We all know that writing can be hard. Coming up with an original story and being able to translate your ideas onto paper requires skill and creativity. On top of that, keeping your audience interested in your novel/story can be another challenge. This is where learning how to write a hook can greatly benefit you.
There are many techniques you can use in order to write a good story hook that will keep your readers turning those pages. Some of the most effective/commonly used techniques include knowing your audience, subverting reader expectations, introducing action, using character voice, generating curiosity, foreshadowing, introducing a character flaw, and generating emotion.
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So, What is a hook?
A story hook is a technique that both amateur and seasoned writers use to reel in their readers from the very beginning. It can consist of the first sentence or the first couple of pages of your story. A good hook is meant to capture your readers’ attention and leave them wanting more. Of course, there are many different ways of creating this effect. You can stimulate your reader’s curiosity by introducing a dilemma, you can start off your story with some action, or even write about an unusual character. Note that hooks can just be as important to set the tone of your story as they are to introduce conflict.
Why a good hook can benefit your story
After you’ve spent weeks or even months writing down that perfect story of yours, you want as many people as possible to take the time to read it. However, different people have different attention spans, and, for some, their interest will be quickly lost if the story they’ve started has not piqued their interest within the first couple of chapters. Getting people to pick up your book versus getting them to finish reading it requires different things. Whilst one relies more on a good marketing technique and a good overall book summary, the other requires literary and narrative techniques that will keep your audience interested.
This is where learning how to write a hook comes in handy. Hooks serve as a great tool to intrigue your readers and have them commit to your story. It will help you make a great first impression as well as capture your audience’s imagination.
How to write a good hook
Coming up with a noteworthy hook can be very difficult. There are many questions you must ask yourself as a writer. Will this grab my readers’ attention? Is this hook coherent with the rest of my story? Is it original enough?
Most writers believe that the first few pages will set the tone for the rest of their story hence, they can be extremely stressful to write. However, if you’re in need of a push to start writing those first sentences, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find a comprehensive guide that will help you get there. Keep in mind that there are many ways to write a good hook for your story and different techniques will tend to work better for some stories than others.
Know your audience
The first and most obvious thing you must consider when writing your hook is your audience. Who is your story geared towards? What do your readers like? What types of narratives are they used to? This step is important because it can help you determine many aspects of your story.
For example, the way you choose to write your hook will differ depending on whether your audience consists of people who enjoy slow-burn romance novels vs those who enjoy a hot fiery story instead. You must always write whilst keeping your ideal reader in mind.
Subverting readers expectations
This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. One way of writing an intriguing hook is by subverting your readers’ expectations. In order to successfully achieve this, you must first understand who your readers are and what they are expecting from you.
Depending on the genre of your book and/or the specific narrative of your story, there tends to be general tropes that are adopted within the writing community. For example, if you are writing a romance story and you present your readers to your protagonist’s best friend as well as their mysterious new neighbor, your audience will smell a love triangle coming from a mile away. Knowing and understanding these preconceived expectations can help you write something completely unexpected that will hook your readers from the very beginning.
Note that in order to achieve this, you need to give your readers the time to come up with the possible narratives your story could lead towards. Hence, in this case, instead of your hook being the first sentence or first couple of sentences of your story, it might consist of the first few pages.
Another way to immediately get your readers hooked to your story is by dropping them in the middle of some action. Starting off your story with an action-packed scene without giving your readers much context will leave them feeling intrigued and they’ll want to continue reading to figure out what is going on.
This is a sure-fire technique that many writers use to create hooks in the beginning of their stories because it pulls the readers in and gives them something exciting from the get-go.
If you decide to use this method, either on its on or in combination with another technique, to write your hook, you should note that there are many different types of action scenarios you can write about. The type of action you include in your story will also depend on the genre you’re writing in. For example, if you’re writing within the romance genre, starting off with a break-up scene can be considered an action hook. On the other hand, if you’re more of a suspense/thriller writer, then starting your story with a murder scene would make more sense.
Overall, you can separate most action-based scenes into two categories: psychological action and physical action.
Scenes with psychological action can include the following: Your character is processing a traumatic event, your character is experiencing anxiety, your character is trying to process the feelings they are developing for someone etc.
Scenes with physical action can include the following: Your character is trying to escape from someone, your character was in a car crash etc.
Remember that action scenes do not always have to imply danger or something negative. It simply means something of interest is happening.
Consider Character voice & Overall tone of the story
When you are writing your hook, you should consider both the character voice and the overall tone you’re trying to set within your story. Character voice is defined as “the unique way that a character in a novel or short story expresses themselves outwardly and inwardly” (Masterclass). Character voice can be showcased through multiple mediums: personal thoughts, certain expressions that your protagonist uses, the way your protagonist perceives their environment, and their overall personality. Your hook should not only get your readers interested in the story you have to tell but also the characters within it. Hence making sure the beginning of your story presents an intriguing character voice is a great way to keep your readers turning those pages.
On the other hand, the tone of your story is the general feeling or atmosphere it portrays. For example, some stories have a more humorous tone whilst others are more serious or even threatening. When writing your hook, you should consider the type of tone you want to write in. The tone of your hook should usually reflect the overall tone of your story but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
This tip is pretty straightforward. A good hook should incite your readers’ curiosity and make them want to find out more. There are many ways of achieving this effect. Sometimes simply wording a sentence the right way is enough to pique your readers’ interest. For example, instead of writing “The sailor was prepared for the long jouney ahead”, you could write “The sailor packed his bag with enthusiasm, not knowing that this trip would be his last”.
You can also generate curiosity by introducing startling/unsettling news or hinting at potential conflict (see the section below). Other ways of generating curiosity include introducing interesting relationship dynamics, an original setting, compelling worldbuilding, etc.
Foreshadowing can also be used to immediately hook your readers to your story. Foreshadowing is simply the act of hinting at future conflict or an interesting plotline that is coming further in the story. You can do this by presenting your audience with a problem that your character is facing or intriguing questions that need answers.
When you are using foreshadowing as a hook, the hints of potential conflict that you drop will tend to be more subtle and covert rather than obvious. The reason for this is because you probably won’t want to immediately follow up on the conflict you’re hinting towards. You simply want to intrigue your readers by giving them subtle clues about what’s to come in later chapters.
Introducing a character flaw
When thinking of ways to hook your readers to your story, consider introducing a major character flaw. This will intrigue your audience and leave them with many questions. How will this character deal with this flaw? How will this characteristic of theirs negatively or positively influence the plot? Will the character be able to overcome this flaw, or will it be the end of them? This is a great method for hooking your readers because it not only gets them interested in the plot but in your protagonist as well.
Here are a couple of character flaws that you can use: Greediness, pathological lying, gullibility, laziness, pridefulness, naïve, shallow, spoiled, vain, adulterous, bitterness, cowardly, ignorant, hypocritical, judgemental, vengeful, abusive, manipulative, self-destructive, etc.
Generating a specific emotion
It is no secret that the stories that draw you in the most are the ones that make you feel the most. Whether it be anger, sadness, or joy, incorporating emotions is necessary in order to write a memorable story. Hence, making sure the first few pages of your story are generating a specific emotion within your readers is an excellent way to hook them and keep their interest. This technique will help your audience feel more connected to your protagonist which will increase their desire to know what happens to them in later chapters.
Use Titles to your advantage
The titles of your novel/short story as well as the titles you use for your chapters are very important when it comes to capturing but also keeping your audience’s interest. They are the first thing your readers will see so you must choose your titles wisely. A good title will have your audience wondering about the plot and/or the characters within your story.
Keep your readers attention throughout your piece
The last and most important tip is to keep your readers attention throughout your story. There is nothing worse than a story that starts off strong and had a lot of potential but didn’t deliver what it promised. Make sure that your story doesn’t fall flat after the first couple of chapters and that you continuously build intrigue and/or suspense for your readers. A good way to do this is by incorporating “mini” story hooks all throughout your novel/story. Also, don’t tease your readers too much to the point where they get frustrated. Make sure the conflicts, questions, and resolutions are well distributed within your story so that you maintain your readers’ attention throughout your piece.