Like any great angler, a writer is always looking for the perfect hook. The ability to immediately grab your reader, pique their interest, and keep them along for the ride takes a lot of practice. And even still, not every reader finds the same things interesting. So how do you come up with the perfect hook with such a wide variety of people to please? You can’t. But you can start to understand the combinations that have worked for other writers and take from your own experience as a reader.
Take a moment and think about your favorite books. Which ones kept you hooked from the very beginning? Now go back and read the first chapter. See if you can identify the technique they used. What intrigued you about the first chapter to make you read on to the second? Take note of the way they introduced characters, scenes, and ideas. These techniques worked for you as a reader, so turn around and apply them to your own audience.
Jei and I recently did just that. We found ourselves floundering at how to make sure our stories had appropriate hooks. We wanted to draw readers in, but the actual how seemed impossible as we were unsure how to break it down into some kind of method. So we started to research what others have said, what books offered the most interesting hooks to us personally, and took a poll of our friends to see what they thought. What we came up with were five of the most commonly used techniques and why they work. Keep in mind this is just a small sample of examples we gathered and there are a plethora more out there for you to utilize. But we hope this helps you as you tie those hooks to your line and go fishing for some readers.
1 – Dialogue: Starting off a story with a conversation that intrigues the reader is a perfect way to draw them in. It immediately sets the tone of the characters who are being introduced and so long as the context of the conversation pertains to the coming plot, it will draw a reader in with the desire to know these characters and the situation they are facing.
2 – Question, Interesting Fact or Interesting Item: This is all about intrigue and making your reader think. You want to ask them a tantalizing question, state an interesting fact, or give a description of a peculiar item. The purpose is to make the reader think about what is being presented to them and how it all ties together. They will hop on that roller coaster just to understand the significance of what was shown to them.
3 – Flashback or Flashforward: Writing something that is out of order either in the past or in the future gives mystery to your narrative and invites the reader to what has happened or what will happen. They want to fill out the rest of the storyline from that past or future event and will stay interested until that curiosity is satisfied.
4 – Emotion: When you open up with extreme emotion, readers want to understand where it is coming from. It is akin to people watching. When someone has an outburst nearby, people can’t help but theorize what brought them to that point. This is the same in writing. When a heavy emotion is presented a reader wants to understand the source, hooking them into a story.
5 – Medias Res or Mid-Event: This is one of the most common suggestions when it comes to hooks in a narrative. Starting right in the middle of some kind of action or scene that automatically brings a reader right into the story is a great technique. Why this works so often and is highly recommended comes from the fact that people want to understand what is happening around them when they walk into a situation. So if they walk into a room where a fight has broken out, they want to know the why. This will lead them down the rabbit hole of the narrative easily just to resolve that question.
Experiment with your hooks. Test them out and see what works and what doesn’t. Our biggest piece of advice would be to trust your beta readers when they say it interests them or not. Having an effective hook is incredibly important to keep readers engaged and interested in your story. First impressions do matter when it comes to a book!
How do you hook your readers in? Do you agree with our list? Leave a comment below!