How do you get your readers to keep reading after the first page? With all the books available to them in a book store and the multitude of books available on sites like Amazon, how do you capture your readers interest immediately?
If done correctly the hook you place can be the difference between someone who keeps turning the pages to find out what happens next, to someone who sighs, then closes your book to find the next one they will buy.
As harsh as it sounds it is the truth when it comes to capturing readers. You don’t have time to build up to your main point any more. The days of long entry exposition are gone, the reader wants to know why they should spend their hard earned cash on your book and the hook — if done correctly — can be that reason.
Readers are like fish. Smart fish. Fish who know authors are out to get them, reel them in, and capture them for the rest of their seagoing lives. But, like any self-respecting fish, readers aren’t caught easily. They aren’t about to surrender themselves to the lure of your story unless you’ve presented them with an irresistible hook. – K.M. Weiland
In today’s post we will look at the following:
- What is the Hook?
- Where does it go in your story?
- What a Hook is not.
- As a bonus you will see examples from famous pieces of fiction on how the hook can help with character arc.
What is the Hook?
The hook is no less than the reason your reader keeps reading after the first few pages. The hook begs the question of your reader “What happens next?”. So the hook can be a twist, an unexpected event, and so much more. As long as it gets your reader to keep reading, the hook has done its job.
If you don’t set your hook soon, your reader after the first few pages is going to start asking where your story is going, and if nothing picks up soon, they will lose interest and move on. More than likely, an editor is going to be the first person to read your story and they are just looking for a reason to put yours down. They have hundreds a entries to go through so placing that beautiful scripted hook in yours and getting them drawn in quickly is crucial.
As simple as it sounds, that’s really the only thing the hook does — it hooks. It needs to be big enough to get the reader asking questions, but not too big that it overshadows the rest of your story. Now that you see the importance of using a hook let’s look at the second point.
Where does the hook go?
But how soon or how far into the beginning should the hook be? The sooner the better. Actually if you can place your hook in the first line of the first page that is great and you are well on your way to having that first reader — the editor — thumbing the next page and the next as they ask themselves “What happens next?”.
Congratulations you set the hook and caught yourself a reader. Now you can slow it down and afford to drop back and explain a little about what is going on if you want. More than likely, the reader will be more forgiving to deal with your storytelling and world building because they just read your hook and they know something is about to happen.
Now this in no way excuses or gives you reason to bore your readers. You still need to provide them with suspense and conflict to keep their interests piqued, but with that perfectly placed hook you do have some breathing room. Just keep the reader in mind.
Here is the opening line to my novel that is currently in the works:
“Reith never saw a dead man before, let alone three.”
In my biased opinion that first line begs the question — what is happening and who killed those men?
What the Hook is not
The hook does exactly as the name implies — it hooks. The hook is however not the first plot point. What’s the difference? The hook begs the question of the reader, “What happens next?”.
The first plot point if structured correctly should appear in your story at the 1/5th to 1/4th mark of your story — we will look at this in a few weeks — so if you drag your reader through the first 1/5th of your story without providing them enough meat to ask “What happens next?”, chances are they will not hang with you no matter how artful your prose may be.
The Hook and Character Arc
- Now that you know where you’re going, figure out where you start.
- One simple trick is to start with the opposite state: if a character is going to end strong, he should start weak. This creates an arc of progress.
- This is another reason it’s so vital to know your ending.
Harry Potter Example:
- Harry leads a poor boring life and lives under the stairs.
Star Wars Example:
- Luke lives on Tatooine and works for his uncle as a farmer.
This post is Part 2 in a series entitled Seven Points to Structure Your Story. You can find previous parts to this series below:
Next Week: First Plot Point
I value your feedback and since I am on a journey in becoming a better writer I am always willing to learn. Please take a moment and share your thoughts and experience below.
If you want to learn more about Hooks and how the interact within the structure of your story, Larry Brooks has a great book available that I highly recommend entitled Story Engineering. Larry lays out several in depth chapters in constructing the beginning of your novel to include your hook.