YOU NEED AN OPENING HOOK FOR YOUR BOOK
Absolutely! Over the years of my journalism career that spans more than three decades I have observed how some of my colleagues used to struggle with writing what the newsroom inhabitants called, ‘an intro’. Some of these dudes would write the ‘intro’ on a piece of paper before committing, in older days, to their typewriters. A good Sub-Editor will not hesitate to tell a cub reporter; ‘A good and catchy intro is the staple diet for any story, it makes the reader read on’. All right! Enough of journalism let’s now look at novel or short story writing. Writing the first sentence, paragraph and chapter of your book need meticulous planning. You need a hook that makes the reader keep on turning the pages of your novel, an opening that makes the reader curious to find out who shot the protagonist at the doorstep of his house, and why. Often, some book readers and buyers do not purchase a book because they know and love the author, they do so because they are hooked and intrigued by the opening sentence, paragraph or chapter. Writing teachers and coaches will often tell you to open your sentence with an action, this may be true, but is your action-heavy opening inviting to your story? I am not 100% sure if an action-packed opening is the only ingredient to stir a reader’s curiosity. Please allow me to share these two below openings with you: Philida, André Brink, (2012). ‘Here come shit. Just one look and I see it coming’. The first sentence of this novel is, undoubtedly, intriguing. Written in the First Person narrative, why is this person anticipating encountering shit? Who’s is he or she? Where does he or she live? Where does this shit come from? Is it from a mother, father, brother, sister child or a government official? Your guess is as good as mine; it surely must come from somewhere. You have noted that this opening is not laden with action, but because the character is anxious that shit was, in fact, coming his or her way, it all makes it for an inviting hook. Gillian Flynn gives the reader an intriguing opening. ‘I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it’. (Dark Places 2009) Flynn begins with a strange description of a character, Libby Day. The author did not open this novel with action or setting, but the line tells us a crucial detail about the character that leaves one perplexed. It is best to learn from other writers, otherwise, how could you become an author if you have not learned from others? Study your favourite authors, you do not have to emulate them but learn from their works. They make us ask questions, they reveal curious characters, settings and/or actions. Let us take a closer look at this opening: ‘Jabu and Thandi walked to the park, they sat on a wooden bench and he told her he wanted a divorce. Yea, this might be your romance book, but many readers are likely not going to find it appealing. Who are these people? Why does he want a divorce? Did this just spring from nowhere? Let’s try this opening and see if it might work: It had been three days since they had stopped talking to each other. Jabu walked into the living room, tossed the weekend newspaper on the coffee table and slumped on the couch. Watching television, Thandi pretended not to have noticed her husband. Jabu drew a long a long breath and glanced at his wife, his brow furrowed. “Thandi, we can’t go on like this, we need to talk”. This couple has not talked to each other for some days; this indicates that there is a problem in the marriage. That Jabu drew a long breath, his brow is furrowed, it is enough to indicate to the reader that he is annoyed; you have done that by revealing his mood without telling the reader. Note that Thandi pretended not to have noticed her husband when he walked into the living room. Why would she pretend if this couple is not distraught? Jabu wants to talk to his wife, about what? Whether Thandi would be keen to talk to her husband or not, the subject of divorce is likely to come up, but certainly not out of the blue. The subject will come out during a heated argument over household finances or children. Chances are, with a gripping opening the reader will learn that Jabu is an addicted gambler or that Thandi was alcoholic squandering household finance on booze. The above is not a perfect example of an opening paragraph, but surely it is not as dreary as the one at the park.