No, I'm not chanting about Peter Pan's nemesis (even if I did use an image reminiscient of it). Cassandra over at Darkened Jade got me thinking about the hook, the intriguing thought that gets a reader involved immediately in a story. That means you all get to follow me as I work through the concepts.
When I first started writing, I would often make the worst mistake - starting a story with the character waking up. After I got to thinking about it (and read other bloggers lamenting about it), I realized how cliche it is. I have since abandoned that particular practice.
What is a hook, you ask? Well, for those of you who aren't sure, the "hook" is the first sentence (or couple of sentences) that grabs a reader's attention at the start of the story. This is what compels them to keep reading. It's what marks your story as immediately interesting. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." There are countless examples of good openers like this one, but the point is that you want to demand the reader plunge in whole-heartedly and strap themselves in. You're about to offer a ride they won't forget, and you don't want them complaining that it feels like kiddie-land when you're trying to take them on the monster of all roller coasters.
How do I work a hook? I've found what usually works for me is to start the story right in the middle of something. Drop the reader right into the action, so they are instantly involved. I have no idea is the the best way to do things, but I think it works. Here's an example:
Alarms were going off everywhere. Jeb scrambled to grab tools, his mind racing as fast as his hands. What did he miss? How long 'til the rent-a-cops showed up? He shoved the crowbar into the canvas bag, the latex glove ripping as his finger caught on the zipper. With surprising agility, he jumped up and turned towards the door. The beams on his face and chest however, gave him a reason to pause. That and the guns pointed in his direction. He gauged his chances of dodging the hurricane of lead, trying to ignore their shouted threats. Then he moved.
As you can see, the reader is involved. Things are happening quickly, and all hell is about to break loose maybe. But what if you're not writing a thriller? How do you hook your reader if it's a different genre? Here's another possibility, from a different angle.
Leaves were falling, blocking the rays of sunlight that fell across her face. Each one dragged a shadow across her, hinting at the darkness ahead. Timothy had no idea what to do, but he'd read once that kissing a princess would wake them up. She might not really be a princess, but it was worth a shot. He kneeled next to her inert form and leaned over. He didn't want to close his eyes, because he might kiss her nose and it wouldn't work. Her lips were cold like a worm fresh from the ground; he remembered being forced to eat one last summer. Ignoring the uncomfortable memories that evoked, he held his lips against hers for a long moment before raising up once more. He must not be her prince, he thought as a tear slid down his cheek.
This passage isn't an adrenaline rush. It does perform the same action as the previous one however, which is what hooks are about. Both of them pose questions in the reader's mind, questions that need answering. Who is this person? Why are they there? Where is "there"? Why are they doing this? If it's written well enough, the reader will seek answers to all of these questions. And then you have them "hooked".
How do you approach creating a hook in your own writings? Did these two examples hook you or could they have been done better?