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What Is a Hook?
A hook (or narrative hook) is the literary technique of creating an enticing beginning—the very first line or opening of a story—designed to capture readers’ interest. There are many different types of hooks, but a strong hook will grab readers, usually by throwing them into the middle of some dramatic action or by generating curiosity about an intriguing character, unusual situation, or important question.
Why Is a Good Hook Important?
The purpose of a hook sentence (or scene) is to grab attention and give your reader a reason to invest their time and energy into your writing. The perfect hook will make sure your reader’s mind stays focused on your piece of writing, allowing them to be fully immersed in the argument of a persuasive essay or the fantasy world of a novel. Hooks are crucial in all types of writing: Both fiction writing (short stories and novels of all genres) and nonfiction writing (academic writing, such as research papers, as well as narrative essays) benefit from an exciting opening.
7 Tips for Writing a Great Hook
Sometimes an amazing attention grabber will come to you in a flash of inspiration. Other times, coming up with hook ideas can put your writing skills to the test. If you’re lacking inspiration for a good hook, follow this step-by-step guide to crafting a great hook.
- Your title is your first hook. As crucial as your opening sentence is, remember that you have one opportunity to hook your reader before they open your book or click on your article: your title. Even before your first sentence, your title is your earliest opportunity to grab readers’ attention. Your title is like a mini hook. Think of how you can interest your target audience with emotionally loaded language or surprising combinations of words.
- Drop your readers into the middle of the action. A classic hook strategy is to start with an action-packed or climactic event. This method hooks your reader in two ways: first, with the energy of the scene itself. And second, by dropping your reader into the middle of the story without context, you’ll leave them with questions that will compel them to keep reading. In literary terms, starting in the middle of a narrative is called in medias res, and it’s a simple way to create intrigue. There are a few ways to make this hook work with the rest of your narrative: You can make your hook into a prologue or flashforward, and then begin writing in chronological order, or you can continue writing in a non-linear fashion.
- Form an emotional connection. If your piece isn’t action-packed, you might consider hooking your reader with an emotional scene. Showing a character’s intense emotional response on the first page can help you tap into your reader’s sense of empathy, rather than their desire for thrills. If your reader can develop an emotional connection with your character(s) early on, they’ll be more interested in what happens to them later. One technique that works especially well for informative and argumentative essay hooks is to start with a personal story. This emotional appeal can make readers feel more connected to an otherwise dry or fact-heavy piece of writing.
- Make a surprising statement. Starting your piece with a controversial or unexpected statement will encourage your audience to keep reading, as they anticipate how you’ll prove your statement. A thematic statement can also serve as a lens through which the audience sees the rest of your piece. Like the thesis statement of an academic paper, a statement hook will have your readers searching for connections for the rest of the book. A classic example is the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813): “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This statement frames the rest of the novel, enticing readers without introducing any characters or setting.
- Leave your reader with questions. Most techniques to hook a reader have one thing in common: They force the reader to ask questions. A good hook—whether it uses action, emotion, a strong statement, or another technique—will have your reader guessing about your characters’ motivations, backstories, and more. Maybe in high school, you learned to start an essay with a rhetorical question. Try that same technique now, but leave the actual question out of the finished piece. Instead, set up a scene that leads your reader to come up with the question on their own.
- Stay away from description. You don’t have many pages to hook your reader, so be wary of long descriptive passages that don’t generate questions. Don’t feel the need to explain every little thing to your reader—leaving some questions unanswered will create suspense, and you can fill in details later. Focus on the important information: A long description of your main character’s physical features probably isn’t the best choice for your first paragraph, unless those features have a mysterious backstory.
- Once you have your reader’s attention, keep it. Writing a great hook will get your reader’s attention, but if you leave them with lots of unanswered questions, they’ll just become frustrated. To sustain your reader’s attention, make sure to answer at least some of the questions posed in your hook fairly early on, while keeping some information for later. One technique, especially useful in thrillers, is to introduce a new question every time you answer a previous one, keeping your reader in constant suspense. For works with multiple chapters, don’t let your first chapter be the only one with a hook. Try opening each chapter with a teaser—an action, a bit of dialogue, or an interesting fact that will grab the reader’s attention—to maintain your reader’s focus throughout a longer piece.
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