Although I have been writing for quite some time now, I have grown thoroughly accustomed to the fact that I will always be learning something new about the ever-evolving and intrinsically esoteric world that is making words mean things. As of late, my interest in further honing my abilities as a writer has led me to reconsider realities pertaining to first sentences. As many writers know, the first sentence of a novel or short story can generate reader interest. Called the hook, this principle involves devising an interesting or shocking introduction that intrigues one’s audience. When the principle is mastered, writers can gain unprecedented cultural and commercial success. This is why thoroughly understanding the hook principle is important. Here is one of many principles you need to understand:
It’s About More Than The First Sentence.
Unfortunately, many writers seem to think that simply constructing a unique or original first sentence is the key to catching the reader’s attention. This may be the case, but if the sentences that follow are not equally intriguing, you may lose your audience. This is why you should conceptualize the hook principle in terms of an entire paragraph. The first sentence catches their attention, but the words that follow keep their attention. A great example of this principle would be Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s important short story “Harrison Bergeron.” The opening paragraph reads thus:
“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”
Here, Vonnegut Jr. reels the reader in by opening his story with an unusual and fantastical reality: we are in another temporal era. Additionally, his first sentence incorporates another concept that is equally fantastical-all people are equal. Because of these two components of the first sentence, it can definitely be qualified as a hook. Yet the intriguing quality of his work does not end here. As the audience delves further into the work, they learn that the equality of which the author spoke includes the end of the societal variety that is marked by some people being better looking or stronger than others. These structural changes to society, he notes, have been brought into being by new Amendments. They have also been aided by the work of agents who are a part of the United States Handicapper General.
When one considers everything that Vonnegut, Jr. states in the opening paragraph of his short story, the principle I articulated earlier becomes plain. In addition to constructing his first sentence in a unique and intriguing manner that will likely make the reader curious, he goes on to cite a slew of other interesting and fantastical realities. These realities include the notion of a society in which there are no physical differences amongst citizens as well as the idea that the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments brought these new states of being into existence. In essence, the entire paragraph is made up of over-the-top ideas which increase the likelihood that the audience will continue reading.
As many authors know, the process of writing is a complex endeavor. Growing as a writer often necessitates the use of literary techniques such as the hook. Yet growth also incorporates understanding that such techniques are not simplistic strategies that require little thought. This is certainly the case with the hook, and writers must understand that an interesting first sentence is not always enough to keep your audience interested. Indeed, it is just the springboard for an entire paragraph that can and should be marked by the sort of ingenuity and creativity readers crave.
I hope this writing tip regarding the hook helped you. Good luck!
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old college student currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree in preparation to become a pastor. She holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, Four and Twenty, and Haggard and Halloo. Other stories are forthcoming in Faces of Feminism, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction and Calliope.
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