Once upon a time all stories began “Once upon a time.” This simple formula was enough to get people listening and it still works for small children, but the rest of us need a little more encouragement. After all, we have plenty of entertainment choices these days. We can surf the web, play computer games, switch channels, or pick up another book. So you have to make sure you get their attention right on the first page. In short, you have to lure them into your story.
This process of entrapment is usually called the story hook, but I prefer it to see it as the act of seduction.
Here is an excellent example:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
This is the very famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Elegant and concise, it takes you by the hand and leads you into the story. There is no messing about. There in the first line of the novel, the story question is laid out clearly: we have single men of good fortune and we want to know who is going to marry them. That’s why we want to read this book, after all – for the marriage plots and the love stories. But Austen goes one further in keeping our attention on her page. The line is witty and playful, just like the heroine of the novel we are now going to read. She flatters us with her humour, feeling we will understand it. We are invited into her world with a joke. You can almost imagine some attractive, detached observer smiling at you and saying such a thing, beckoning you into a more intimate and seductive conversation. Just considering the power of this single line makes me want to stop writing and go and read Pride and Prejudiceagain.
Often it is said that a story should start with a explosion or something equally high-octane. Jane Austen proves to us that this is not always the case. There are other ways to enchant, excite or intrigue your reader into wanting more.