Every compelling piece of writing begins with a hook, a sentence baited with words so enticing you cannot resist taking a bite. Great hooks are hard to define. Some are an entire paragraph long. Novel readers in the 18th and 19th century saw a lot of these lengthy beginnings. Some are just a few simple words. ("I am an invisible man.") All of them share the magical quality of being irresistable, of making you want to read more. Like pornography, we know them when we see them. Among the many memorable hooks in English, one of my favorites is this:
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
(George Orwell, 1984)
You know immediately you are in a place where things have gone terribly wrong. And you know it is April, that cruel and atmospheric month in England. And you also feel urgently that you need to find out why the clocks are striking thirteen. I was eighteen when I read this. I hated books that made me uncomfortable, that suggested the future might be worse than the present. And yet here was a book I couldn't resist, even though it was about to make me very uncomfortable: I had been hooked.
All good writers must learn how to create hooks. I'm interested in hearing what your favorite hook is, dear reader. And why.
For your amusement, here's a link to somebody's idea of 100 great novel hooks. Orwell's hook is eighteen.