How to Write a Good Hook Readers Can’t Resist
Nearly four million books are published each year. Even the most passionate readers can’t consume 1% of that much reading material. So, if they’re going to take a chance on your work, you need to do something to make your novel grip your new readers.
One of the ways you can do that is by writing a good hook.
More than just any ol’ opener, a hook is a strong statement specifically meant to draw your reader in and make them need to keep reading. No room for negotiation.
But that’s a lot of stress to put on a single sentence. Luckily, we’re going to go over everything you need to make a hook that lives up to the task. That includes:
- Defining “a good hook”
- Covering the different types of hooks
- Figuring out what makes a good hook
- Looking at examples of great hooks
- Working through techniques and exercises to make a good hook
Say goodbye to bland openings and hello to crafting killer opening lines. Let’s get started.
Defining a Good Hook
To put it as simply as possible, a good hook is an opening line of your writing that grabs your reader’s attention and compels them to keep reading.
A hook gets its name quite literally: it’s what you use to lure and reel your readers in. Yes, I know you need weights or bobbers and a rod to be successful at fishing, but we don’t need that in our craft.
Instead, we just need to craft a great opener. And follow it up with a “rod” of tens of thousands of awesome words.
We’re not here to discuss the rod, though.
A good hook is like any great first impression. You want to intrigue your reader, compel them to read further, and encourage them to find out more through the rest of your book. It’s an invitation to the world you’ve created. So there’s just a little bit of pressure to get it right.
There are a few things a good hook can do to be that invitation. It can set the tone of your novel, immediately making a promise to your reader about what they’re about to journey through. A good hook can also establish an emotional connection, usually through a question, shocking statement, mystery, or by setting the mood.
It’s also important to understand that good hooks aren’t just reserved for the start of a book. Sure, the opening line of a story is where you’ll find the vast majority of the best hooks. But there’s no reason you can’t use the principles of a good hook at the start of a scene, chapter, or part of your story.
These strategic placements can help maintain reader engagement, especially in some of the saggier parts of the second act.
Most importantly, a hook shapes your reader’s expectations and makes a promise that they’re going to enjoy what they’re about to read. It’s our first opportunity to truly say, “Trust me, this story is worth your time.”
Types of Hooks
When crafting your story hook, you have a handful of options available to you. Not all of these types of hooks will work in every situation, nor will each style work with your own author voice.
Even worse, not every hook will work for every reader. You need to find the one that will vibe most with your audience, one that makes them pause and think after that first sentence or, oppositely, make them barrel onwards.
Crafting a good hook means seeing what options are available and workshopping to find the best one. So here’s a quick rundown of the different types of hooks.
Narrative hooks plunge readers directly into the story, often at a critical or intriguing moment. They're particularly effective at immediately immersing the reader in the action or conflict, sparking curiosity about what happens next.
Example: The only problem with Cecelia hearing footsteps upstairs is that she knew she was home alone.
Descriptive hooks use vivid imagery to paint a scene or character, engaging the reader’s senses and emotions. This type of hook is great for creating a strong visual or emotional impact, setting the mood right from the start.
Example: The last rays of the sunset bathed the ancient city in a golden hue, whispering secrets of forgotten empires.
Question hooks pose a direct question to the reader, engaging them in a mental dialogue. These hooks are effective because they provoke thought and curiosity, compelling your reader to venture on for answers.
Example: Have you ever wondered what lies beyond the edge of the universe?
Shocking Statements Hook
By opening with a surprising or controversial claim, shocking statement hooks are great for grabbing your reader’s attention. Their strength lies in their ability to jolt the reader, creating an immediate emotional response and a need to understand the context.
Example: I never expected to find a letter confessing to murder in my grandmother's attic.
Anecdotal hooks start with a short, intriguing story or personal anecdote. They’re great for establishing a personal connection or introducing a unique perspective.
Example: It was my sixteenth birthday when I learned I could talk to dead kids.
What Makes a Good Hook?
For such a small piece of your story, there’s a lot that goes into writing a compelling hook. And while they vary into the different types above—and that’s not even counting an essay hook or other academic writing—there are some common elements you’ll want to keep in mind when writing yours.
Immediate engagement - We’re not here to ease our reader into our story. When you’re writing a hook, you’re intentionally crafting a line that grabs the reader's attention right from the first word.
Mystery or intrigue - These are two ways you can create that engagement. Make your readers wonder about something bigger than that one line or invite them to a place far more interesting than their own.
Emotional response - The best hooks create an emotional response, whether it's curiosity, shock, excitement, or empathy.
Precision and clarity - Even mysterious hooks are intentional about their words. A good hook isn’t muddled and vague. Be precise with your words.
Set the tone - A great hook also acts as a taster for the tone of your novel. It wouldn’t make sense to open most horror novels with a joke, right? So use the hook to set the tone.
The Connection Between Hooks and Reader Engagement
As authors, we don’t just want reader engagement—we need it. These days, when attention spans are objectively shorter than ever, it’s important that we get our audience to commit the time needed to read our lengthy work.
Good hooks do this masterfully. This is your first impression, so make it count. Appeal to their emotions, intrigue them, and ultimately give them something to look forward to.
Integrating Hooks into Your Story
Possibly the most important element of a good hook is how it integrates into the lines that follow. Your first line is still just one of your lines. Here are three things you want to keep in mind to make sure your hook gets on with the rest of your words.
- Seamless transition - The transition from the hook to the rest of the narrative should be as natural as any other piece of your prose. Avoid a disconnect that can disappoint or mislead readers.
- Relevance - A good hook should be relevant to the story's broader themes or plot, ensuring it's not just a sensational line but a meaningful one.
- Authenticity - It’s weird to start your story or chapter off with a flowery, poetic line if you’re writing a fast-paced action thriller. Don’t twist your author voice to make a hook; make a good hook that works with your voice.
Examples of Good Hooks
Before we get some practice making great hooks, let’s take a quick look at some of the best openers out there. Note what works best, what doesn’t fit your style, and what inspires you.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Why it works: This opening juxtaposes extremes, instantly setting up a conflict and a sense of curiosity about the contrasting conditions.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Why it works: This hook introduces a fantastical element and a unique character, immediately drawing readers into a world of imagination.
"If you're going to read this, don't bother." - Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Why it works: It challenges the reader with reverse psychology, sparking intrigue and a bit of rebellious desire to read on.
"All this happened, more or less." - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Why it works: This hook immediately makes us question the truthfulness of the narrator, setting up both intrigue and something you don’t see every day.
"The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new." - Samuel Beckett, Murphy
Why it works: This hook's play on words and slight absurdity sparks interest in the unusual narrative style and tone.
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." - L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
Why It Works: This philosophical thesis statement invites reflection on memory and history, setting a contemplative mood for the story.
Techniques for Creating Hooks
Rather than just throw a list of hook-crafting techniques at you, I want to introduce you to a few options you can use to make good hooks yourself, then provide a quick exercise to get you some practice.
Is it mandatory homework? No. But these exercises will help you write better hooks.
1. Start in Media Res
In media res means starting your story in the midst of things, usually the inciting incident. Writing your hook to start your story in the middle of action or an important scene, bypassing preliminary exposition, can be incredibly effective.
Exercise: Write an opening sentence where your main character is in the midst of a critical or surprising situation. This could be waking up in an unknown place or in the middle of a heated argument.
2. Create Intrigue with a Question
One of the best ways to pique your reader’s curiosity is to use a rhetorical or direct question.
Exercise: Craft an opening line that poses an intriguing or interesting question about your character or setting. Avoid yes/no questions and aim for something that suggests a deeper story.
3. Paint a Vivid Picture
When you write a hook that uses descriptive language to create a vivid scene or image, you’re inviting your reader into your world. You’re bringing it to life for them and need to do it so well they feel compelled to learn more.
Exercise: Describe a setting or character in your opening line with vivid sensory details. Try to evoke emotions or a sense of atmosphere that will enthrall your reader.
4. Grab a Reader's Attention With a Startling or Shocking Statement
One of the best ways to grab someone’s attention is to give them something so unexpected or controversial that they can’t help but have an opinion about it.
Then they have to keep reading to either prove your statement wrong or see what the heck you’re talking about.
Exercise: Write an opening line that presents a shocking fact or confession. This can range in topic from “I only have ten hours left to live” to “Crabs are the peak of natural evolution.”
5. Leverage the Power of Dialogue
An opener crafted with dialogue can work for just about any type of hook. It excels, however, at raising questions or introducing conflict right away.
Exercise: Write an opening line of dialogue that hints at a conflict, secret, or character's personality. Ensure it's intriguing enough to make the reader want to know more.
A Good Hook is (Literally) Just the Beginning
Once you’ve sunk your fangs (or a genre-appropriate analogy for whatever you’re writing) into your reader with your opener, you need to seal the deal with the rest of your book.
That means understanding character development, plot structure, themes, exposition, dialogue, grammar rules, and so much more. Writing a book is a lot of work!
Don’t let it stress you out, though. In addition to giving you a 14-day free trial of the world’s best novel-writing platform, we have a ton of free resources for you to use to refine your writing. That includes hundreds of articles over at DabbleU, a free, non-spammy newsletter, and an e-book to help you go from idea to first draft that costs $0.00.
Click all those links to access those free resources, then go write a hook so good I can use it as an example in an article like this one.
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