Elements of Storytelling: "And so it Begins...." - Hook & Reel
Hooking the audience’s attention as early as possible is Paramount, er uh, important. It’s best when done within the first minute, the first page—the first word if possible. As much as I loved the Transformers live action film (Psst! Transformers: The Movie animated film from 1986 is way cooler), there was one major problem: If it hadn’t been Transformers, and Megan Fox wasn’t so hot, I would never have remained in my seat long enough to wait for it to get interesting were it not for the exposition at the start of the film (in Optimus Prime’s voice no less) promising some really cool stuff to come. But, alas, such “prologues” are often used so much they might as well be considered crutches.
And face it: most of us don’t have the advantage of a brand name to keep our audience/readers interested. Therefore, you have to peak the interest of your audience from the beginning, or else you’re screwed (and not in a good way). From a novel or short story perspective, the first sentence should be sufficient to throw out that hook.
There’s a lot to be said about L. Ron Hubbard and Battlefield Earth (and no, I’m not even going to bother talking about that damn movie with the same title)—and very little of it good—but one thing he knew was how to hook in his readers with a single sentence:
“Man,” said Terl, “is an endangered species.”
He peaks your interest, leaving you wondering what was meant, and provides you a foreshadowing of what the story is mainly about: humanity as an endangered species. Later you learn why humanity is about to go extinct, but the important part is that you know they’re endangered at the very beginning of the story.
In film, it’s often the introduction of the main character (often after the panoramic view shot)—usually found in an awkward or compromising situation (which I like to refer to as the “Huh!?” moment)—that tends to be used as the hook.
There’s many ways you can throw that bait and hook into the pond, and it’s fun to practice different ways of doing it—even if only to figure out what baits work best on that hook. But that hook needs to go ker-plop! Otherwise, why bother?
And once that hook is in your audience’s collective mouths, it’s time to start reeling them in.