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  1. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    Writing a good Hook

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Kallisto, Mar 14, 2020.

    I'm really excited about this book I'm writing. Right now, I'm just getting my ideas on paper. But as I was writing it, I'm curious. What makes a good hook? Are there tips and such to make the opening strong?
     
  2. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    It needs to have tension with a little unknown. Think of an action movie where something dramatic happens before they roll the credits. Here is my amateur effort, but I sure you get the idea. Maybe one of the big kids will help out here.

    Jason had just pulled his fishing boat up to the pier, when his young son jumped off and started running toward a stray dog. His wife Ann called out. “Kenny come back here!”
    She got out of the boat to go after him while Jason set the bumpers to protect the boat from damage. She screamed out, “Kenny. Oh God, no!”
    Jason looked up in time to see her running toward a speeding car as Ann cried out, “Don’t take my son.”
     
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  3. Partridge

    Partridge Senior Member

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    An agent once told me that he needs to see a hook which grabs him by the scruff of the neck, pins him against the wall and won't let him him go until at least the first page.

    How you do it is up to you, and dependant on genre.

    What I tend to do is read the first page of a best seller, something like a Michael Conelly, and compare it to mine on the onputdownable scale.
     
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  4. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    Some of these these are good answers, but others are also not answering the question. Telling me to "grip them by the neck and pin them against the wall" isn't an answer. That's a vague metaphor.
     
  5. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    It may be subjective, because what is a good strong hook to one person is not to someone else.
    I try to use character to hook the reader and put them in a situation were there seems no obvious way out. Have the stakes a high as possible to make the audience wonder what they will do.
     
  6. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    @cosmic lights is right. It's highly subjective. I would say, on top of all the good advice you're bound to find here or on a google search for blog advice (there are probably top 10 lists,) the best thing you could do research-wise would be to read the first few paragraphs of every book you have on hand, at least the ones you liked. I'm a big proponent of "read a lot; right a lot," and this is a perfect question to ask your favorite authors.

    Sometimes a good hook comes in the form of a perfect opening line: "It was a pleasure to burn." or "Officious prick." More often you need the first several paragraphs to construct a hook. So it's not much different from writing anything else pivotal and varies from writer to writer and book to book. If you write fast-paced action scenes, you might open the book the same way. If your style is more about the beauty and flow of descriptive language, start with that. There are a million ways to go, but an opener that shows off your strength in an area you plan to spend time on throughout the book is a decent starting place.
     
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  7. keysersoze

    keysersoze Active Member

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    "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking 13." ;) :supertongue:

    Or if you are looking for something original.

    As he walked past the house that morning, he saw the lonesome girl standing at the door. When he returned from office in the evening, she stood in the same place, wearing the same dress. He had been seeing her standing there for six months now although he could not be sure if her clothes changed ever. His promise to himself that he'd never venture towards the house stood strong. But there is hardly anything else that he can think about these days.

    . . .

    What colour should she wear today, she wondered. Her friends admired her so much. She could never disappoint them. None of the boys deserved her attention. Yet she had never disappointed their yearning. It was not her fault that she alone was immune to the virus that claimed the lives of all the people around her. She must continue dressing up even if there is no one left to see her.

    What genre are you writing in? Don't tell me it is fantasy!
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    For me, a good hook is something that will keep me reading. Something that isn't gimmicky or too self-consciously 'clever.' For me, it needs to be something that portends a really good story—and written in a way that means the author will be good at telling it.

    More often than not, it's an intriguing situation or character. By that, I don't mean some kind of a puzzle. I just mean, something that makes me go...oh, right, okay, that's interesting....tell me more.

    I don't crave 'excitement' at the start. What is there to get excited about? I don't know any of the characters or the situation, or anything other than what's in the back cover blurb. High excitement at the start just means it's going to drop off pretty soon, anyway—while the author catches us up on stuff they probably should have started with. I'd rather start quiet and build up.

    When I pick up a book and read the first couple of sentences, I want to be intrigued by some aspect of the story. I just want to keep reading. So, I suspect, do most agents and publishers.

    On a practical note, why not wait to craft your opening few lines once you've finished the whole story? The beginning launches the story in a particular direction, and the direction may change a bit as you watch your story unfold. When you do go to write your 'hook,' you might want to keep the ending in mind. Where is this story headed?

    Some of the best hooks, in my opinion, can actually foreshadow the end—although the reader won't know it when they start. But later on, when they close the book with a satisfied thunk, they'll realise the journey was meticulously planned and executed, right from the very opening line. That's a well-crafted piece of writing, in my opinion.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2020
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  9. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, don't overdo it, it doesn't need to be "exciting" just interesting and relevant, and it should foreshadow to some degree. My opening I fiddled with as I worked on other scenes and my overall plan and I came to a fairly different one after time. Not at the end but it was definitely forged in process. And it's a big foreshadow for a lot of what happens and what's thematically going on.
    For me the main thing that helped me figure that out was instead of thinking literally, which is what I had done when I made the earlier versions, thinking about what the substantive beginning of the story was. And that ended up being a few years beforehand but it's a much better establishment for what's going on and it's also slightly more interesting. Importantly, there's that whole set-up of challenges that gives the story a sense of action and stakes.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2020
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  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. Stakes. That's a good thing to establish as soon as possible. And it can help make a hook interesting. What's at stake? This can affect both characters and situation. And it doesn't need to be some fight or confrontation or world-shattering event. Sometimes it's as simple as showing the reader what matters to a character.

    If we understand what a character cares about, then any threat to it will set up the story's conflict.

    If we learn, during the opener, that a boy loves and hero-worships his older brother, for example, we will be alert to the fact that this situation won't be easy to maintain. Even if the opening itself is low-key, we'll be alerted to the possibility of either conflict or loss.

    You can be pretty sure anything that appears settled or complacent at the start of the story WILL be under threat. That's how stories work. Assuming a story must always start in the middle of some kind of fight, is a mistake. Make us nervous, instead. Make us worry about losing the good stuff. Make us aware that things are going to change.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2020
  11. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    Adventure, excitement, a Jedi craves not these things.
     
  12. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I have a hard time with my beginnings. Usually trying to pack too much into them. I find the most interesting beginning is something that seems ordinary and plain but has enough of a hint of a question that make you want to read on. Like --

    Beth slipped out of the pond only to find the branch where she left her clothes was as bare as her.

    It's the start of a dilemma. And it's not overkill.

    Lately I've been trying not to overthink my beginnings as they get rewritten the most. The novel I'm working on has had about three rewrites so far with different characters starting each opening. I think I'm going to leave it for the last thing written as maybe by then it will live up the ending.
     
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  13. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    Actually, I believe the op may have asked two questions. What is a good hook, and what makes a strong opening?
    My last book the strong opening was just a letter sent to a senator about bio-genocide. The opening wasn’t a slow burn , more like bringing the characters into the scene. The hook came in the second chapter when the letter writer was violently killed, marking the seriousness of pursuing the contents.
     
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  14. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    For me the hook if you distinguish it would probably be the end of the opening scene which has sort of a cruel punchline that establishes how the relevant issue (main character being congenitally deformed and handicapped) will play out (namely that it's not going to be pleasant).
     
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  15. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    Sometimes the best hook of a story for a reader is the same the protagonist is trying to avoid. Two level hook.
     
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  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    You can call it a vague metaphor, but it's exactly what you need to do. Sorry, but I think that advice is better than people giving examples of writing they think does that. I think we all know what this advice is saying. That doesn't make it any easier to pull off.

    I think a hook can be a great place to release shock value if you've got it. Now, remember shock value goes down the more it's used both in terms of content and regularity. But I think shock value at the beginning of a story does a lot more than it does at the end of a story.

    If you want to see some examples of good hooks, I recommend checking out the fiction published by The Paris Review. They've been publishing stories with the best hooks I've seen in recent years. You can only read the first few paragraphs of each story online without a subscription. But since you're just after the hooks anyway I think it's worth checking out.
     
  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think "the hook," by definition and how it relates to writing is actually the opening. A hook that comes in the second chapter or at the end of a scene, isn't really a hook. You're assuming readers will stay with your story long enough to get to the so-called hook. And maybe they will, but that's a big maybe and will depend on how you start your story, believing you have time to ease into your hook. I don't really think that's the best approach. It sort of defeats the whole purpose of the hook.

    Agents, editors, slush readers and even regular readers are often looking for a reason not to read something as much as they are looking for a reason to keep going. A lot of what gets rejected happens within the first two paragraphs. With writing, I think it's always a mistake to save the good stuff for later. Starting strong is so important. Of course, staying strong is important too. But a good hook often serves as a good setup for your story in general.

    I agree that establishing the stakes of a story early is a good thing. I don't think that always needs to be done in the hook, but it can be and does carry importance with it.

    I'm not a fan of foreshadowing in the hook or even really in the beginning. I feel like too often foreshadowing goes wrong either by releasing too much, not enough or even coming out gimmicky or cliche. That's probably another whole conversation. But just don't try to be too clever. Trying to hard will show. There is very little forgiveness in clever writing.
     
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