My next post was going to be on Endings. However, the thoughtful comments to my post on Beginnings made me want to linger a bit longer on the subject of Hooks.
We are told all the time, "You must hook your reader!" But what about the quiet set-up, the story which opens like a wide-shot of the landscape which shapes the story, or a close-up on a character? Must every story start with action and danger?
In short, must every book begin with a sentence as dark and striking the first sentence in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book:
"There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife."
In a word -- no.
Not every book has to begin with darkness, knives, or the slaughter of the protagonist's family.
Every story needs a hook. But not every hook involves action or physical threats. A hook which is understated, subdued, focused on character, is perfectly acceptable in a book which is focused on character. Take the first two lines of The Kite Runner:
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the ally near the frozen creek.
The first line tells you that this will be a book primarily about a man's soul. By the end of the first paragraph, and more strongly by the end of the first chapter, we learn it will be a story about redeeming a man's soul.
The second line further tells you that the book will explore a world of crumbling mud walls, far from the experience of most American readers.
The hook is strong because it makes the reader ask what single event made this man who he is? What was so terrible about it that he must find a way "to be good again" as it says at the end of Chapter One? And if it was so terrible a thing, how can he change or make up for it now? The hints and details in Chapter One -- mud walled alleys, kites, Kabul -- deepen the mystery by promising that to understand this man, you must also come to understand the world which shaped him.
The bait on your novel's hook depends on the kind of reader you hope to reel in. If you are the kind of reader who likes books with which run silent but deep, this is probably also the kind of book you're writing, and you will bait your hook accordingly.
Of course, it's not a rule that you can't begin a book about character with a description of the setting, or begin a book in which the world-building is the primary reward (much sf and fantasy) with a character, or a character book with a bomb. I suspect, though, it's easier to Begin As You Mean To Go On, and focus the camera as soon as possible on the theme of your novel. As for your hook, I suspect it wouldn't work at all unless it was aligned with the rest of the book.