Writing the Hook


A hook is writer's bait, intended to lure the reader in.  Also known as a literary hook or narrative hook, it means a snappy opening to get the reader's attention. A writer has to grab his reader, hook, line, and sinker. Snag that reader, reel him in, and make him want more.

Most potential readers glance at the back book cover to determine if they want to give the story a second look. Next, they may read the first sentence or paragraph of the first chapter. The story has to hook them or they won't continue reading. 

Many literary agents confess they give queries from their slush pile their attention for four seconds. In four seconds they must be hooked or they move on to the next query. Four seconds! That means the first sentence must be stellar.

I began investigating great first lines in novels to examine their hook. Here are some examples.

1. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."  From "1984" by George Orwell.

2. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."  From "Pride and Prejudice" by Ann Austen.

3. "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."  From "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath.

4. "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person." From "Back When We Were Grownups" by Anne Tyler.

5. "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."  From "Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens.

I took another look at my own writing, and reviewed my opening paragraph. I confess, I thought I had a great hook, but on closer examination I realized my hook came down the page. The four second rule screamed "Re-write!" It was a lesson learned.


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