Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Hook: How to "Lead Off" Your Story

Every story needs a good hook at the beginning to capture the reader's attention right away.  Without one, then you run the risk of losing your audience--quickly.

We've all experienced this dynamic, haven't we?  We start to read a book (or watch a movie or TV show), only to find that within a few minutes we're not interested any more.  Why?  Because our interest wasn't grabbed--there was no hook.  Hopefully, this post will help you in coming up with the perfect hook for your story.

A lot of people think that the secret to a good hook is having an action sequence right at the beginning of the story--literally starting off with a bang.  While that is an example of an effective hook, it doesn't fit for every story.  Instead of being a rule in and of itself, the "action sequence" is just one example of a bigger rule:

Start the story with change. 

Think about whatever would have been the norm for your characters before the story starts (but don't spend too much time in the beginning showing that), and then disrupt that equilibrium right off the bat.  A good action scene will do this, but there are lots of other ways as well.  Think of all the real-life ways that change comes:   The judge makes his verdict.  Characters--friends or relatives who once got along--argue bitterly.  A baby is born.  A patriarch/matriarch dies.  A loyal employee abruptly quits or gets fired.  Start your story there.  Tell how what happens after the change, how it affects the characters and how they deal with it.  Will there be a plot after that?  Absolutely!  We've all lived through at least some of the events on that list in our own lives, and things have happened as a result of those events. 

A good hook is like the lead-off hitter in baseball--the player who bats first (the "lead-off" position) in the batting order.  Ideally, he will get on base frequently, either through getting a base hit or drawing a walk, and will often be a fast runner.  When he reaches base, the game changes.  His team gets energized, the fans in the stands get excited, and the pitcher for the opposing team has to work harder...because his equilibrium has been thrown off.

I'd like to close by sharing one of the best hooks I've ever read.  It's the opening line of War in Heaven, a book written in 1930 by Charles Williams.  "The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no one in the room but the corpse."  Makes you want to know more, right?  That's what a good hook does.  Philippians 4:13.--SMS

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