This week: The HookEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about how to hook a reader from the first page.
Sage advice about writing a hook:
Every category novel must hook the reader's attention in the first paragraph and, if possible, in the very first sentence. It must provoke in him an immediate "need to know" how the situation, stated in the first paragraph, will be resolved.
Once the narrative hook has been planted, the story may hold the reader's interest in one of two ways:
(1) the original situation, which caught his attention, turns out to be the major problem of the story and will not be resolved until the conclusion, after many intermediate challenges to the hero;
(2) the hook turns out to be a minor problem that leads the hero rapidly into his most important bind.
In either case-though (1) is preferable to (2)-the pace must be swift, the danger and the suspense continuous.
~ Dean Koontz, Writing Popular Fiction
What's a Hook?
A hook is how you use your opening lines and paragraphs to grab a reader's attention and encourage them to keep reading.
When a reader stops by your port or clicks Random Read and opens up your item, the clock starts ticking. How much will they read before they get bored and close the window? You only have a small amount of time (generally 50-250 words) to interest them, so make the beginning of your novel or story count.
A good hook must do at least one of the following:
1. Make the reader curious about what will happen next
2. Raise questions about how the character got in that position.
3. Reveal something strange, unusual or exciting.
How to Write a Hook
1. Establish the POV Character and the Setting.
Your story/novel is like a movie. Unless you include a close-up of the character against a background, it's like starting a movie with a black screen and only a voice-over explaining things no one will understand. Let the reader see the scene and know who's telling the story within the first few lines.
2. Action or Tension
Let's face it, in Horror, your reader is looking for a thrill. They want action, tension, a conflict. Make sure your character is doing something interesting. Nothing puts a reader to sleep quicker than the character thinking about things instead of doing them. Caution: If you begin with the character in the middle of a life-or-death scene with too much action, you will lose the reader because they don't understand what's going on or care about the character yet. Starting with "action" doesn't mean in the middle of a fight scene. That's too much, too soon. However, sneaking around or being chased works well.
3. No Backstory or Info-dumps
Don't slow the hook down with backstory or info dumps explaining the background and motivations of your character. The point of a hook is not to inform, teach or explain, but to get your reader involved in the action and wondering about the outcome. There will be time enough to slip in background info later.
4. A Great First Line
The very first line should be unusual and memorable. It should catch the reader and force them to continue reading. See below for examples of great first lines in literature.
Great Examples of First Lines
The Question Hook -- A line that raises questions about how the character got in that position or what will happen next.
Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
~ Franz Kafka, The Trial
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
~ Paul Auster, City of Glass
The Suspense Hook -- Something eerie that makes a reader curious and full of dread at the same time.
With the woman on his mind and a deep uneasiness in his heart, Spencer Grant drove through the glistening night, searching for the red door.
~ Dean Koontz, Dark Rivers of the Heart
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.
~ Louise Erdrich, Tracks
The Action Hook -- A line showing urgency and drama.
One morning in New Orleans, in that part of the Rue Ste. Ann before it crosses Conde and becomes the lower boundary of the Place D'Armes, a young boy who had been running full tilt down the middle of the street stopped suddenly, his chest heaving, and began to deliberately and obviously follow a tall woman.
~ Anne Rice, The Feast of All Saints
They shoot the white girl first.
~ Toni Morrison, Paradise
The Shocker Hook -- Something that seems improbable or impossible that surprises readers and force them to continue.
Tuesday was a fine California day, full of sunshine and promise, until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch.
~ Dean Koontz, Dragon Tears
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
~ George Orwell, 1984
All children, except one, grow up.
~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
The Promise Hook -- It doesn't make much sense by itself, but establishes a tone and style that the writer promises to deliver throughout the rest on the book/story.
He awakened with the memory of thunder in his bones.
~ Robert R. McCammon, "Doom City," Blue World
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
~ C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Literary Hook -- A generalization or fact, usually beautifully written, that is the theme of the book/story.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women.
~ Charles Johnson, Middle Passage
To see the hooks that others are writing and the opinions of peers and agents, read the archives of Secret Agent Contest entries on Miss Snark's First Victim.
You can also stop by this blog which sometimes posts other contests for the First 250 of novels:
People are busy and bore easily, so make the beginning of your story/novel as unusual and interesting as possible in order to hook readers and get them to continue on.
Introduce the POV character and the setting in the beginning paragraphs. Don't put in any backstory or explanations until after the first 250 words or so.
Start with action, but don't make it a life-or-death struggle yet.
Read other authors' opening hooks for inspiration.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some stories with great openings for your reading pleasure!
(some people seem to have just lost Upgrade status and some stories are no longer available. But I hope they'll get them back soon, so I'll keep the links in. )
And one great poem -- Too good to pass up!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Fixing Cliches" Thank you!
Vampyr14 writes: This is great! Finding cliches in my work is easy; fixing them is always more of a challenge....
So true. In first drafts, I write tons of "gasped" and "eyes widened." It takes me forever to change them out for something less cliche.
billwilcox writes: Great newsletter! *applause*
Cliches are for people who have no imagination. Although they slip through the cracks at times, I believe in looking at things in reverse, or backwards. Weird, right?
Example: Vampire stories are trapped within cliches, so I wrote a short tale of two vamps trapped in a mausoleum while the world is destroyed by the sun. I think it was called, "As The World Burns"
Thanks, Bill! And thanks for the link to the great story.
Taniuska writes: Another awesome newsletter Laura :) The idea of characters doing dumb things may seem an obvious and easy one to avoid, but sometimes you need to get your character to go in one direction, and the number of options as to why they go that way are limited... that's where I get stuck sometimes...:) I find bouncing ideas off people always helps me.
The story wouldn't be any fun unless characters got into trouble! But it may take quite a bit of thinking to find reasonable motivation for them.
BIG BAD WOLF is Feeling Lucky submits "Eggnog and Werewolves Part 1" and writes: Sometimes it's the person behind the counter you have to worry about.
There are always surprises waiting in your writing, BBW.
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