Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop:
Openings and Hooks

In Hooked, Les Edgerton defines the hook as, "something that intrigues the reader, and it can be virtually anything that makes the reader want to read further. It can be a story question - will the protagonist overcome the daunting problem that confronts him? - or it can be the lovely language of the author, or any of a dozen and one other things. In short, anything that can draw the reader in can serve as a hook. What most good hooks have in common is that they have strong inciting incidents that plunge the protagonist immediately into trouble - the trouble that's going to occupy the rest of the story." (p. 38) Edgerton lists the components of an opening scene as the following (examples are mine):

  1. The inciting incident - the event that creates the character's initial problem and hints at the deeper story-worthy problem (i.e. MC finds loved one shot dead)
  2. Initial surface problem - (i.e. find the murderer)
  3. The story-worthy problem - the driving force for the protagonist (i.e. does the MC succumb to his desire for revenge?)
  4. The set-up - rule is to give only enough to allow the reader to understand the inciting incident and hint at the story-worthy problem
  5. The back-story - at little as is physically possible - rule for new writers, just don't do it - what is necessary can come out in dribs and drabs - belongs only in writer's notes
  6. The opening line - work it the most (i.e. Leroy was so mean, where ever he was standing was the bad part of town.)
  7. Language - establish the tone and voice for the entire story (i.e. if it is irreverent and funny, the story needs to stay that way)
  8. Character Introduction - brevity is key and should be shown via the action of the inciting incident
  9. Setting - brevity is key as are using all the senses
  10. Foreshadowing - the promise of the story

The goals of openings are:

  1. To introduce the story-worthy problem
  2. To hook the reader
  3. To establish the rules of the story
  4. To forecast the ending of the story

Thanks to Young Gunn and Workshop alum Kathy Kitts for sharing this!

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updated 5/30/2013