June 19, 2019
It used to be that you had three pages to suck a reader in. Nowadays people will tell you it needs to be done on the first page or the first paragraph.
That’s not easy.
There’s really only one book that I can think of that sucked me in from the moment I started reading, and that’s John Scalzi’s military sci-fi Old Man’s War.
The book starts like this:
I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
Visiting Kathy’s grave was the less dramatic of the two. She’s buried in Harris Creek Cemetery, not more than a mile down the road from where I live and where we raised our family. Getting her into the cemetery was more difficult than perhaps it should have been; neither of us expected needing the burial, so neither of us made the arrangements. It’s somewhat mortifying, to use a rather apt word, to have to argue with the cemetery manager about your wife not having made a reservation to be buried. Eventually my son, Charlie, who happens to be mayor, cracked a few heads and got the plot. Being the father of the mayor has its advantages.
Scalzi comes from a nonfiction writing background and I feel like you can really see it in his writing. The first sentence here really acts like a topic sentence for the entire chapter.
This simple first line does three important things:
With that, you’re hooked.
Obviously, this method can’t be used for every story or chapter opening, but it’s a cool technique that is highly effective in immediately engaging the reader.