Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Bit On The Hook

One of the things I’ve been told over the years I do best is the use of a hook. It’s one of the things I learned very early on as a writer. I learned to have hooks in the beginning of chapters and the end of them as well. It took me years to perfect good hooks and I would like to pass some of what I know about the hook at the beginning of a book to new writers.

Of course, this is not the only way to start a book but it’s the most easily recognizable and in some ways, the easiest to learn.

Here’s my top ten list of best hooks in the world. See if you can guess who wrote them. The answers are listed below. They are, in no particular order:

  1. Hunting vampires was a bitch.
  2. He was running for his life.
  3. It was a dark and stormy night.
  4. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
Each one of those have special meaning for me as I read each of those books at a different time in my life. Realize that this list ebbs and flows like a river, changing with time and never standing still. Notice there is a mix of classic and contemporary pieces. Some are romance and some are not. But each of them have something so compelling which makes me want to read more. And read them I did, some more than once and a few of them I still read yearly if I can remember just where I left my latest copy. LOL!

So what comprises a good hook? Notice that with the ones I listed, there is not one standard theme. Some come from a character’s point of view and some don’t, some involve something personal and some don’t. So just what is it?

There are some constant elements each and every hook must have. They are:
  • It must be compelling
  • Should be a beginning – The reason I say should here is because some books have started with the ending and been quite successful.
  • It can start with dialogue.
  • It can start with action.
  • It could be a contrast or something totally unexpected.
  • It could be a character description or a description of a setting.
  • It could be a humorous question or exclamation or even a regular question or exclamation.
Let’s look at some of mine now and see just what I do. The first is from a WIP called “Where’s My Underwear Anyway?” and it is a fun romp. It’s first direct, to the point and immediately brings you into the action.

“So…you really don’t know where your underwear might be?”

There are groups out that who say never start your novel with a question. But this question just begged for an answer. It puts the reader immediately on a quest for the missing underwear. It also brings to mind other questions: who has the underwear? how was the underwear lost? was the underwear misplaced?

Suddenly, a reader wants to know the answer to those questions.

Here’s another of my first lines. This is from a completed book which is part of the Blue Moon Magic world.

He had always been in this cage in one way or another. It was only recently they had decided to make it his permanent room.

Again, this one takes you immediately into a dilemma. You know someone is in a cage. You don’t know the how’s or the why’s but it just begs those questions.

Here’s another from my Santa’s Elves series. This is from last year’s book, An Elf’s Desire.

That human woman drove him crazy.

From just this first line, you know the person thinking is a man and that he isn’t human. Still, you wonder just what the human woman is doing to drive him crazy. It must be something good or he wouldn’t be thinking about it.

This last one is from another WIP called “Avenging Aingeal” and is a story of elemental magic.

No one knows where we came from really. We just…are. And there are so very few of us, roaming the earth, protecting the inhabitants these days.

This is from an omniscient POV but is still interesting in its own way. We want to know just who ‘they’ are and why we need protecting. Then one might want to know just how long have ‘they’ been protecting us because the way the sentence is constructed, it is implied that ‘they’ have been here for a long, long time. But one must read the story to know the all answers.

And this one has always been one of my personal favorites as it won quite a few contests with the most notable being at the Hawaii RWA conference. Leslie Wanger picked it as one of five from the whole room full of people.

“Damn, I’m going to lose another one.”

This from my complete book, Midnight Run about a woman off-road racer. It was my first book ever, all 72K of it. And it’s set on my computers in one form or another for the past 15 years at least. It has a great hook but a saggy middle with a kick-ass end. But that’s left for another blog.

And here are the answers to my original hook question. See how many you get right!
  1. Hunting vampires was a bitch. – Minion – L.A. Banks
  2. He was running for his life. – Hot Ice – Nora Roberts
  3. It was a dark and stormy night. – Paul Clifford – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  4. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. - Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  5. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. - Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  6. Marley was dead: to begin with. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  7. When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkein
  8. It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance - Outlander – Diana Galbadon
  9. Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet. - The Flame and the Flower – Kathleen Woodiweiss
  10. The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
After all, isn’t that what a hook is meant to do? Make you as the reader want to read the betcha!

See you all tomorrow!



  1. How about the first line from my second novel, A Warrior Made: "Tarkas was running for his life. Again." I saw your quote from Hot Ice, but I've never read NR. Guess it was too much to hope for that I'd thought of it first.

    How about "He was called Thranj, which meant nothing, and he was a god, which meant everything"? That's the first line from the Prolog of my novel Unbinding the Stone. I always thought the hook could be bigger than just the first line. The prolog to AWM isn't as catchy as the first line of Chapter 1 above, but it gives a short run-down on the villain and why he's out to detroy the world.

  2. A good first sentence or paragraph sets the stage. It gets me ready for the rest of the story. I love it when it puts a picture in my mind and makes me chuckle.

  3. Thanks for the excellent examples of compelling hooks. Quite a bold choice to start a novel with a question. I'll have to remember that one. :)

  4. Yes thay all sound like good hooks to me.But my memory is so bad that i have read a few thousand book and do not remember one hook from one of them. all i remember is if i like the book and if it took me away from my life and and two another nad i felt good after i read it.I guess hooks are for people whit a good memory.hay but at least i can read books over and over again whit out eny problem.

  5. As usual Lynn you give such great advice for writers.I love the hooks you mentioned. I've only read 3 of those you listed but will remedy that. :)
    Carol L.

  6. Nice hooks, Author Guy, and yes, hooks can be longer than one line. It could be the setup as well. Preferably they are only one line because when a person is in the store looking at all those books, or online it doesn't matter, they usually read the back, look at the cover, read the last line and then read the first.

    If you can't catch them with that first line, chances are they are going to put down the book and go to the next one.

    Great post. Thanks for stopping by!


  7. She,

    That's exactly what an author is hoping for when a reader picks up their book.

    Thanks for restoring my faith.

    Great post. And thanks for stopping by.


  8. Mary,

    You're welcome. Yes, questions are a bold choice but sometimes they do work for a particular story.

    In my case, the first chapter has a lot of comedy and every thing else I tried didn't fit. Once I had that question in place the whole chapter flowed like it should.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  9. Stacey,

    Good post. I only know hooks because of the hours of training I too to create them. LOL!

    Thanks for stopping by!


  10. Thank you, Carol.

    I do try to help and I've always thought hooks very important to the overall scheme of things.

    Now, I'll be honest, not all of those books are the greatest. Some of the classics I find boring even though they have great hooks. LOL!

    Thanks for stopping by.


  11. How about my second favorite, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
    Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

    You hit my all-time favorite hook from Pride and Prejudice.

    Thanks for all the hooks, I think. Now my brain is going to be coming up with these all day!