerCoffee - write something at the beginning to get your first draft kicked off, but be prepared to go back and rework it when you are finished.
     
  13. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I'd say, some actions.

    Franz rode alongside the cavalry and watched his legion move into battle formations.

    Deb screamed in his face and fell on the floor

    The second doesn't really paint a picture, while I think the first one does
     
  14. 8Bit Bob

    8Bit Bob I see you took all the freakin' chips! Contributor

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    I wouldn't say it's "always" best, but it can definitely be good tool to use ;)
     
  15. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Get right into the story. Immediately give a character a problem to solve, and thereby reveal something about the character. But don't look for gimmicks to make your writing different. Just write clearly in your own voice. Honesty and clarity are quite compelling on their own.

    Yes, it takes time to develop your "voice". But it will come, particularly when you be yourself.
     
  16. Mink

    Mink Contributor Contributor

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    A lot of the books I enjoy reading have opened with dialogue or narration. Some also have a witty opening line or something very simple that draws you in (or it drew me in). For example, The Lightning Thief starts:

    The warning continues on until you get to the introduction of Percy Jackson. It has got to be one of the silliest, simplest openings I've ever read in a book and I yet I love the book immensely to the point where I've read it 10+ times. A lot of the books I enjoy do start out with an element of danger or at least hint at it, but the beginnings aren't anything that would be considered phenomenal.

    My advice is to really just write a beginning that you like. Sometimes the best hooks aren't over thought and just roll off the tongue.
     
  17. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    "He spilled his coffee, burned his foot, and felt like a complete fool." I would consider that a good opening line because it's a common enough experience and the reader can relate. It leaves the questions "who is he?" and why does he feel like a fool? "Where is he?" must be a public place or he wouldn't feel foolish. The reader is going to want to know more. In fact, I just made that up on the spot but I might write a story around it.
     
  18. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think too many times people think 'hook' equals 'trick' —and I'm afraid I've read 'how to' advice that perpetrates that myth. It doesn't have to be a trick at all. I've also read agent advice that says any story needs to build after the opening 'hook.' They often get stories where the person has obviously 'crafted' an intriguing opening, but the rest of the story sags after that. Better to start slowly and without fanfare, and build from there. Slow does NOT mean boring, however.

    A hook is something that gets your reader interested in your story. So just start. Once upon a time there was a.... There was a what? It doesn't have to be action or mystery or jeopardy or whatever. (It can be, but it doesn't have to be.) It simply needs to be something your reader wants to know more about.

    It CAN simply be a guy having a picnic.

    However, there needs to be something about the guy, the picnic, the atmosphere, the setting ...something ...that makes the reader keep reading. It can certainly be the approaching dust cloud. However, it can also be him wishing his girlfriend was sharing the picnic with him. So why isn't she? You keep reading. Or it can be that the temperature outside is below freezing, or raining, but he never eats indoors. Why? So you keep reading. Maybe he's picking his sandwiches apart and eating only one layer at a time, and this is annoying the other people at the picnic. So what's that all about? You keep reading.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
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  19. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    This. I hear the advice "start with action" a lot. That's confusing advice. In my opinion, "action" doesn't mean an action movie. It doesn't have to be a car chase with flying bullets. But you do want to start with conflict. Any kind of conflict. But make it early and make it affect the POV character. Slow starts are perfectly fine as long as there's tension.
     
  20. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    If you are just starting the story, don't worry about the first chapter. It is for you the writer, to get you hooked and starting on the writing. Once you have the story finished, then you can go back and redo the first chapter, based on what you now know is going to happen.

    I discarded my original first chapter which was a flashforward, when I began writing to finish E&D after a 13 year hiatus. But the new first chapter became chapter 2. I wrote a more catching chapter 1, but that was rewritten at least four times over the course of a year of editing, going from a simple reader's observation of what was happening, to a sight/smell/taste/ fear of what one of the people were experiencing, to making that person take an active but role in trying to forestall the inevitable death of him and his men.
     
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  21. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "It was a dark and stormy night..."
     
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  22. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Hi floor, make me a sammich. :P Supporter Contributor

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    Something intriguing, or thought provoking. Almost like half of a
    mystery, with the offer for an answer just on the edge, but never
    quite resolved.

    Perhaps something that is in such a way to make it more interesting
    than it really is (though it is a rare talent to take something mundane
    and make it seem much more than simply that).

    Try to write something that is obscure enough to make one ponder
    how it came to be that way in the first place. And how something so
    odd could be considered completely normal.

    IDK, each approach for an opening has its strengths and weaknesses.
    None are perfect, but they all have their ability to start off a story in
    a direction. :)
     
  23. Hwaigon

    Hwaigon Member Reviewer

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    You have to promise something to the reader. Raise questions, be aware of them and answer them -or not- depending on what you intent
    to do with the story. To put it more bluntly, think about your story a lot. Inadvertently the amount of thought that goes into your
    story will probably show you what to do and how to go about it best. It's been my experience that stories have their own way
    of wanting to present themselves. You begin to see it after a time - how to begin, from what angle, whether with a dialogue, a scene, even an info-dump.
    Think about it first. And think a lot.
     
  24. Hwaigon

    Hwaigon Member Reviewer

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    Second to the right, and straight on till morning.
    That's King, innit?
     
  25. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Always keep in mind this one fact: your opening chapter launches your story.

    Make sure you're launching it in the direction you actually want it to go. A story CAN take on a life of its own, and maybe what you thought would dominate the story, actually doesn't. Even if your plot stays the same, how it's written makes a huge difference. You might even do something radical, like change your POV character because the new one works better. Lots of changes of emphasis can matter. Do you focus on what the antagonist does, or on what the protagonist does about it? Etc.

    I'm in @Lew's camp. Obviously write your opening chapter, but don't fuss over it until the whole story is finished. Chances are very high that you'll end up changing it, so the launch sends readers exactly where you want them to go.
     
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