Though it weighs a fraction of an ounce, the page will not get turned if it’s missing this essential ingredient.
It’s like the sugar in cookies.
Or the money in the paycheck.
Without it, why would the reader want to continue reading?
The reader likely will stop if a story lacks plot, character, setting and dialogue and just rambles, going nowhere as if the writer was saying, “And then this happened, and this happened after that, and on and on.”
To get the reader to chapter two and to give your book or story a chance, there has to be a hook that reels in the reader (think caught fish, but one that has the choice to cut loose without struggle).
The hook typically contains a strong inciting incident that triggers the main character’s problem or submerges her (I tend to write about female characters, hence my pronoun choice) into trouble.
This character realizes that she wants something out of reach or doesn’t want what’s just happened to her. She’d like to return her life to status quo, but it has been altered by this problem or trouble that she has to resolve.
Let’s say the character has been served divorce papers while waiting tables to pay off the student loans of her just-graduated husband. He comes into the bar where she works with a …
Or she yells at someone in the parking lot who raises …
Are you hooked?
The hook, or the first one or two or three paragraphs, shouldn’t start with scenery (the opposite of an exciting inciting incident) or dialogue, though some writers will disagree. If a story begins with quote marks, the second paragraph has to make it clear who made the statement and where and why. As for writing pages of scenery, writers of the classics delayed the action in a manner stylistic for the times that readers in a fast track tech world typically find cumbersome.
That’s not to say that the opening should exclude a reference to the setting, without which the character would be floating around in no particular time or place.
The opening scene, I believe, should begin with character, and not plot, though there needs to be some sort of action. An interesting character with a secret, a contradiction in her personality or an overwhelming desire for something makes the reader want to find out more about this person.
The reader becomes engaged in finding out why the character wants to tell her story.
A hook, if not an immediate grab into the story’s action, can pivot on the use of language, or a description of something that is so compelling and different that the reader becomes intrigued by the writer’s style.
The writing either way shouldn’t be heavy with clichés and abstractions, but visual and visceral, drawing upon the senses. Good writing includes detail and shows and doesn’t tell. It doesn’t summarize or skim over descriptions like a skipping stone.
Writing a great opening scene requires some action on the part of writers. They need to write and rewrite, of course, but they should save the rewriting and self-editing for later in the process. They need to think of story and character, while resting like the angler on the water, waiting for the fish to bite. They are waiting for words to rise, not forcing them as they begin.