THE FIRST HOOK
What gets us into a story? What keeps us there?
Let's look at two beginnings of the same story.
Faith Cody finished her packing by tossing in several paperback historical novels, straightened, and closed her suitcase.
She was so excited. Today, she was going on the closest thing to a vacation she'd had for years-- over a month at Myrtle Beach acting as the nanny for two darling children.
Here's the second beginning--
Hideous creatures crouched in the darkness.
Faith Cody, her mind seeking consciousness, struggled against the clinging tentacles of that drugged darkness.
Her body twisted in the throes of nightmare, and she moaned, the deep-chested sound dragging her into the light. But when she opened her eyes, a monster waited there as well.
Light and shadow undulated around her in a drugged blur, but she could distinguish enough corners and shapes to know she lay in a strange bedroom. Rainy afternoon gray light billowed through thin, white curtains, and she could smell the sea and the freshly laundered sheets of her bed. The ceiling above her was spattered with large shadows of raindrops she couldn't see on the windows.
A man, a blur of flesh tones and angles, leaned over her. His hand became solid shape as it reached her face. Her nameless dread became terror, and she cringed away expecting rape.
From THE GAME WE PLAY
Which beginning draws the reader in? I imagine most readers would say the second one.
Both stories are about the same person on the same day, but the second story begins at an important, exciting moment, and the questions it asks of the reader makes her want to keep reading. Why has Faith been drugged? Where is she? Who is the man leaning over her and what will he do to her?
The moment and those questions are called the hook. In the average short story, the first hook should be in the first few paragraphs; in the average novel, within the first few pages, but the sooner the better.