Thirteen hooks

It’s impor­tant to open with a strong hook, espe­cial­ly in a short sto­ry. I did fif­teen short sto­ries in the month of May, for a chal­lenge on For­ward Motion, a web­site for writ­ers. Here are the open­ers (ie, the first para­graphs) from thir­teen of them. Any of them make you want to read on?

  1. Lit­tle brown pots on the south win­dowsill gave off smells of earth and damp. Two of them had sprouts already pok­ing through the dirt. Over by the sink, Claire was trim­ming green onions from one of the pots she’d already har­vest­ed. The knife was sharp, its blade a frac­tal of infi­nite length, and when the sun caught its edge it winked rain­bows at her.
  2. Faith will lead you home,” said Ingraham.
    “Faith will lead you in cir­cles, ever wider, ever fur­ther from the truth,” said Yasht, her voice muf­fled by her mask. “I nev­er under­stood faith.”
  3. There was a woman, see,” said Riley, “and she was the most beau­ti­ful thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.”
  4. I don’t get it,” said Sam­my. Mist rolled away from him in all direc­tions, pale and formless.
  5. The water had reced­ed, the dry spell of sum­mer wash­ing once more across the land, and Esau’s raft had beached in a thick­et of high-and-dry reeds already brown­ing under the glare of the sun. Where frogs had so recent­ly blat­ted their trib­utes to the rains was silence, the ani­mals hav­ing bur­rowed into mud to wait, entombed, for the rains to return in a year.
  6. For nine days the sky itself had burned, and even now, five years lat­er, John did­n’t like sun­sets. But Miko did, and he was­n’t stub­born enough to argue his way around her insis­tences, so they sat on the black­end con­crete stoop and watched the sky light up all over again.
  7. Emer­son reached over to select a disc from the rain­bow assort­ment of jew­el cas­es on his side table, and the world shiv­ered. He hes­i­tat­ed, watch­ing the shad­ows swing from side to side as the flu­o­res­cents over­head swayed like metronome arms, tick­ing away the sec­onds left in his life. Run for the door­way? Did that even work, or was it an old wives’ tale?
  8. Before the great par­ley, the drones arrived, seeds that plum­met­ed to earth and unfurled vast lung-wings to col­lect and con­vert solar ener­gy into elec­tric­i­ty and breath­able atmos­phere. It would­n’t last long–the sun’s wind was pow­er­ful now, blast­ing shreds of the star itself away–but it did­n’t need to. This was a vis­it only, a final look around at the old home, the ori­gin world.
  9. Kuiper Belt for­est comets reach­ing for the bright star in the mid­dle of the sky, daz­zling if you looked right at it but only bare­ly bright enough to cast a dim shad­ow when the gro-lites were shut off for the “night”, and Eleanor thought, I’ve spent half my life in the ghet­to. If the hot worlds shuf­fling their feet on the sun’s doorstep were the reju­ve­nat­ed core of a city, then the cometary haloes were its dock dis­trict, full of rough-and-tum­ble vig­or, tran­sient labor, and the hope­ful mad look­ing to score a ride out-sys­tem on ves­sels that more often than not would nev­er leave. Tumult and cat­a­stro­phe had rocked the Prox­i­ma colonies, both attempts at reshap­ing extra­so­lar worlds end­ing in riots, civ­il war, megadeath.
  10. She licked her wounds, blood-salty, and let the sun warm her fur. In the mid­dle dis­tance she could hear a brook whis­per­ing over smooth, worn rocks. The fat branch­es of the tree would hold her up. Even if she drift­ed into heal­ing sleep she would be safe here.
  11. Mur­ray said, “D’ja see the match last night?” We all shook our heads. Nobody else in the office fol­lows Brit sports; nobody else even [em]understands[/em] crick­et. “Grum­man goes up to bat, see, and Eld­staff pitch­es a” blah blah blah I’m not lis­ten­ing any­more but his voice drones on. He does­n’t get that he’s local col­or, a cov­er for the office in case the bob­bies show up with a war­rant or some­thing. Not that they ever would.
  12. I don’t want to say it was a dark and stormy night, because it was­n’t, it was the mid­dle of the after­noon. But con­den­sa­tion cas­cad­ed down like rain from the ragged edge of the nev­er-com­plet­ed dome, and the sun was blocked by the dome’s bulk, and the arc lights had nev­er worked prop­er­ly, spark­ing and flar­ing, super­heat­ing air and send­ing shock waves rum­bling out in grim imi­ta­tion of heat light­ning and rum­bling, echo­ing thunder.
  13. Every morn­ing he got up, squeezed the con­trol that left a few liters of rain­wa­ter chug down the pipe from the col­lec­tor on the roof, and washed his face and hands and shaved his head in the chipped white bowl. Ablu­tions done, he ges­tured to the haus­frau for the pre­vi­ous evening’s news, and let her sooth­ing voice guide him to the kitchen, where he pre­pared toast and mar­malade, then out onto the sun porch where he sat in a skele­tal wire chair and watched last night’s weath­er dis­ap­pear out over the waters.
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3 thoughts on “Thirteen hooks

  1. Well, hubris in the face of the Bul­w­er-Lyt­ton con­test, I guess, It seems to me that an open­ing para­graph should already have such momen­tum as to pro­pel you into the sto­ry, and thus it should nev­er be writ­ten as ‘an open­ing para­graph” so much as out of a sense of urgency to set things up for what comes next. In oth­er words (though I bet you get what I mean already) it can’t be too arch; too ‘I need to hook you’. If it were the open­ing of a piece of music it would either start with a ges­ture, which then has to be ‘jus­ti­fied’ or with the set­ting up of an envi­ron­ment , in which events then occur; but music has the advan­tage that any sound what­so­ev­er, break­ing into the ini­tial silence and expec­ta­tion, is going to be inter­est­ing. I liked num­ber one the best. j

  2. …and I asked my learned col­league, who liked #4 the best and said: “All the open state­ment has to do is to make you curi­ous about what hap­pens.” j

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