If I had a nickel for everytime I've heard someone say "start your story with action," I wouldn't need to publish my books because I'd already be rich.
This was one of the first things I heard when I started writing my first novel. So, I dutifully wrote an action scene as an opening paragraph. Imagine my surprise when I went off to read books for the same age group and genre, and discovered that more than half of them didn't start with action. Some started with introspection, some with backstory, and some with dialog. And many of these were award winners! What gives?
Obviously these openings were working, even though they weren't following the supposed rules, so I laid them all out and looked for common threads, themes, or anything else that might clue me in as to what was going on.
I discovered this: each and every opening asked some sort of question. Not necessarily a straight-out question, but information was presented in such a way that the reader couldn't help but want to find out more. So he keeps reading, and, before you know it, he can't stop.
Character Voice played a part as well. If the main character isn't interesting, why would we read about him? But I've had so much to say on character lately that I think I will let my other blog posts speak for this one. :)
Another thing I discovered: the story's premise was introduced within the first few pages. This was also part of the hook. I've read stories with a zinger of a first paragraph, and then lost interest a page or so later. In those cases, the author didn't follow through with the promise he'd made in that first sentence, and just assumed I'd hang around to see if he'd get back to it. That's a big assumption to make.
Because of all of this, I think "opening hook" is bigger than most writers think. Much bigger than simply starting with action. It has more to do with giving your reader a glimse of what he can expect in your story as a whole. I.E. will it be funny? Serious? Romantic? Mysterious? Each of those award winners managed to present the heart of the story, at the same time hooking me with questions and teaser information. Keeping all that straight and coherent is mind-boggling, but I guess that's why they won awards. :)
Miss Snark's First Victim is hosting another "Are You Hooked" contest, this time with a real agent in the mix. So get your first page into shape and visit her site for submissions info on July 14th!