So here we are. The first chapter. It has to set up the tone of the story, show off our writing style, and really sink its claws into our readers so that they don’t walk away.
No pressure, right?
No! Tons of pressure! Oh, my goodness. So much pressure! How do I cram the entire potential of the story into one page, or one paragraph, or one sentence? Is it possible?
Shock and awe
In the Netflix show I am not okay with this, the series started out with the main character walking away from police lights, drenched in blood. The opening line perfectly summed up the tone of the story: “Dear diary… fuck you.” Like it or not, it didn’t lie about who was telling the story, or where she would be taking us. By the time the shock of it wore off, I was already watching the next scene and starting to wonder about the larger plot.
I go into most stories with an analytical brain. How is the hook going to attack? What tactics is the author going to use? And, since they know we’re looking for it, how are we going to have that subverted? But in Not Okay I was thrown so off-guard that I couldn’t fight back. When I finally regained my balance, I had to keep watching.
The hook won. I finished the whole thing in a day or two.
Do the twist
I like stories that start with a twist I don’t see coming. It gives me hope that the rest of the book isn’t going to be predictable. In the anime Elfen Lied, I followed the cute and klutzy focus character around the office where she worked. Now, if you watch anime you know this trope well, so I had settled in and felt pretty confident that I had the tone of the series down pat.
When the real star of the series showed up and cut off her head, I remember sitting forward suddenly in a panic. What was going on? You can’t kill the main character in the intro! Then, just to drive the point home, a bloody hand held the severed head in frame for a long, long moment.
Look how wrong you were, it said. I don’t really enjoy the gory shows, but I had to know what else this writer could do. They had so thoroughly shattered my expectations that I couldn’t bear to stop watching. And yeah, it was a bloody, disturbing watch, but it hadn’t lied to me in that hook. It was exactly what it promised it would be.
Be like Barry White
It isn’t often, but sometimes I long for a soothing intro. A Tolkien-esque landscape brimming with history and depth that takes its time drawing you in. It ignores the hook word, sentence, and paragraph. Over an entire chapter it builds into a crescendo of imagination, until this world that I know is fake feels so real. I can almost feel the fur on my feet and the pipe in my hand, and I can’t wait to go out and explore this wonderful new world. Like a velvet voice, it wraps itself around me until I feel like I’m exactly where I am meant to be.
Just wanna have fun
So, as I ponder my hook, I still don’t know what it will be when it grows up. I’ve stressed on it for a couple of days. Now I’ve circled back around and see the place I started from.
I should know the answer to this by now. I gotta be me. Don’t push – don’t stress. Writing is my hobby, not my life. I want to be a writer… but I am not one yet. Forcing myself into that lane is just going to end with another failed project.
So I’m going to give it a quick pass – just enough detail that I don’t forget what I want to say. And then I’m going to move on.
Eventually, all of these fears are going to get drowned out by the volume of words that follow the hook. Words I didn’t struggle to write. Ones that feel good. When that happens I’ll come back and give this hook business another pass …
Or, maybe, I won’t. Maybe it’s hard to write because it isn’t the right scene, and I just can’t see that yet? This feels like a problem that future me — the one with more practice and confidence — can handle better.
I’m going to trust her when that time comes, and focus on what I can do now.
So … onward!