Early in my lifelong writing side-career, when I was cranking out articles and short stories for magazines, I learned that you must hook a reader somehow to make the person stop casually flipping through the magazine pages, and read your offering. This can be done with an arresting photo, or an unusual, intriguing title that maybe uses quirky alliteration, or that hints at some major conflict, or that provokes a grin. Or it can be done with an irresistible opening sentence that absolutely demands further reading. I often like to start with a bit of dialog, for example, because it invariably grabs interest, the way a whisper from a dark alley is bound to rivet you as you walk past.
Here are a few effective introductory hooks from some masters:
“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth and the retreating fog revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.” The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
“The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger by Stephen King
“It was a bitter cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984 by George Orwell
“They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise by Toni Morrison
“You better not never tell nobody but God.” The Color Purple by Alice Walker
“A screaming comes across the sky.” Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
In each of these cases, the author in effect poses a startling unusual question, and we’re drawn in to read further in search of an answer.
In successful writing, at least, hooking can be elevated to an art form.