If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know I’m neck-deep in editing the manuscript for my new book. Today I’d like to focus on the importance on creating a hook for your story.
What is it?
A hook is something that draws your reader into the book. It makes them want to keep reading beyond the first paragraph.
A good example of a hook is from J.K.Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone':
“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”
The hook in this opening is that you get the sense that something strange and mysterious is going to happen to the Dursleys. What will happen, and how will they react? There is also a touch of humor, which sets the tone for the book, and is further complemented by the description of the characters, such as Mrs Dursley who “had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours”.
Why is a hook so important?
I have a rule of thumb for books, and it really seems to work. I will read a book for as many pages as my age (which is now 31 – happy birthday to me), and if I haven’t got into it by then, I put it down. If I’ve paid for the book, I’m more inclined to read further and get my money’s worth, but in this day and age of cheap e-books, getting a reader’s attention quickly must be a high priority for authors.
How can you get yourself a hook?
‘Writing a Novel and Getting Published for Dummies’ recommends that you should “check your first paragraph for something that may strike the reader as odd, off-kilter, or interesting. If there isn’t anything, you may need to re-think it”.
This is something I’ve tried to improve in my manuscript. My original opening started with a whole bunch of narrative, introducing the protagonist and antagonist and describing their childhood.
Here is my first paragraph, as it was originally …
“It was the first day of March, 1987, when a baby boy and a baby girl entered the world two hours apart at Oakley Public Hospital in Northern New South Wales, Australia. Their mothers were best friends and neighbors, so from the moment they were born it was inevitable that Alana and Zac would be friends.”
Feedback from my beta-readers confirmed my suspicions that my beginning wasn’t interesting enough. It reads a bit like a newspaper birth announcement. I’ve now replaced my opening with this…
“Eighteen years ago – Oakley, New South Wales, Australia
“Alana and Zac, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N…”
Alana clamped her fingers over Hannah’s mouth, peeking over the embankment to make sure Zac hadn’t overheard. Her six-year-old sister could be such a pest! Satisfied they were alone, she lowered her hand. Hannah flashed an angry look at her and stomped to the edge of the creek that ran across the yard. She picked up a long muddy stick and dipped one end in the water, stirring up the sediment.
I wonder where Zac is? Alana thought. He said he would come over after school to help her catch frogs; he lived just across the road. She swished her green fishing net from side to side, enjoying the whistling sound. It was a present from Zac for her eighth birthday, only two days ago. It had been his birthday too. Zac had been her best friend ever since the day they were both born at Oakley Public Hospital – well, that’s what Mum had said. Alana couldn’t remember back that far.”
This is still a work in progress (comments welcome), but what I wanted to show is how I have revealed the same information from the first example in a way that is more dynamic than just straight-out narrative. I think even just the inclusion of ‘Eighteen years ago’ adds an element of suspense, eg What is Alana like now – she must be in her mid-twenties? What is her relationship like with Zac? Are they still best friends? Does something happen to change this? Etc.
Some useful tips I’ve picked up on how to create an awesome beginning:
– Start in the middle of the action
– Include or omit a detail that will strike the reader as being unusual
– Use humor, but don’t try too hard
– Don’t introduce too many characters at once
– Avoid lengthy descriptions of scenery.
Here are some useful links that might help you to create your hook…
Stay tuned for more Amateur Writing Mistakes, and feel free to leave a comment below, perhaps a hook from your own book.