The first page, in fact, the first few sentences are significant in any story, and if done right, they should hook your reader’s attention. A hook can be a scene or a few lines that occur early at the beginning of your story and whose primary goal is to grab your reader and pull them into the story before they even had a chance to object.
But this early scene or lines can’t be just anything, and it certainly can’t be a summary. Since a hook’s main purpose is to catch the reader’s attention, then it stands to reason it must be action or dialogue that bring movement to the story. By giving your reader action right from the start, you place yourself in a far better position of getting your reader to turn that first page and read on.
Think about a favourite crime novel, mystery, or thriller or even your favourite CSI show. They often start with a murder, a kidnapping
or a dead body. If they didn’t have this hook at the beginning, you most likely would put the book down after the first page, or flipped the channel at the first commercial, if you even waited that long.
Think of a James Bond movie, there’s always an exciting and highly energetic scene that grabs our attention even before we know what the story is about, generally even before the opening credits. This is a hook. Don’t start your story with an explanation, or a long-winded history but throw your reader right into an event from the very first line.
Our sole purpose of writing creative nonfiction is to use creative tools of fiction to deliver our family history information. Starting your story with some dry information defeats the purpose. Sure, you find that information interesting. But that’s not why we are here. We were here to write a story your family wants to read, and that means entertaining them first before we start to sneak in the information we want them to learn.
A family history needs a hook. Why? Because your reader already has this preconceived notion that this is going to be a boring story. Prove them wrong. Of course, most of us are not blessed with opening our story with a mystery, murder or dead body, but, hey, if you have one in your family history, nothing is stopping you from following suit of some of the best crime novels. Just make sure it is relevant to the story. However, for most of us, a dead body or murder will not likely be available for our hook.
So we need to look at our story and find a moment or event that will peek our reader’s interest and can play a significant role at the beginning of at the story.
Your family history may not have a big hook like James Bond to begin your story but consider an event that may capture your reader’s interest and drop the reader into your ancestor’s world immediately. The hook doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the story plotline that is coming, but it should give us a pretty good indication of the mood and atmosphere of the story. It should represent the story and tell the reader what to expect in future chapters.
Consider what is most important about your story. Is it your ancestor? Are they unique, do they have a large personality then perhaps we want to open with a scene that helps us to see this larger than life ancestor immediately and in action.
Is your story based on an event, such as a war, then perhaps a battle might be a great opening hook, not a long-winded explanation of a country’s political situation? It might take a little thought and effort on your part to come up with that hook that’s going to capture your reader’s attention but without it, there’s a good chance the rest of your story may never be seen.
If you can provide your reader with an impressive hook, that’s action-packed then you’ve overcome a big hurdle; getting your reader to turn that first page.