#3-Beginning Hooks

See more Let’s Write tips in Andi’s Attic >>

Hook Your Reader

If you have ever gone fishing, there is one thing you know right away. If you want to catch a fish, you have to carry the right equipment: a fishing pole, a hook, and (most importantly) decent bait like salmon eggs, flies, spinners, worms, or herring. Every fisherman knows he can’t hook a fish using the wrong bait . . . or dried-up bait . . . or worse–no bait at all! You won’t catch a 30-pound salmon with a worm, nor will you catch a little rainbow trout with a dead herring.

Writing stories is a lot like fishing. You need to use the right kind of “bait” to hook a particular reader. Next, the question arises: When do I catch my reader? Answer: On the very first few pages of your story! Just like a fisherman carefully chooses his bait to snag a fish, you, the author, must hook your reader with a slam-bang beginning. Once you catch your reader, you can reel him or her in with your real-life characters and your excellent use of “showing” and not “telling.”

Just like there are different kinds of bait for different kinds of fish, and author can use different techniques to capture the reader’s interest. I have found 7 kinds of writing “bait” that work well.

  1. Action. Something exciting happens right off the bat. The main character falls down a mysterious hole. The heroine stumbles on a mystery. The hero takes off in his spaceship.
  2. Dialogue. Two or more characters begin the story speaking with each other or with someone else. The reader is pulled into the story because the characters are introduced right away. 
  3. Unusual Setting. Some books open in a setting different from the ordinary. For example, Star Wars opens with a star destroyer filling the screen. Interest is high. What is it doing there?
  4. Thought or Feeling. If the book starts out with the main character’s thoughts or feelings, the reader is easily drawn in and connects emotionally with the character. 
  5. Question. A story that begins with a question is usually found in dialogue between characters. Combining the hooks of dialogue and a question is a good way to keep the reader turning pages.
  6. Interesting Character. This can be an everyday character presented in a fun way, or an exotic character, like the Ape in The Last Battle (Narnia). You want to know what sort of problem the character may soon face. 
  7. Sound Effect. A book that opens with a gunshot, the squealing of car tires, the roaring of a river, or an explosion is a sure way to capture readers. They want to know what’s going on.

It’s not enough to write a bang-up beginning ten sentences long and then go into long, detailed back story or description. Once you have hooked your reader, don’t let him go! Continue the first chapter in a way that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages. That’s what writing good fiction is all about—turning the pages.

A brave reader, Junebug, shared her opening in a comment on the old blog. Which “hook” did she use?

Nobody else knows what I know, and it could mean big trouble for me. Anna Harmon’s turbulent thoughts swirled around in her mind, keeping her awake late into the night. She had been lying in bed for a whole hour thinking and worrying about all the valuable things that had gone missing from her house. Even worse, she alone knew who had stolen them.

Steph shares a great first-liner hook. Which one does she use? But after that, she goes into “telling” mode. How can she change the explaining sentences into more action hooks? Read on for a teaching moment. Maybe it will help you too.

“Riley!” called Andrea Carter Prescot. She had married Riley Prescot three months before. Andi had just ridden back from town, where she had gone to post some letters. She had also picked up a telegram for Riley.

Here is my suggestion for beefing up the opening (I haven’t figured out how to indent for new paragraphs on WordPress blogs). Can you see the difference?

“Riley!” called Andrea Prescott. “Look what you got from town!”
Her husband of three months looked up from the fence he was mending [or some other task–you want action] and grinned. “Howdy, Andi. What’s got you all fired up?”
“It’s a telegram!” Andi couldn’t keep her excitement contained. A quick trip to town for the weekly mail had also yielded a telegram. My goodness! How often did folks send telegrams to her and Riley?

Two things to try
  1. If you are brave, share your opening paragraph to a story in the comments.
  2. Go to the fiction bookshelf of your local library, your home library, a bookstore, or Amazon. Randomly choose five books (use discernment). Read the first three pages of each one. Write “yes” if the book caught your interest. Write “no” if it did not. Then explain why or why the opening did not hook you.

Go to Let’s Write Tip #4 creating characters >>

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

11 thoughts on “#3-Beginning Hooks

  1. This is such important information! Editors say if they aren’t hooked in the first paragraph or two, they stop reading. One of my favorite openings is Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” It raises the questions, “What were the best of times? The worst of times? Why?” I like it so much I have used it to add conflict in some of my YA novels as chapter titles.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Here’s a snippet from one of my books. 😊

    Scarlet ducked under her opponent’s sword as it flashed over her, missing her head by a hair’s breadth. She lunged and he parried, throwing her backwards. She landed with a thud and the breath swooshed from her lungs. As she struggled for breath, she glanced to her left where her sword had landed beside her. She glanced up and saw the glint of a sword plunging toward her.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m gonna be really brave and post the four opening hooks from my works.

    1. The Mystery of the Missing Boat (first ever novel. Was more like a very skimpy novella, but I was 10)
    “Hurry up, Anika!” Mrs. James called.
    “Coming, Mom!” 13-year-old Anika yelled back.
    The girl, who had hair the color of the sun, quickly raced to the car carrying a backpack full of her personal belongings and random stuff. The entire James family had been planning to sell their small home in Buffalo, New York and move to Belfast, Maine. That is, everyone but headstrong Anika, who loved the home and considered it perfect.
    “Maine,” she thought as the family began their journey, “Why Maine?”
    Sadly, she looked back at their old neighborhood wishing she could stay forever.

    2. The Children’s Home! (My latest finished novel, or should I say novella. This work is my pride and joy!)
    I slung my backpack over my shoulder. My heart pounded rapidly. I whimpered softly.
    Quiet, Arwen! I mentally yelled at myself. You’ll wake Alvah, and she’ll make your life even more miserable than it already is!
    It was the first time I’d actually called myself by my real name in all eight years of my life. Normally, I went by my pet name Wenny. But, since I was being mature—or maybe stupid—enough to run away, I couldn’t use my nickname any longer. I padded to the front door, shoes in hand.

    3. The Most Epic Trip Ever (my first fanfiction!)
    It all began with a misunderstanding on Google’s part. One misunderstanding that flipped my whole world upside down. My name is Rebecca. Rebecca Pryce. This is the story of how my life changed forever—for the better. This is the story of one of my fondest memories ever.

    4. Discovery of Secrets (the sequel to The Children’s Home)
    The early morning sun sparkled on the damp grass, sending rainbows of light dancing across the walls of the once-abandoned mansion. Birds chirped in the massive oaks planted all over the yard. A car drove nearby the area, its whizzing heard for only a few seconds. It would’ve been peaceful had it not been for the resounding clash of metal upon metal.
    “Now parry, Arwen!” Aidan Gray, one of my closest friends, yelled, aiming a slash with his sword at my head.

    5. “The Forgotten Map” (a short story I wrote for school)
    “Harmony! Wake up!” Mum’s voice sliced through my dream. Oh, it had been the most delightful but strange dream. It was about a map lying in a glass case, forgotten by the world. And I had discovered it. Me! Harmony Adams! A hero and a savior!
    Impossible, I thought. Harmony, stop thinking such rubbish!
    “Harmony, what didn’t you understand about “wake up”?” Mum continued. “Today’s your thirteenth birthday, and Dad and I have a very special surprise for you.”

    That’s it! Every hook for each typed-up written work I’ve worked on!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: