We all know that the first line or the first page(s) of the book ought to introduce compellingly the character(s) and, preferably, show the setting of the story.
Do, merely, those elements hook the reader and persuade him/her to turn the page, investing time and emotion in the story? What makes a hook from the first lines?
Before we continue, I want to mention a hook and a well-crafted story are not necessarily correlated. One of my favourite picture book authors writes boring first lines. Still, I like her stories!
Let’s start from less appetizing first lines. To generalize the categories, I removed names and specifications.
Some first lines explain only the setting with a little touch of the character introduction:
Some first lines are focused on the character’s traits. See if it connects with you?
Some other character introductory first lines start with the birth information:
Now, let’s investigate a different category of the first lines. The author’s name and the publishing year are given in brackets.
What was your reaction? Did questions fill your brain? Why has the narrator more balloons? Only more than his/her brother? Did the parents buy the balloons? If so, why did they buy more for the narrator?
This first line not only hooks any child who loves painting but also ignites the imagination machine. What would I do without my crayons?
Storm of questions filled your mind, didn’t they? I bet any reader cannot wait to read the next page of the book.
And, this following first page became the best one I found so far:
The text on the first spread not only introduces the three major characters and minor characters (people), also it tells us about the condition! Just consider the first sentence: why no one laughed in his face? What was laughable? What stopped people laughing? Fright? Respect? Neglect? I can go on with one page of questions sparked by this hook!
Why do the second bunch of first lines attract you more?
Since reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron, I think more about the effect of story on our brain. Her book made me interested to look at the neurological aspect of storytelling.
The second bunch of examples has an invisible question(s), whereas the first bunch only inform you something about someone. Our brain, throughout its evolution, is wired to follow interesting questions. You may not have been emotionally connected with the character by reading the first line, but the questions make you read further. You need to find the answer!
We, writers and authors, have many cards in our hand to start our stories with. Ponder among the card and play the one that produces as many questions as it could, along with introducing characters and the setting. It isn’t easy, because the invisible question should be inherent to the story, related to the character and doesn’t give away too much information at once. However, it is doable. Relook at the second bunch of the first lines.
In the next post, I share with you my thoughts, investigations and discoveries of the “inciting incident” in the picture books. Meanwhile, I am interested to read your favourite hooks in the comments.