15 Important Tips On How To Write A Hook
According to Wyzowl the average person’s attention span has gone from 12 seconds to 8.25 seconds in recent years. A huge part of that has to do with social media and its negative effects on us. We’ve become impatient, and with scrolling made really easy, losing interest has become a problem. The same goes for readers. Losing interest in a book they’re reading comes sooner than it used to, especially with the variety of books being published each year. That is why authors need to learn different ways to keep readers hooked. One of which is to learn how to write a hook.
A hook, or commonly known as a narrative hook, is the start of a story that grips the reader’s attention and keeps them from turning away. Sometimes it’s just the first sentence, other times it’s the entire first paragraph. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something grand. It can merely be something that keeps the reader wanting to know more.
1. Invoke the Reader’s Curiosity
A great tactic to make use of when writing a hook is to make the reader curious to know more. With obscure sentences or unexplained points, the reader is more likely to continue reading until they understand what that sentence meant.
Take this example from Vengeful by V. E. Schwab.
The night Marcella died, she made her husband’s favorite dinner.
With a sentence like that, the reader is very likely to have a million questions running through their head. Who is this Marcella? How did she die? And more importantly, what did she make?
Here’s another example from Wicked Fox by Kat Cho.
Gu Miyoung’s relationship with the moon was complicated, as are most relationships centered around power.
Aside from wanting to know who Gu Miyoung is, well, how does she have a relationship with the moon? Is it different from any of our relationships with it?
2. Surprise the Reader
Another tactic is to take the reader by surprise. Tell them something they clearly hadn’t expected to read. It will startle them, then quickly have them reading to learn more.
Here’s a good example from Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
The sun was raining again.
Considering that the sun usually shone and the clouds or skies rained, that is a rather odd sentence to read, isn’t it? How could the sun possibly rain?
3. Shock the Reader
As much as it might seem counter-productive, shocking your reader can yield significant results. Whether it’s something gruesome, or a weird and controversial thought, it might be your key to them reading more.
This example from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is good here.
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
Whose hand was it? Why was it dark? Why was whoever they were holding a knife? What did they intend to do with it? With a shocking start like that, it would be easy to keep readers on tenterhooks.
Another example would be from Broken Things by Lauren Oliver.
Five years ago, when I had just turned thirteen, I killed my best friend.
This shocking revelation from the protagonist, especially since it’s in the first person, would have the reader immediately wanting more. Why would the protagonist kill her best friend? Why was she so calm about it? What has she been doing for the past five years?
4. Address the Reader
The writer’s relationship with the reader doesn’t have to be so far removed. You can easily address your reader to get his or her attention.
Take this example from Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.
I’ve read many more books than you.
Sure, the first thing that comes to mind is why the main lead could possibly think that. As a reader, you might be a bibliophile yourself, so you’d question such a thing. To learn more about this assumption, you’ll keep on reading.
5. Make it Dramatic
We can construe this particular tactic in various ways. Whether it’s the main lead making a scene, or as with a previous point, make it shocking. But it can also be something that would truly intrigue the reader to learn more about.
With this example from Renegades by Marissa Meyer, you have a dramatic opening.
We were all villains in the beginning.
Who does the ‘we’ refer to here? What happened at the beginning? Does that mean they weren’t villains now? All of these and more can run through a reader’s head.
This is another one from Reboot by Amy Tintera.
They always screamed.
Who does the ‘they’ refer to? Why are they screaming? Is the main lead the one making them scream?
6. Use a Funny Incident
Most readers love an author with a sense of humor. One capable of showing that in writing, right from the start. What better way to set the tone of what’s yet to come?
An author that has mastered her sense of humor in books is Julia Quinn. We’re going to use Brighter Than the Sun as an example of that.
Eleanor Lyndon was minding her own business when Charles Wycombe, Earl of Billington, fell—quite literally—into her life.
As Julia Quinn’s books are historical, she managed to add her quirky humor into the story in a very interesting way.
7. Start With a Question
Something else you can do to grab the reader’s attention is to ask a question. Naturally, since you won’t be getting any response, it will have to be rhetorical.
Here’s an example from The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.
Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?
Aside from the many ways this sentence is a very interesting way to start the story, the question here adds an element of intrigue. The author is planning to start the story from the end? How odd.
This point can work well with the fourth one when addressing the reader. Asking the readers a question makes them feel involved with the story. As if they’re part of the journey.
8. Drop the Reader in the Middle of the action
Dropping the reader right in the middle of the story without any introductions is also a very viable option that authors usually resort to. Getting the sense of the scene, then backtracking and giving some explanation and context to the story is fun. It can also keep the reader guessing until you as an author get around to explaining.
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
“My father is a control freak, I hate my stepmother, my brother is dead and my mother has… well… issues. How do you think I’m doing?”
In addition to the many points the protagonist blurts out in this very first sentence in the story, one of the conclusions we can reach is that she’s in therapy. Or maybe she’s talking to a friend or relative. It’s not simple to figure out, but definitely gripping.
9. Describe the Weather
The weather can also be another powerful tool in your arsenal. If you manage to use the element well, you can get the reader to understand the setting and atmosphere well enough to imagine it properly in their mind.
This is an example from The Traitor Prince by C.J. Redwine.
Once upon a time…
A brisk wind scoured the packed dirt streets of the peasant quarter in Makan Almalik, tossing grit into the night air and clawing at the robes of the young man who walked briskly down a side road, his cowl pulled over his head to guard his face against the onslaught.
The description of the wind here can help readers understand the struggle the main lead is going through just to move. With the dirt flying every which way, he had to protect himself against it using his cowl.
10. Set the Scene
Another way to start your book is by setting the scene to help the reader start imagining from the get-go what’s going on. Yes, you can do that from the first sentence!
You can see it with The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.
On the day we’re the last people to see indie kid Finn alive, we’re all sprawled together in the Field, talking about love and stomachs.
Basically, the main leads are all in the field, talking; and that was the day someone called Finn died. It might not seem like it, but this example managed to add both intrigue and description at the same time.
A more detailed example would be from It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood.
It’s Christmas Day, we’ve just finished playing our annual post-lunch game of Scrabble (bonus points if you play a word with a Christmas theme), and Dad says we need to talk.
The author really painted a picture with this one and made it very easy to figure out what was going on in this scene, as well as added a special family tradition!
11. Start With an Important Point
If your book has a vital focal point you want the reader to know about straight away, there’s nothing against starting with it. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t accidentally spoil a particularly important part of the plot while doing so.
Let’s take Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion as an example.
I am dead, but it’s not so bad.
Since we’re aware of the fact that this book is about zombies, this proclamation is intriguing, but not much of a spoiler. It lets us know from the start that the story is going to be from the zombie’s point of view.
12. Don’t Be Misleading
Sometimes, in an attempt to grab a reader’s attention, authors might start their books with a shocking statement, or an interesting quote that has no relation to the actual story. While that may grip the reader for the time being, soon enough they’ll figure out it was a trick and end up writing you off entirely in the future.
13. Steer Away From Long, Descriptive Hooks
Another thing to keep in mind is that the longer your first line/paragraph is, the more likely it is for the reader to get bored and lose interest. It’s not easy to recover from that if the reader considers it too long and overly descriptive right from the start. In this particular case, short and sweet wins.
14. Use a First Line Generator
Coming up with a great first sentence can be difficult. There are authors who agonize over the process and change theirs repeatedly. Some have a hard time coming up with any in the first place. One way to jog your mind and get some inspiration is to use a ‘first line’ generator. You don’t have to use what they offer you, but they can help give you ideas and that’s the main point.
Here are some generators you can use:
15. Keep in Mind the Reader’s Expectations
In the end, one thing you should never forget is the reader’s expectations. If the book is a murder mystery, it makes no sense to start your book with a funny anecdote. Though, you should know that at times it can be funny to do the opposite. In that case, you must take precautions to not make it sound too gruesome or dour.
Say you’re writing a book that’s meant to be humorous. You can start with something like this.
To this day, the murder of Mr. Gatlin’s cat remains unsolved. Though there have been speculations around town.
That can add to the comedic sense in a wry sort of way. But you can’t go with something like this.
The cat’s guts were strewn all over the sidewalk, the stench of the carcass proving how long it’s been out in the boiling sun.
Do you see the difference? The first one can work, the second one, definitely not.
Learning how to write a hook is very essential in this day and age. The attention span has become a significant concern for many people, as readers have less patience and are more likely than not to lose interest in books. Even the best of writers can struggle with coming up with something compelling with one sentence, enough to let readers know this story will be worth their while.
Make use of these techniques and you’ll grip your readers from the start. That will give you the chance to start impressing them with your writing and your story now that they’re on the hook.