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Writing a Great Hook - I'll Show You How

Updated on September 29, 2010

Catch 'em: Hook, Line and Sinker

There's only one thing an author needs to know to become a bestseller … how to write a great hook!

Did I reel you in? Ah, critters always fall for that one. Don't fault yourself for that. We all want to believe there's only one thing we need to learn to become the next great author. Alas, there are many. As writers, we are always looking for that one tool that will sell our stories, and who could blame us? After all, we write to express ourselves to others, and it's very depressing when others don't want to read our works.

The good news? There is such a tool that's been around for many centuries, and it's easy to use, once someone shows you how - and I'm just the person to show you. Why? Because I have been writing and selling short stories for years, and this is the bait I use to draw in my readers. So to speak ... if it works for me, it will work for you.

And what is this marvelous tool? Well, I have many in my magical writing toolbox, but for today we will take a look at one of my favorites ... the hook.

Ole Hank never caught no fish, but there was a day once when a fish caught him.
Ole Hank never caught no fish, but there was a day once when a fish caught him.

What's a Hook?

Well, you might say it's a curved piece of metal with a barb on the end, used by people to catch fish. You're kinda right. Only, in this case, we'll be catching readers. How will we do that? By recognizing how they chose a book.

Most readers, though not all, look at the back cover first. They want an idea of what the story is about (remember that great idea I discussed with you previously in 'Discovering Great Story Ideas?'. If you forgot or missed out, it's enough to know that the reader typically looks at the back of your book first, to see if the story idea is interesting enough to give your work a better look.

Typically, the next stage is where the reader turns to page one and begins reading. Now, you can walk into your story in a lazy manner, and it might sell; however, you greatly improve your odds by setting the hook in the first paragraph – better yet – set it in the first sentence.

Need proof that I'm right? Look how I roped you in with the first sentence above. Yeah, I played dirty – but I did so to make a point. A great hook pulls in the reader. Just make certain you deliver on your promise, which we'll get to in a bit.

The Perfect Bait for Readers

Your hook needs to do many things to be successful. It needs to create questions in the readers mind they want answered, it needs to push the story forward, and most of all it needs to make them want to read more. That's why a hook like this ... 'I'll never forget that summer in Vermont.' … is not going to pull readers in.

Let's change it up a bit by adding a few words.

… 'I'll never forget that summer in Vermont, though I wish I could.' …

Kinda has an edgy feeling, doesn't it? We know something bad happened. At least, that's the impression we're given. We're never told what occurred, but we can assume that part will follow – that's the promise.

The Promise

I saw a hand go up in the back. What promise? Why, the promise all authors make to their readers … the one where they state all will become clear as the reader reads on. You see, all readers want to start off with a bit of a mystery. They like to figure things out, ya know.

Going back to how we select books … that back cover told us just enough to make us curious, and got us to look at the first page. Your first sentence is just as important, as it has the job of carrying the reader from the back cover into the book. That's why the hook is so important to the success of your story. Note: this applies to novels, novellas, short stories, and flash stories. Poems, you ask? Not too many of us critters write poetry, I'm afraid. We prefer a plot and characters in our writings!

Crafting the First Sentence

So, having said all that, how does one write that all-important first sentence? Very carefully …

Okay, that's an awful answer. A better one is to craft a sentence that moves the reader into the story in a way that they are eager to read more. This is typically done by foreshadowing the first conflict of the story.

As an example, in my first chapter Steve is going to argue with a professor over the possibility of opening a hole in space-time and jumping through to the other side (eleven light years away). Of course, the professor will state this is impossible, and our character will become determined to make it happen. That's what conflict is for, after all, to give our main character a purpose and a direction (as well as many other useful things).

Now, we could start the book with the argument, but there isn't much of a mystery to be had there. Let's try this instead:

'Eric Phelps dreamed of walking on the moon or Mars, but then he found a way to do both in the same day'

Not bad, and I'm certain you could craft an even better one. Just remember to keep your hook brief and a bit cryptic. You 'want' the reader to try to figure it out, and because you will be pulling your hook from the first conflict in your story, your reader will see you can keep a promise. From there, you have the reader inside of your story, willing to be guided wherever your eloquent words wish to carry them.

So, Where Do You Go From Here?

Starving for more good writing info? You'll find links below to more Writing 101 topics. Rest assured, I'll keep writing them as time goes on, as I see so many young writers struggling ... all because they just need to learn a few basics to get started. Rest assured, I'm here to help, as I was that struggling author once ... and still am at times. 

If anyone has any questions for ole Yoshi, feel free to ask. I'll answer as many as I can, as best I can, and I don't want anyone feeling embarrassed to ask. After all, the only foolish critter is the one that dives into the middle of a deep lake without first learning how to swim. Feel free to leave comments as well, though I ask that you try to keep them friendly, as angry critters are often seen as rabid beasts.

Take care, my friends. We will all meet again soon to discuss something important … 'conflict'. And no, I don't intend to share my personal stories from the Vietnam War era, unless some out there might be interested in the trials and tribulations I endured to conquer potty training. A sad mess I do not wish to relive … nor should you.

Until then …

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