Defining Hook: A writing “hook” is what grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more. It engages the reader emotionally.

Length of a Hook:

  1. This can vary from a sentence to a paragraph to a few pages. Generally speaking if you want to use the whole first chapter of a book as a hook, you will struggle with keeping the reader’s interest.
  2. We live in fast times. We’re in a hurry to eat and grab fast food. We’re in a hurry to travel and go by plane instead of driving. We’re in a hurry to get a message to someone and send a text message or Tweet a few words.
  3. Similarly, we’re in a hurry to choose a book to read. We glance at the blurb on the back cover or inside flaps, or maybe read the first few paragraphs of page one. That’s all the time you have to grab (hook) a reader.
  4. This holds true with gaining the interest of an agent or editor. You may have written the next best seller, but if you don’t get someone’s interest right off the start, you may never even have a chance at selling the book.

Basics of a Hook:

  1. Establish the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why.
  2. Establish what kind of story it is: Idea (a question being explained), Character (his emotional experience in a changing situation), or an Event (something that drives the character into an adventure/challenge).
  3. Make the reader care about the Idea, the Character, or the Event.
  4. Establish the tone or genre of the story.
  5. Establish who the protagonist (main character) is right away by giving his name, which should establish his importance in the story.

Tips on Hooking a Fiction Reader:

  1. Start in the middle of an action or event that affects the character(s), something that will change their life or force new decisions.
  2. Begin with a dilemma facing the character(s), something that forces him to make a decision or move out of his “comfort zone.”
  3. While dialogue should move a story along, starting the first sentence with dialogue can be a problem. Unless you can make it clear right away who is speaking and why the reader should care about anything they say, you will confuse the reader and maybe even lose them.
  4. Starting with description also can be a problem as it can be dull and boring, with the potential of losing your reader.
  5. Start in the point of view of a main protagonist, not a side character that will leave the story soon or rarely show up in it.
  6. Make it clear to the reader that the protagonist has a goal important to him and would be reluctant to steer away from reaching it.
  7. Make it clear where the story is taking place, including the time period.
  8. Give the reader a sense of what drives the protagonist and why he makes certain decisions.
  9. Leave weaving in backstory for later in the story.

Tips on Hooking a Non-Fiction Reader:

  1. Start with a simile or a metaphor, something that makes a comparison with something else a reader can understand.
  2. Ask a question that encourages the reader to want to learn the answer.
  3. Start with a definition and make the reader want to learn more about.
  4. Start with a quotation and show the reader the importance of it for whatever you’re writing about.
  5. Start with a comparison to something well-known such as a celebrity.
  6. Start with an anecdote that sets the mood for the piece.

© 2010 Starla Kaye

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.