There’s a lot of competition for your readers’ attention, from the latest binge-worthy series to social media to other novels and stories. Readers don’t want to wait until ten pages into your story before things get interesting, so it’s important to grab their attention from the very beginning. At Writer’s Relief, we’ve reviewed thousands of manuscripts and know which techniques will keep your readers engaged from the very first sentence. Here’s how to hook your readers, draw them into your story, and keep them turning the pages.
How To Hook Your Reader
Have an intriguing title: Your title is your readers’ first impression of your work—it needs to pique their curiosity. It can be clear cut and obvious or vague and puzzling, but the title should always suit your genre. For tips on how to create a must-read title, check out these articles:
- Writers: How To Come Up With A Great Title
- 5 Elements Found In Great Titles Of Books, Short Stories, and Poems
Use a strong opening line: Hooking your reader with your opening line will help pull them into your narrative. It doesn’t have to be long: One of the most poignant opening lines of all time, from The Stranger by Albert Camus, simply states, “Mother died today.”
Open with action: One of the best ways to capture your readers’ attention is to start in medias res—dropping them right into the middle of the action. Readers don’t want to wade through pages and pages of backstory or exposition. Instead, your opening scene should push forward the plot by showing, not telling.
Include something unexpected: Your protagonist may need to pick up milk at the grocery store. Ho hum. But getting stuck inside the grocery store during a tornado literally puts a unique spin on what’s happening in your story. Readers will be interested in an exciting take on an ordinary situation.
Introduce conflict: How your characters respond to conflict will make your story more compelling. Will the protagonist run for the hills, or turn and fight? A conflict will give your characters a reason to act and propel the story forward, taking your readers along for the ride.
Shift the tone: This technique must be used carefully—you don’t want your tonal shift to be too abrupt. A gradual change from one tone to another will hold your audience and keep them turning pages. For example: You might start with a lighthearted tone that slowly becomes more and more sinister and dangerous to keep your readers guessing.
Create compelling characters: It’s important that your readers become invested in your characters and their actions. Readers will be happy to accompany compassionate, likeable characters on their journey—and stick around to see diabolical characters receive their comeuppance. Compelling characters help build a connection between the reader and the work.
Promise some surprises: Your first few pages should leave readers wanting more. Drop the threads for your developing plotlines. Have readers asking themselves questions that can only be answered by reading on. Don’t give away everything at once—let readers follow your carefully laid hints.
More Ways To Hook Your Reader: Some Dos And Don’ts
Do: Introduce your main character early on.
Don’t: Introduce a full ensemble cast on the first page. No one will remember every single character, much less care about them.
Do: Feature dialogue in your introduction.
Don’t: Use dialogue that doesn’t have clear speakers. Your audience will be more confused than intrigued if you don’t make it clear who’s speaking.
Do: Develop your setting.
Don’t: Reveal every detail of the entire history of the world you’ve created. Readers will be snoring before they’ve reached chapter two.
By following these writing tips, you’ll hook your readers from the very first page and keep them reading and eager to find out what happens next!
Question: What book or story hooked you from the very start?
I love the novel That Night by author Alice McDermott, published in 1987, because it engaged me so dramatically right away. Here is the opening sentence: “That night when he came to claim her, he stood on the short lawn before her house, his knees bent, his fists driven into his thighs, and bellowed her name with such passion that even the friends who surrounded him, who had come to support him, to drag her from the house, to murder her family if they had to, let the chains they carried go limp in their hands.