Readers are like fish. Smart fish. Fish who know authors are out to get them, reel them in, and capture them for the rest of their seagoing lives. Like all self-respecting fish, readers aren’t caught easily. They aren’t about to surrender themselves to the lure of your story unless you’ve presented them with an irresistible hook. – K.M. Weiland
Did you feel the hook of K.M. Weilands opening of her book Structuring Your Novel? I love how this chapter about hooks starts with a well made hook itself.
A hook is nothing more (or less) than the sales pitch for your whole story. If you mess it up, you lose your audience, but if you do it right, you lure those readers into the story you’re about to tell.
The Aim of the Hook
According to Weiland the most important goal of your hook is to get the reader to ask a question.
What is going to happen to this boy now?
How will she get out of this mess?
Though this question has to be specific. A general question like “What the heck is going on here?” doesn’t work.
Additional to asking a question I would also add, that you have to build a connection with the protagonist. If the reader doesn’t care or isn’t interested at all in the fate of your protagonist, the rest of the story becomes irrelevant.
And give the reader orientation and a sense of familiarity to make them slip into the story without them even noticing.
In short: Spark the readers curiosity, make them connect with the protagonist and give them orientation inside the story world.
Open with Conflict
A story without conflict is no story at all. What would you even write about? Scenic descriptions and lots of peaceful conversations? Though this seems a nice goal for our actual lives, it’s kind of dull in story, don’t you think? Conflict creates the friction that makes a story move from A to B.
Think of all those lovely, peaceful hobbits from the Shire. Sure, I enjoyed the harmony while it lasted, but the story needed some conflict to actually make progress. Otherwise nothing would have happened.
Your hook in itself needs to contain some form of conflict. It doesn’t have to be the major conflict of the story (though it could be of course!). Something that is only relevant for the first chapter is perfectly fine as long as a new conflict is set up before the first one is resolved. You don’t want to lose the interest of your audience.
Use some Action
You are writing a story, not painting a picture. Movement is a strong force to pull the reader into the story, because those actions will appear in your readers mental eye.
Having your protagonist and others move in some way, brings the scene to life. This movement can be connected with the opening conflict, but it doesn’t have to. Even putting on their shoes or brushing their teeth is better than no action at all. Movement makes everything much more realisitic and alive.
Introduce the Protagonist
Readers connect with people. Readers who connect with your characters, care about their fate. Which is why it is so important to introduce your protagonist as soon as possible. It doesn’t have to be extensive (please refrain from overwhelming your audience with too much information early on), but giving a glimpse of character pushes your hook to higher levels.
Setup the Stage
As with introducing the protagonist early on, you also want to give your audience some context of where the scene happens. If you manage to paint a picture of the setting in your readers head, you strengthen their connection to the story. Imagination is a powerful tool and if you provide some orientation, your audience will fall into the story without them even noticing.
Set the Tone
The tone of your initial scene very much sets the tone for the whole story. Or at least the expecation of the reader. Your opening represents the overall style and mood of the story that follows. Be aware of that and don’t sway too much from where you actually want to go.
Having a thrilling and fast paced hook followed by chapters of quiet introspection might just be the fast route to bore your reader and ultimately lose him or her.
So again: You want to get your audience to ask a specific question about the continuation of the story that keeps their curiosity up and them reading. You also want to give the reader some form of emotional connection to the protagonist and you should try to paint a picture of the encasing environment in the readers mind.
Do refrain from info-dumping at all cost. Use only the information that is absolutely necessary for the scene to work. No excessive background information, no detailed description of each tree of the surrounding forest. You can describe the surroundings in as much as a sentence or two.
Last, but not least, do not overwhelm the reader. Do not introduce a boatload of people at once, don’t paint a world that is so abstract that noone can actually imagine anything. Give them some sense of familiarity and some kind of understanding of the scene. Remember that your audience doesn’t know anything at this point.
If you consider these things, you’re good to go! … though we know this can be very hard. Beginnings always are. Tell me, where do you have problems? Do you have any questions? Let us know.
Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland is an amazing read which I enjoyed greatly. Read it if you’re interested 🙂
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