Vignette, Novel, Short Story or Flyer You Must Capture Your Reader, Fast!
“We may not admit it, but deep down, all writers want readers”.
I have told myself that my readers will be the “future generations” of my scattered, extended family. Whatever your expectations one thing is certain, we want our readers to read more than the first paragraph! We want vindication that the stories we tell, matter. Did you disagree with my opening statement? Whether you agreed or not is immaterial My goal was to make a statement that would entice you, the reader to read more.
What Is A Writing Hook?
The simplest definition of a hook is something that is used to grab something else. A fish, a bargain or a toy hidden in a glass box! The difference between a creative writing hook and the examples given is that, if successful, both parties involved in the process (i.e. the reader and the author) will end up with a prize! I have also read that a hook should grab the reader in the first 30 seconds which, if true, makes writing an opening hook worth spending time on to get it right.. The best way to understand how to write a hook is to first identify the different styles of writing hooks. Just as in life, success is unlikely if the approach to writing a hook is “One size fits all!”
Different Types Of Writing Hooks
1. The First Hook Is The Title
The title of your book, article or short story is the first chance you have to say, “Hello, please come in!” to the reader. As a writing hook, the title should be a signpost to the contents. “Jaws” is the perfect example of a one word title that, with the image cover, lets the reader know exactly what is inside. Or to put it another way. It does what it says on the tin! Because a book title has limited space, trying to convey the genre, mood and personal style of your work, as well as making it a writing hook, is not easy. That is why “title generators” were made! In the post, “Share Your Writing Introductory Hook” I used Adazing title generator. But, a hook is a hook is a hook which means that the suggestions below also apply to title hooks. They are just a bit harder to fit onto a cover.
2. Confrontational Hook
My opening statement, “All writers want more readers” is an example of a confrontational writing hook. This example of writing hook is simply a strong declaration of the authors belief. For those engaged in the writing of personal diaries the internal retort to my quote would likely have been, “Not me!” This writing hook left no room for disagreement. No “likely”, “maybe” or “probably” to give the reader the acceptance of disagreeing. The danger with this type of writing hook is that, should the strong statement be too confrontational, the reader may decide to stop reading as a protest! The confrontational book title on the left may have exactly that effect for some.
3. Begin With A Quote
Using a quote as your writing hook may seem simple in the day of Ms. Google but, like any other writing technique, it only works if you do it well. The best quotes that serve as a writing hook have some, if not all, the following in common.
- They are not overused such as: “Early bird catches the worm” Unknown
- They are linked to the story either as a theme that occurs through out the story or an extension to the focus topic. A perfect example of the former can be found in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Harper Lee begins with a quote by Charles Lamb, “Lawyer’s I suppose were children once” . The theme of the child’s perspective begins with the story being told through the eyes of a child (Scout) and is also quoted by Atticus later in the story.
- They contain strong, powerful words: “I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” Eleanore Roosevelt
- They are quoted it accurately: “Let them eat cake” Marie Antoinette (wrong)” Let them eat brioche” Rousseau 1767 (correct)
- They are attributed to a well known author: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” Ghandi
- Accessible to all readers of the language: “Carpe Diem” Horace. Latin quotes are not universally understood and, the more obscure they are the more likely it will come across as a pretentious affectation.
4. Ask A Question
The reason using a question as a hook to encourage the reader to read more, works because it is direct speech that asks for a response that hopefully can only be answered by reading more. It is expected that by reading more the answer to the question will be revealed. Examples of writing hooks that are designed as questions are:
- “Do you know the most common writing faults that most published authors agree on?”
- “Do you know the best publisher to use?”
5. Tease & Intrigue
This form of writing hook is easily recognized in novels across all genres. In my opinion it is effective as readers are generally filled with curiosity. Curiosity to learn more about different places, different lifestyles and different experiences. Here are some of my favorite intriguing writing hooks that I have taken from my own shelves.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it.” Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger Readers’ response: This author has attitude!
“Where’s Papa going with the ax?” said Fern to her Mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White Readers’ response: I thought this was a kid’s book!
“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or, at least, how I try.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Readers’ response: This is a very weird narrator.
6. Jump Into The Action
“Captivating” is a subjective adjective in that what is a captivating, opening writing hook for one reader ,may be a turn off for another. In the first example, “Wolf Totem,” the action is restrained. A man, hiding in a snow cave, watching a wolf in Mongolia. The action is yet to happen but the tension is already established. The second example of a hook in , “The Spy Who Loved Me,” lands the reader slap bang in the middle of it all, while at the same time highlighting the protagonist’s background of perpetual failure
- “As Chen Zhen looked through the telescope from his hiding place in the snow cave, he saw the steely gaze of a Mongolian grassland wolf. Jiang Rong, Wolf Totem
- I was running away. I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of over-worn clothes that my London life had collected around me. Ian Fleming, The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Emotional Connection
The most personal hook to use for an opening is one that the reader connects with based entirely on their own history and personality.
- “Was this what a soul felt like, she wondered, as it sped from the body?” Credo by Melvyn Bragg
- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Time To Work On Your Own Writing Hook
As a final comment. and excuse me for stating the obvious but writing opening hooks is not an exacting science. Guidelines, rules and examples are helpful but the end product will always be subjective as both the reader and the author bring their own baggage to the process. To highlight this point the opening paragraph by Jiang Rong in “Wolf Totem” is the one that resonates the most with me, (Mongolia being on my traveling bucket list) Chances are your reaction was more lukewarm. In the final analysis all writing is subjective.
Once you have finished your opening paragraph please add it to the post, “Share Your Introductory Writing Hook” Remember, it is not expected that it will be the “final” product. Comments and contributions by our collaborative group are all part of honing our writing skills. Editing and re-editing is the product of our developing our writing skills.