A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hook....Hook....Hook....


No, I'm not chanting about Peter Pan's nemesis (even if I did use an image reminiscient of it). Cassandra over at Darkened Jade got me thinking about the hook, the intriguing thought that gets a reader involved immediately in a story. That means you all get to follow me as I work through the concepts.


When I first started writing, I would often make the worst mistake - starting a story with the character waking up. After I got to thinking about it (and read other bloggers lamenting about it), I realized how cliche it is. I have since abandoned that particular practice.


What is a hook, you ask? Well, for those of you who aren't sure, the "hook" is the first sentence (or couple of sentences) that grabs a reader's attention at the start of the story. This is what compels them to keep reading. It's what marks your story as immediately interesting. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." There are countless examples of good openers like this one, but the point is that you want to demand the reader plunge in whole-heartedly and strap themselves in. You're about to offer a ride they won't forget, and you don't want them complaining that it feels like kiddie-land when you're trying to take them on the monster of all roller coasters.


How do I work a hook? I've found what usually works for me is to start the story right in the middle of something. Drop the reader right into the action, so they are instantly involved. I have no idea is the the best way to do things, but I think it works. Here's an example:


Alarms were going off everywhere. Jeb scrambled to grab tools, his mind racing as fast as his hands. What did he miss? How long 'til the rent-a-cops showed up? He shoved the crowbar into the canvas bag, the latex glove ripping as his finger caught on the zipper. With surprising agility, he jumped up and turned towards the door. The beams on his face and chest however, gave him a reason to pause. That and the guns pointed in his direction. He gauged his chances of dodging the hurricane of lead, trying to ignore their shouted threats. Then he moved.


As you can see, the reader is involved. Things are happening quickly, and all hell is about to break loose maybe. But what if you're not writing a thriller? How do you hook your reader if it's a different genre? Here's another possibility, from a different angle.


Leaves were falling, blocking the rays of sunlight that fell across her face. Each one dragged a shadow across her, hinting at the darkness ahead. Timothy had no idea what to do, but he'd read once that kissing a princess would wake them up. She might not really be a princess, but it was worth a shot. He kneeled next to her inert form and leaned over. He didn't want to close his eyes, because he might kiss her nose and it wouldn't work. Her lips were cold like a worm fresh from the ground; he remembered being forced to eat one last summer. Ignoring the uncomfortable memories that evoked, he held his lips against hers for a long moment before raising up once more. He must not be her prince, he thought as a tear slid down his cheek.


This passage isn't an adrenaline rush. It does perform the same action as the previous one however, which is what hooks are about. Both of them pose questions in the reader's mind, questions that need answering. Who is this person? Why are they there? Where is "there"? Why are they doing this? If it's written well enough, the reader will seek answers to all of these questions. And then you have them "hooked".


How do you approach creating a hook in your own writings? Did these two examples hook you or could they have been done better?

10 comments:

ElanaJ said...

I do think hooks are important, but I don't think people will stop reading after one page. I think when starting a story, the main thing to keep in mind is to know where the story starts--and then (like you said) drop us into a scene that comes AFTER that start. I think this creates some intrigue to figure out.

Like in yours, the alarms are already sounding. Why? I'd read to find out.

Brian said...

Hooks are very important but you need more then one. Sure the first is the one most people think about but with each plot twist or new character there needs to be something there that draws the attention of the reader so they keep reading because they want to know more. Your approach is a good one as you don't want to waste time with back story or setting development. You want to hit the reader fast. You can have a subtle build up and if that is done you usually want the hook in within the first 5 pages. At least this is what I have discovered.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i'd read to find out, too. :) so far, i've written my novels and then tried to sort out a hook. not sure if that's the way to go or not...

on another note...i'm awarding you a blog award on my blog tomorrow. you can follow the rules or no...but the award is yours! :)

sherrinda said...

I love hooks and I would definitely read on after the ones you provided. I think there should be hooks at the end of chapters too. We need to keep the reader on their toes, ready to turn the page and keep going!
Great post!

writtenwyrdd said...

I actually am working on a story that starts with the character waking up, despite the cliche that makes it 'bad.' However I did this for a reason, which is becuase this is a fantasy world and I needed to introduce it and the character's circumstances. Waking up and prepping to go on a job was the best way I could think of. I'm still leery of this opening, but I think it's a good place to begin.

Lost Wanderer said...

so far I haven't consciously gone to find a hook. I just think of the plot and rest sort of happens. I shall find out how that goes after I finish the first draft.

Cassandra Jade said...

Thanks for sharing this - I'm still working out the glitches with my own openings. I have to admit writtenwyrdd hit the nail on the head with fantasy. The writer's need to introduce things (such as characters, settings and terminology) before jumping into action sometimes compels them to do longer and more drawn out openings, rather than simply rushing into action. I still find this approach better than a prologue but I know I still have a lot of work to do.

Sara Tribble said...

Great post here Eric! I agree hooks are so important not only to potetential agents or publishers but to the actual readers.

I myself, find that I started hooks at first with prologues, since then however I try to avoid them unless absoultely needed. Now I just try to show lots of movement, however currently I am renewing my beginning WIP so it leaves lots of questions to the readers.

Questions=Readers want answers. As Elana put it--I would like to know why alarms are going off.

Christy Raedeke said...

This is a great post! So great I've nominated you for a creative blogegr award on my blog! You post consistently great stuff. Thanks!

Jenny said...

This is really useful- I always find openings hard to do and hooks are very important.

I always try starting my works with either action or dialogue, usually of the funny kind!