Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Closer Look at Hooks

Hooks are words strung together with such power, you have no choice but to continue reading.

Hooks are part of the contract—or promise—authors make to their readers. And that promise is: Something Good is Coming.

My first hook is my opening line. Followed by my opening paragraph. Followed by my first page. Followed by my first chapter.

The responsibility is enormous. The intensity of effort can knock me to my knees. I have to have a good hook. And once I have one good hook, I'm on the hook. To keep my promise and give the reader something worth staying awake all night to read.

I can't just write a hook, and then move to a whole new fishing hole. Hooks are not cheap tricks to sell my story. I repeat, they're a promise. They have to have context, and they have to have follow-through.

What would happen if I wrote an opening line full of intensity? Pretty good hook, huh? But what if I followed up with a ho-hum white-bread paragraph? I just broke my promise.

Can I retrieve a lackluster chapter with a great hook? Nope. That promise thing again.

One idea for creating good chapter hooks (after having written a good chapter) is to stop the scene earlier than it was written. Try it. That old "late in/early out" of a scene thing.

Another is to refrain from resolving a particularly intense scene. Let the last part of the tension be the beginning of your next chapter.

I remember taking a book by one of my favorite authors and looking at the last line of every chapter. Was there a hook? Could it have been better? Try it, see what you learn.

Here's another fun exercise. One of the Internet loops I frequent will pick a random page, and ask for people to supply the first full paragraph on that page from the book they're reading. This week, it happened to be page 37. It's amazing how many great paragraphs there were, how many more awful, boring, paragraphs there were, and how many people insisted on going on for much longer than one paragraph in order to justify to the world that the promise of Something Good was being kept. They also supply the name of the book and the author. That means . . . I want to make it all Something Good.

I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually.

CR: If he hadn't drowned, none of that humiliation would have happened. He would be anonymous. Normal. First full paragraph, page 37, Waking Lazarus by T. L. Hines.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Peg -- enjoyed your words on hooks! I agree with you that they are so important and not at all cheap tricks but if done well they are clever, crafty, shrewd and require a lot of an author.

    Rob Walker

  2. Thanks, Rob. Coming from you that's quite a compliment.