View Full Version : Setting the Hook
September 26th, 2003, 04:49 PM
We all know that a good story needs a good hook. Different writers use lots of different hooks. Out of curiosity, how quickly do you feel a writer must hook the reader?
My girlfriend and I differ in opinion on this. She's willing to read through several chapters before she gives up on a story. I'm a lot more unforgiving. If I get through a prologue and chapter one and the book's not doing if for me - I put it down. Once more, if I don't see anything in the first couple paragraphs that looks even remotely promising - down it goes. I usually only slog through something that hasn't hooked me when I'm reading to learn, or as a favour.
And on this note, what's your hook style? Any good fisherman (fisherperson?) knows that a good technique can mean the difference between supper and starvation. Oddly, I imagine this applies to professional writers as well.
September 26th, 2003, 05:59 PM
The earlier you hook the reader, the better. I don't see the benifit in waiting, because you can easily lose people to impatience. But then again, if you're entire book is going to require patience, maybe it's best to give it to them from the start.
Anywho, my general technique is start in the middle of a scene and have the reader asking questions immediately. I've always liked reading books that start like this, so, naturally, I've adapted the techinique for my own stuff. Lengthy historical opening chapters and prologues that don't relate to the story are a no-no in my book. I prefer to slip those facts in as the story progresses.
September 26th, 2003, 07:05 PM
I usually open with an action scene of some sort that introduces one of the characters and a conflict. It's not usually the MAIN conflict, as that gets led into further in.
I agree with the early hook. If I read the first chapter and don't see anything interesting, I'm done.
September 26th, 2003, 07:18 PM
I agree with you completely Bear. I like to start in the middle of a action scene. This allows me to introduce a character and draw the reader into the story.
Openers like " It was dangerous where I grew up", are another way drawing the readers attention.
Filling in history, I feel, is better brought in as new elements which can be explained as the reader is confrounted with a twist in the story.
September 27th, 2003, 01:42 AM
I feel the first line is the most important single line in any story. My favourite is Iain Banks in The Crow Road - "It was the day my gradmother exploded" I simply couldn't not read it after reading that.
September 27th, 2003, 02:02 AM
I'm a difficult person to impress, so I'm usually not impressed, or hooked, by any begining. I read some of the story, before I decide it's not for me. But, if after 100 pages, it hasn't grabed me, or if I think the story's not worth it, then I toss it aside.
For example, Mark Anthony's Beyond the Pale: I've read the first 100 pages, to see what the heck this is, then I droped it, for it just didn't get better. On the other hand, when I began Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, I was ready to give up, after chapter 2, but it seemed that my patience was rewarded.
So, I never condemt a book from it's begining alone. I must read some of the story, too, before I trash it. ;)
September 27th, 2003, 02:05 AM
Personally I try to ether start with a conversation between the characters or action.
As Jacquin said the first sentence can be the hook, but I believe you have to have something on the first page that will make the reader want to turn over.
Long drawn out prologues, unless they themselves contain a "hook", are to me, the worse thing you can do.
I always remember that the characters are living in this world, they don't need it explaining to them. You need to strike a balance between describing things, telling scraps about the history and moving the action on. It is like trying to keep a good half dozen balls in the air at once. Sometimes it works other times you drop the lot.
Anyway being cheeky... an example of one of my "hooks"
The crew of the pot-bellied coaster began to disperse as darkness fell, their pockets full of coins. The unsavoury cargo that the crumbling tub had carried now lay stacked on the dock, awaiting both the dawn and an unsuspecting buyer.
Jack scratched under an armpit, trying to catch one of the ‘flea cargo’ he had acquired, and sighed. The journey had been a long one and, for the main part, boring. He was tired...yet Jack knew that now of all times he could not let down his guard. He mentally touched the thick bladed knife tucked into the rear of his belt and shuffled off after the rest of the crew.
He had learned that in his profession it paid to blend into the background, to be no more noticeable than the contents of the street’s drainage ditch. Jack’s business demanded that he travel without causing a ripple and without being remembered.
As Jack passed the high-sided southern brigantine that had accompanied the coaster in on the evening tide, he spotted something that was far from unnoticeable. It was neither the large raw-boned horse nor the man who was bent, checking the creature’s girth, which stood out like a sore thumb...
It was the man’s hat. It drew Jack’s eyes like a magnet; it was very unusual, to say the least. The brown felt confection was wide brimmed to the point of foolishness and adorned with the largest, thickest white feather he had ever seen.
September 27th, 2003, 05:15 AM
Can't disagree with anything that's being said here (and by the way, Jacquin, that Banks opener is my favourite of all time...).
Just thought I'd add a note that while hooking a reader early is clearly very important, it's worth pointing out that publishers will want to look at an opening three chapters which gives them the space to see style over a slightly longer period, early plot development and characters etc.
I guess what I'm saying is, when you've hooked 'em, don't forget to keep them on the line. Don't expend so much energy on your opening that what comes next flops...
September 27th, 2003, 01:01 PM
Thanks for the responses guys.
Personally I know I've tried to experiment with different kinds of hooks. I think my own overall goal is to get it in quick, but more importantly to get it in deep.
One of the issues with action is that it's good for a quick pull in, but once the action is over (in my own stuff anyway), the interest can fade away. I think the trick is to have the resolution of the initial conflict lead into a larger, deeper conflict - which is something I haven't totally mastered yet.
I know the books that I really enjoy are ones where I pick it up, read a couple pages, then put it down for whatever reason and find myself thinking about the story for the rest of the day. That's the kind of place I'd like to get to with my own writing.
September 27th, 2003, 01:59 PM
A mystery, I think, is also effective, to keep a reader's interest and attention. And I don't mean a murder mystery or the like, but always keep them guessing. Don't tell them exactly what's going on; keep them on their toes, until the end!
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