As an author, it is my duty to hook you from the get-go. No matter how good my book may be, if I can’t keep your attention, chances are you won’t make it past the first chapter. And trust me, I don’t want that. So today, I’m going to give you five tips on how to hook your audience from the first page. Keep in mind that these techniques can be used in works of any genre—whether it be a crime novel or a romantic comedy. Let’s jump right in!
1. Start with a bang
Have you ever heard the writing gurus say, “start in the middle?” I don’t necessarily agree with that advice. Sometimes it can confuse your readers if you drop them in the middle of a situation without giving them any opportunity to care about it. But the core of the advice is true—a great way to start your story is with action. Many writers make the mistake of loading the first few chapters with a TON of background information about the world, the characters, and the stakes. It’s great to establish those, but you don’t need to do it right at the beginning. Instead, try adding in bits of information to an action-y scene to hook your readers without bogging them down.
In my book, SPARKS AND SHADOW, the first chapter is a bike race between my main character and her arch nemesis. In that short sequence, I tell my readers a lot about Everly’s personality and her background as a bike messenger/delivery person. I also introduce the reader to Everly’s supernatural power—that she can see monsters.
Another example that I’ve read recently is Sarah J Maas’s HOUSE OF SKY AND BREATH (HOSAB). In the first chapter, we’re dropped into the middle of a daring rescue attempt that goes horribly wrong. It’s packed full of action and little bits of information that keep the reader guessing.
2. Establish the stakes
Oh, the stakes. You’ve probably heard writing gurus clamoring on about raising the stakes for your characters. If you want your readers to care about your story, you HAVE to tell them the stakes. And then you have to raise those stakes, over and over and over again! When you do that, BAM. You have a story.
In chapter one of my book, the stakes are established right away. Everly has to win this bike race in order to get the money for the delivery, and to beat Peter because he embarrassed her. If she fails, Peter wins again AND he gets the money. Not only that, but we learn at the end of the chapter that there are bigger stakes involved. Everly must ensure that the monsters in Seattle don’t realize she can see them—and her bike delivery puts her right in the middle of them.
In HOSAB, the stakes are life and death right in chapter one. If the character can’t successfully rescue her brother from the death camp, they’ll both die. The stakes can’t get much higher than that.
3. Show your character's unique voice
Your main character (or characters) should be the driving force of your story, so naturally, you need your reader to care about them. How do you do that? By making them feel real. Establish their unique voice in chapter one and your reader will start to care about what happens to them.
In my book, Everly’s snarky attitude comes through on the first page in her banter with Peter and her thoughts about the world around her. She’s a tough, take-no-crap character, and that’s clear from the beginning.
4. Make the world feel alive
It doesn’t matter if your story is set in the suburbs, a sprawling city, or a fantastical world—it needs to feel alive for your readers. A world is filled with people and systems and economies. You don’t need to explain it all in the first chapter, but you can certainly hint at it. Drop little bits of information that will intrigue your readers and encourage them to keep reading!
The first part of SPARKS AND SHADOW takes place in Seattle, Washington, but this isn’t the city you know. Everly sees the city as a gritty, dog-eat-dog (or in this case, monster-eat-human) world, and that comes through in the first couple chapters as we learn more about her and her situation.
5. Don't hold back - hook your readers from the first page!
Your first page is SO IMPORTANT. Not only is it the first impression your readers get of your world, your writing, and your characters, but many potential readers will continue a book or put it down based on that first page. Feel the pressure yet? I certainly do! Don’t wait to drop the bomb (whatever it is) until the end of the first chapter. Is there a way you can do it on page one? Is there a tidbit of information you can drop that will hook your reader from the first page? DO IT!
I packed a ton of important information into my first page. The reader learns that monsters are real, they’re in Seattle, and my main character is the only one who can see them.
You can check out the first page here if you want to see how I did it:
My goal as an author is to grab my readers from the beginning and never let them go. By following these five simple tips, you can create a story world that feels alive and allows your characters’ unique voices to shine through. So don’t hold back—start your novel with a bang and see where it takes you!
Have you read a book lately that hooked you from the beginning? Please share in the comments below – I’d love to hear about them!