If you want your readers to not just pick up your book, but keep turning the pages, you need to learn how to write a hook that will draw them through the story so they never want to put it down. Try baiting your hooks with the thrill of danger to keep your readers on the line.
A good book that pulls us in deep might make us feel like the danger is real, and we often experience it as such, but we can indulge ourselves in it and savor that vicarious thrill because we’re in a protected zone.
Sometimes the most delectable danger in fiction is subtle and conveyed by covert means, as in psychological suspense. But more often, danger and action go together, the kind of action that carries risk.
For instance, a car moving down the street is action, but there’s no inherent danger attached to the movement, so it does nothing to hook the reader. But with a few adjustments, we can make that moving car into something dangerous indeed.
Put a small child behind the wheel, a four-year-old playing around in the driver’s seat who happened to release the brake. Or maybe the automobile is squealing along with six cop cars in pursuit. Maybe it’s three o’clock in the morning, the streets are deserted, and the car is the only thing that’s moving, pinning the protagonist in its headlights.
A hook is an interesting sentence or paragraph that you can use at the beginning of a piece of writing to capture the reader’s interest. It sets the tone and convinces the reader to continue reading. A strong hook is important because it can help you demonstrate your writing skills to the audience. This can be especially important if you’re submitting a piece of writing for a grade, award or admission into a program.
Choose an audience: An outline can also give you an opportunity to define the audience—or the ideal reader—for your piece. This can help you establish a tone that matches the audience you have in mind.
After you’ve organized your outline, you can use it to develop a thesis. A thesis, also called a topic sentence, expresses the prevailing point of your piece. Here are a few guidelines for writing an effective thesis:
Ensure the thesis focuses on the topic. A good thesis helps emphasize the particular topic under consideration. Writing your thesis before the body of your piece can help you ensure your writing follows a specific idea.
Provide a specific thesis. The goal of the thesis is to describe why you’re writing the article or essay. A good thesis is specific yet descriptive enough that the reader can understand the purpose of your piece from the thesis alone.
Address each section in the thesis sentence. You can use your outline to write a thesis that describes the point of each section of your piece. For example, a thesis for a five-paragraph essay can address the main point that each paragraph makes to the reader.
Lastly, you can use your outline and thesis to compose a hook that draws the reader’s attention, promotes the focus of your article and remains suitable for your audience. Here are a few things to think about as you write your hook:
Audience: Think about the audience for which you’re writing as you create a hook. Taking into account their interests, desires, fears and other considerations will both shape and be affected by your hook.
One strategy you can use to write a hook that attracts your readers’ attention is to begin your piece with an interesting or obscure fact. This strategy can help you appeal to your readers’ senses of wonder and reason and encourage them to continue reading.
Another strategy for writing a hook is to use a short, personal story that relates to your topic. An anecdote can appeal to your readers’ emotions or feelings of compassion. Here are a few tips you can use to write an anecdotal hook:
Use the STAR method. STAR stands for situation, task, action and response. This method is commonly used to answer interview questions or present your work history on your resume, but it can also help you write an anecdote that’s short but compelling.
Ensure your anecdote matches the tone of your writing. Choose an anecdote that likely would appeal to the audience you’re writing for to help ensure it matches the tone of the rest of your piece.
Limit anecdotes for more formal writing. An anecdotal hook is an informal way of introducing a piece of writing. If you’re writing a serious essay or article, limit your use of anecdotes and opt for a hook that matches the formality of the piece.
Example: In my career as a social worker, one immigrant family I worked with didn’t know English, which made it challenging for my agency to address the family’s needs. I connected the family with English classes at the local community center. By the end of the year, the children in the family spoke fluent English, while the adults could successfully converse with me in English. This experience taught me the importance of connecting families with community resources.
Another effective technique for writing a hook is to begin your piece with a relevant quote. To find a quote, you can research prominent individuals in your industry or field of study and learn about their famous statements and sayings. Starting with a quote can lend an air of authority to your piece and stir reader interest.
If you want to surprise your readers, you can write a hook that addresses a common misconception to draw their interest. This can be a powerful and credible way to introduce an idea.
Writing a hook that uses an impressive statistic or other interesting data can help you spark a reader’s interest. Be sure to use trustworthy sources when you’re gathering your data to ensure your information is correct.
If you’re writing a less formal piece, such as a speech or blog post, an effective strategy for writing a hook is to begin by telling a joke or humorous story. This can entertain the reader while drawing their interest.
You can also ask a question in a hook that can set the tone for the rest of the content. Readers may want to know the answer to the question, which can encourage them to read on to learn more about the topic. You can also ask a rhetorical question, or a question with an obvious answer, to introduce a topic.
Another hook that you can use to surprise your reader is to use a contradictory statement. To use this hook, you can contradict an accepted fact or take a contrarian stance on a disputed topic.
Example: While a declining number of professionals in this industry report high job satisfaction, this has not been true for me. I look at the challenges our industry faces as opportunities for growth and advancement.
A common strategy for writing a shorter hook is to define a term for the reader. This is a versatile way to introduce a subject that you can use with a variety of writing styles, audiences and tones.
It’s equally effective, to capture readers’ interest, to resort to thrills or chills. Think of the types of stories tabloids print. Tales of power, crime, scandal, and people’s baser actions. These do (whether we like to admit it or not) sell.
One of the reasons hooks involving incidents such as discoveries of bodies or breaking scandals are effective is they open floodgates of questions. In a murder mystery these could be any of the following:
One could continue asking greater and smaller questions. Thus although some will say interest in stories of this nature is prurient or crass, the truth is hooks that thrill us or chill us are effective. They allow us to inhabit a state of radical uncertainty. We can then enjoy the process of finding our way to a place of greater certainty, as the author answers urgent questions.