Writing a Hook.
Updated: May 29, 2020
Traditionally a hook is used to catch fish but when it comes to writing, a hook has a similar but different job. Enticing readers to buy and read your work is a huge task for writers and having an interesting hook will almost sell the book on its own. Once a reader has been hooked they will want to read more.
So what exactly is a hook when it comes to writing? For me, it's the idea, storyline or teaser that leaves a reader wanting to know more. Knowing how to write a hook, where to place it in your story and how you filter your hook throughout your story that is the tricky part. When writing fiction, the story has to be believable and the hook will make the reader believe in your character/s and want to know more about them.
How to write a hook? Now this question is not easy to answer because everyone's writing style is different. There are some guidelines available, Google writing a hook and many examples are featured. A hook can be in many forms and sometimes it can be the first sentence, which is powerful. A good author will keep this momentum going throughout the story.
Here are some examples of what a hook can be -
- A question
- A character's declaration
- Descriptive hook
- A quotation
- A pivotal scene or moment
- An unusual situation
- The conflict between main characters
- Why? Make the reader wonder
- An alarming scene
Building on these ideas will move your story along and it will be readable, a page-turner as they say. Stories that make a reader keep turning pages are not easy to write, but they are so worthwhile when an author gets it right.
We had a discussion about writing hooks at our last Write on Water meeting. This is the writers' group I attend every month. The question was asked whether a hook has to be at the beginning? This is the logical place so the reader is enticed to keep reading. However, I have read books where it has taken several chapters before I am hooked. There have been times where I've wondered where the story was headed. Then suddenly the author shows a significant part of the plot and bam, I am well and truly hooked. For the most part though, especially as a new or emerging author, maybe keep your story's hook at the beginning or as close as the story allows.
At the last few Write on Water meetings we have been brushing up our skills by doing writing exercises and then discussing them at our next meeting. One such exercise was writing a hook. Adelaide Hunter, one of our writers in the group, read this example to us as her idea of how to write a hook -
8th February 2020
© Adelaide Hunter
Sarah observed the flight attendant from her seat in the last row of business class and admired her flawless appearance even after a few hours in the air. The flight attendant wore a crisp navy and white uniform, her lips carefully painted in a natural colour that would have taken time and practice to perfect. She moved like a gazelle, negotiating the narrow aisle, manoeuvring between generous slabs of human flesh that spilt over armrests. All demands for attention from her little flock were met with a prompt politeness peculiar to those who laboured in service.
Sarah Llewellyn-Smythe along with all the other passengers on board Flight 451 were making their way from Sydney to the other side of the world - San Francisco to be precise. The travellers were experts sent to the Tenth Annual Conference of Sustainability on behalf of a business registered as Venture Capital DownUnder. This firm gathered the crème de la crème of representatives in a number of fields including Water, Farming, Medicine, Literature, Spirituality and the list goes on. The published aim of the venture was to create a ‘think-tank’ about ‘Ways of Living’ for the future benefit of society.
Satisfied after her dinner of rare beef with a red wine jus paired with a glass of Penfolds shiraz, Sarah stretched her neck from side to side, took a quick head-count of the passengers - eighteen in total, then rested her head back wondering which movies were programmed.
She pulled the in-flight magazine from the pocket on the back of the seat in front when she heard a loud voice from across the aisle.
“Over here please! Yes, another please, my lovely”.
Sarah casually looked across and there sat the man with the big voice. John Flathead, was a leading scientist in the management of water and fisheries. He drank like a fish too and pestered the flight attendant ad infinitum with requests for beverages of the alcoholic kind, and expensive ones at that.
In the seat in front of Mr. Flathead sat a man who looked distinctly uncomfortable. He must be the farmer. The four seasons of the year were carved into his face between good doses of sun and hardship. He had large well-worked hands and kind blue eyes. Yes, that has to be Mr. Metcalf, Sarah noted.
“Excuse me dear,” said a woman with dark glasses sitting directly in front of Sarah, beckoning the flight attendant. The woman gestured to her almost empty cut crystal tumbler and the flight attendant understood.
How could I have missed her? Joanne Reading, Federal Minister for Literature was well known but hid in plain sight towards the back of the group, nursing a single malt scotch. Sarah recalled the bad press Ms. Reading received when an influential politician from the opposition complained of bias in the selection of the novels long-listed for the Booker prize last year. Joanne Reading headed that selection committee and Sarah mused that it would take a strong character to ride that scandal out.
Sarah returned her attention to the in-flight magazine anticipating the opportunity to watch a movie uninterrupted for the next couple of hours. Pure luxury. She went to flick through to the entertainment section when the magazine fell open at a page.
What’s this? She thought, as a yellow envelope placed carefully between the pages of the magazine presented itself. Sarah was surprised to see her own name written in careful script on the front of the envelope. Probably the formal invitation to the conference dinner. She opened the sealed envelope, withdrew a slip of paper, read it, frowned and read it twice more. She swallowed against a dry mouth, raised her eyes carefully and glanced around the plane with as much restraint as she could muster. Her thoughts darted, scattering desperately and her heart hammered hard.
For Sarah now knew that the passengers on Flight 451 were not headed to San Francisco as planned but to a common, deep and watery grave.
This example makes me want to know more. Why are they going to a watery grave? These are intelligent individuals doing good, why kill them? Why was Sarah Llewellyn-Smythe left the message? Does anyone else on the flight know? These are the questions I want to be answered from these approx. 600 words. Well done Adelaide, there are a few ways the plot can be developed from the hooks you have used.
This is only a short explanation of what a hook is and how to write one. As with all writing, it is practice. The more you practice and keep writing, the more your skills will improve.