This week has been all about beginnings, and today will be my last post on beginnings, I swear it. Tomorrow, I’m trying out a new feature that will have nothing to do with beginnings.
Things a good beginning should do:
Begin at the inciting incident. This is also a Les Edgerton tip. This refers to the psychological problem; you want to begin where that problem became relevant to the protagonist.
- Example: Say you’re writing a sequel to The Shining, and 20 years later, Danny is grown up, and seeing ghosts again. The inciting incident isn’t the first ghost he saw, but rather the incident that made this ability flare-up again. Perhaps it’s his mother’s death and his inability to cope without the only stabilizing force in his life.
- Keep it natural. Keep it clear. Don’t be overly flowery or complex with your language. You need to establish a relationship with the reader, don’t try to impress, but rather welcome them like you would a friend. Don’t describe everything in minute detail or use a ton of analogies. Not everything is as beautiful as a sunset or foul as bog sludge.
- Give the readers a sense of the characters and what the story will be about. Most people in fanfic focus on a character or two, so set up that focus for the reader. Establish what the conflict is in your story, and let the reader know what type of story they will be reading.
- Make the reader curious and eager for more. This ties into the idea of a hook. Give the reader something they can’t walk away from. As they say in the publishing business, give them something that will keep them turning pages well into the night.
Okay, so onto hooks. A hook is what is going to get the reader’s attention, and what is going to keep them reading. It can be as simple as a good opening line:
He needed only one hostage to get what he wanted, but it had to be the right kind of hostage.
One of my better opening lines from a Standoff story I never posted (or finished). The reason I chose to use this one to illustrate is that it leaves so many questions. Why does he need a hostage? What does he want? What is the right kind of hostage? Who is this guy? How does he relate to show characters?
That’s what you want your opening to do. Be careful, however, that you answer these questions without dawdling too much. In this case I answered two immediately, two in the second chapter, and the mystery of his identity was part of what the cops in the story searched for, or would have if I’d actually written it.
It’s my opinion that hooks need to be more than just a catchy first sentence. That will buy you a few chapters of reading, but a more in depth hook—intriguing characters, an interesting premise, a mystery, etc.—will keep people reading longer.
In fanfic we’re lucky, because we already have a part of that; we’re using characters and worlds that people already love. They’ll give your story a chance just based on that. Other fanfic-specific hooks, are the specific character a story focuses on, or a particular ship the story revolves around. Once you’ve been writing long enough and have a record of putting good stories out, your screen name will function as a hook.
I’ve had reviewers say they usually don’t read this, or stay away from that, but once they saw my name, they knew it had to be good. Achieving this takes time, and isn’t a permanent guarantee, you have to work hard, and continue working hard. Readers will know when you’ve slacked off, and they will call you on it. I guarantee that.
In the meantime, you develop a way to hook people into reading your story. And do not confuse this with needing every fic to begin with gunshots, explosions, or someone on their deathbed.
What are you more likely to read? One story begins with Han Solo flying away from an Imperial Starship, blasting things while Chewy steers. The other begins with Han Solo in the Star Wars equivalent of a dive bar, speaking quietly with an Imperial commander? It’s a quiet opening, but it’s filled with tension and hints of betrayal. The first one is just…loud.
Your opening doesn’t need to be gimmicky, violent or gory to attract the attention of readers. It also doesn’t have to begin with two characters ripping each others clothing off, or any other lust-laden beginning. Less can be more.
That’s it for hooks. You tell me, what are your best beginnings? What are your best opening lines?