Gone Fishing – Writing Hooks

Gone Fishing – writing the hook

Song of the day: One Thing Leads to Another by: The Fixx


Pop Quiz! What snares a reader and keeps them reading?

The hook. Those attention-grabbing first lines of marvelous fiction.

In my opinion, hooks are as crucial to the story as the plot. Why? Often you only have a few paragraphs, just mere seconds, to grab a reader’s interest.

We as new writers tend to want to set the stage, create our world, and introduce our hero and/or heroine from the onset of our stories. Unfortunately, too much dallying will have a potential reader tossing your book back on the shelf and heading straight for the foreign language section of the bookstore.

What we want is that ka-pow! The horses out of the gate. The pop in the corn. The fizzle in the shanizzle. A writer should want to hypnotize the reader, make their blood pump, take their breath away.

So how do we do that? What exactly is a hook, anyway?

The hook is intrigue. It’s the quest that prods the reader into wanting more. That quest should start immediately. Characters should be thrown in the middle of conflict – guns ablazin’- rat-a-tat-tat.

This could mean your main character facing a maniacal, hockey mask-wearing, serial killer or being kicked in the gut by a life-altering event such as receiving divorce papers. It can also be humorous. How about a heroine ordering a side of fries with her green salad before holding up the fast food restaurant? Or a shape-shifting hero finding himself red-faced and naked behind bars at the local SPCA? Silly, I know, but take into account the interest these scenarios might bring.

The point is to wrench strong emotions or reactions to keep the pages turning.

Don’t get me wrong. There are several elements essential to starting a story off right, and they are just as important.  The most obvious of these are character, setting, tone (or voice) and, of course, conflict. A well-crafted tale will have these important details woven within, yet lacking the dreaded front-loading or leaving the reader to wonder when the story will actually begin. The opportunities to sprinkle the needed setting, tone, and, if not already smack dab in the middle of it, the hint of  the conflict to come can be presented in dialogue (both internal and external), perception, and action/reaction to adversity. And, a great hook will generally involve a character with the all-important conflict.

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that stories commencing with bolt action dynamic force are the only great books. On the contrary. There are tons of fabulous novels that use more subtle approaches to rewarding the faithful reader. It can depend a lot on the genre; erotica vs. inspirational, romantic suspense vs. historical, home and hearth vs. paranormal, comedic vs. literary, and everything in between. Certainly the intensity of the hooks varies as much as these genres.

Again, it comes down to the reader instantly investing feelings and curiosity in the hero/heroine’s world. Hooks guarantee a link between author and reader. By dangling the carrot in front of them, their interest will drive them forward.

But hooks aren’t just for a story’s beginning. It’s wise to end scenes and chapters with a hook, too. This could be as simple as well-placed dialogue or revelation or as explosive as, well, a detonated bomb. These hooks help ensure a progressive pace.

And, if done cleverly, a hook can bring a tale to a captivating end. A bonus would be if the story is meant for a series. Then you just may have snagged your reader for another round – hook, line and sinker.

My current WIP begins with the heroine kneeling beside a man she has just murdered. Right away, the reader will have questions. Why did she kill him? Who is he? Will she be caught? Does she deserve to be caught? Hopefully, the reader will want to read on for the answers.

Anyone want to share their hooks?


12 Responses to Gone Fishing – Writing Hooks

  1. Stacey Purcell says:

    Jenn, you hooked me with your opening hook! I think you should look into writing articles as well as your books. This is definitely one of your strong suits.
    My WIP starts in the rainforest of Malaysia with the bad guy looking at his intended victims- an entire Orang Asli village.
    He’s about to unleash canisters full of leathal chemicals. Who is he? Why is he doing this? Why these people? Are they really just lab rats in a sinister experiment? Is this a terrorist plot for bigger fish?
    Hopefully, I’ve set the scene to make it intriguing enough for the reader to want to find out the answers to these questions. Will there be any survivors? You will have to wait until I’m published to find out!……well, since you’re one of my critique partners, you’ll get to read about it sooner. Ha! Stacey


    • jbrayweber says:

      Hey Stacey –
      You are too kind, and, I must say, a bit biased! LOL!
      I’m still waiting on your next jungle installment. What? You think I’d let you off the hook just because you jet-setting to Peru? No way!
      Thanks for being sweet!


  2. You’re right on the money with this post. A good hook raises a question. The longer you delay answering that question, the more suspense builds in the reader’s mind.

    And whether you’re talking about the hooks that begin a scene or end one, your goal’s the same – to make your scenes bookmark-resistant so the reader will simply *have* to keep on turning pages to find out what happens to the character(s) she cares for.

    Terrific blog!


    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Colleen!
      Wow! Coming from you, that’s a huge compliment!
      Oh, and I really like your “bookmark resistant” phrase. Exactly what we are all striving for!
      Thanks for popping over and supporting me!


  3. Great post! I was going to post about hooks too. It seems like they’re on everyone’s mind. LOL

    I’ve just started learning about starting each chapter with a hook. It’s a great strategy, imo.

    The first sentence of the wip I just finished is: If there was one thing Rachel McCormick hated more than breaking into the mayor’s house, it was getting caught.

    I don’t know if that’ll do the trick. I want it too, but if it doesn’t then I’ll change it. Like you said, the whole point is to make our books Un-put-downable. 🙂


    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Jessie!

      Starting and ending chapters with a hook just seems natural to me. I hope I never run out of them! LOL!

      I think that’s a GREAT first line. I’d want to read more!!!

      Thanks for coming by!


  4. Tess says:

    Gotta love those hooks!!!! Thanks for the reminder, Jenn!


  5. John Roundtree says:

    Excellent hook, Jenn! It really bridges the story for many chapters to come.

    Mine was:

    More steeply now, the marshy bottom fell away. The water rising rapidly. At chest level, he felt something move beneath its surface. It brushed his legs. Visions erupt in his mind — A woman stands on a lake-shore, her children trapped in the back seat of her car. Their confused voices plead as they desperatly pound on the rear window. Slowly these terrified faces fade, the last vision of their tearful innocence pressed against the glass. The car gradually sinks beneath the surface, swallowed in a greedy swirl while the mother dispassionately turns away, and the dark lake reclaims its unnatural calm.

    Think I just made myself sick again.


  6. Hi, Jennifer,
    It really is a great post. In fact, I mentioned it today at Boxing the Octopus, in my post on Tone. Stop by if you can. 🙂


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