Writing a Killer Hook

First impressions are everything. No matter how wonderful the rest of your story may be in every way, if you turn your audience off in the first few pages you may never fully win them back. You might even get consigned to the dreaded DNF pile. That’s why writing a strong hook is absolutely vital.

I don’t know much about fishing, but I know the trick is to get that little metal hook inside a fish’s mouth. Once you’ve got him hooked, he’s yours. Just reel him in and it’s kippers for tea. It’s the same with readers. Your hook is the very first thing that happens in your novel and it should grab the audience from the very first sentence. If they’ve just opened up your book for the first time, they will be approaching it with a neutral attitude at best. If you want to reel them in and throw them in your bucket (your Bucket O’ Fans) you’d better have an inescapable hook. Here’s a few tips.

Do Not Info-dump

I know you’ve worked hard on your world-building and have also created a backstory for every character that’s so detailed you could probably write a separate prequel trilogy but please, I beg of you, do not open your novel with a history lesson, whether it be the history of your fictional world or the life and times of your protagonist until this point. That is boring, boring, boring. Not only is it boring bubbling away in a pot of liquid boring, but the chances of the reader remembering it all are zero to none. And they’ll be so bored.

Just start the story! All the backstory of your characters and world can be easily interwoven throughout the rest of the novel but in chapter one, paragraph one, start the actual story.

Make it Striking

Just like a hook through the mouth, your opening line should grab the audience with a certain violence and not let go. That means writing an opening line which stabs the reader straight through the heart. A weather report or showing us the protagonist waking up on a seemingly normal day simply won’t do. Show us something happening which makes the audience sit up and say, ‘Oh?’

For instance:

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Iain Banks, The Crow Road

This is a great opening line. Irrespective of whether it turns out granny literally blew up or not, the imagery is so striking. We can’t help but imagine that gruesome image of some kindly old lady bursting into a million bloody pieces with a loud bang and a lingering stench of sulphur. We can’t let granny die in vain. We need to read on.

Make Us Ask Questions

Another approach is to open with a statement which may at first seem a little more cryptic yet loaded with significance. This is, without a doubt, far trickier than simply blowing up granny, but can yield excellent results if done properly. For instance:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens’ opening gambit in A Tale of Two Cities is probably one of the most famous hooks in all literature. The language is clear yet the meaning is cryptic, inviting the audience to read on for explanation (and anyone who has read this book knows it carries on in this vein for a bit longer). You probably won’t write one as good as that (sorry). But what about:

All children, except one, grow up.

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

This is a very simple and clear statement but it fills the reader’s mind with questions. Who is the author talking up? In what sense can a child not grow up? Is he dead? Is he physically grown with the mind of a child? Is he immortal? There’s only one way to find out…

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