Kristin and Bobbi's Write Life Wednesday: Hooking Your Reader - Opening Hooks that Work

The hook is a tried and true technique in the opening of a story that snares the readers attention to a degree that he/she will keep reading even if the family dinner may be burning to a charcoal crisp on the stove, your husband/partner states they have something important to discuss, or your all-time favorite television show is about to begin. A good hook leaves the reader unable to resist turning the page. A good hook tugs at your emotions and gets under your skin compelling you, the reader, forward into the story to follow where the writer wants you to go.  

An opening may consist of one line, several paragraphs or several pages depending on whether you are writing a short story, or a novel. Hopefully the hook is part of your opening sentence, as you want, no make that, you need to engage the reader immediately. Whether it be using evocative words, humor, lust or maybe shock to convey the emotion of the scene, what you want is to strive for something other than predictable. Different in this case is good. Different can often make for a best-seller. 


We’ve all opened a book with anticipation only to read an opening that leaves us flat.  An example of what would likely send any reader into a snore is if in your opening pages your MC, Lydia, wakes, slides her feet out of bed and puts on her slippers. Then she makes her way downstairs to the kitchen, deciding if today she will make eggs or pancakes  for her husband. After this she weeds the garden, does some shopping, and drops off the dry-cleaning.

Would a reader care a fig about Lydia? Doubtful, I know I don’t. If you're bored reading a dull, mundane opening, think about how your reader will feel. Something has got to occur in your opening, something that poses a question your reader wants/needs answered; otherwise you’ll put them to sleep... or worse, they'll just put your book down, never to return to it. 

Taking the same scenario, what if in the opening pages Lydia steps into the kitchen to find her husband holding a bloody knife over his head, and their nosy neighborhood association president sprawled and bloody on their freshly-grouted white tile floor.

Now this is far more attention grabbing. Not that you necessarily need to have a bomb explode, blood flow, or have an orgy take place on page one, but you do want that important something to happen before the reader is yawning and decides to put down the book and go watch whatever reality show is  on television that night instead.  

Keep in mind that beginning in the middle of an action scene does not necessarily make your opening a strong hook. You also need the lure of the reader wondering what will happen next or what caused the action to occur in the first place.  Other things can be used for a strong narrative hook; a mysterious setting, engaging, provocative dialogue, an intense love scene (my personal favorite).

Choose where to begin your story with the utmost of care. It can mean the difference between getting your manuscript read, or thrown into the editors towering slush pile after a few mere paragraphs or less.