The Writer’s Toolbox: Hooks

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Most of us have had the concept of “hooks” in a story hammered into our heads. Hook the reader at the beginning and they will stay with you until the end, our teachers and amateur writing articles told us. But is that enough?

Have you ever been in a relationship where you were only hooked at the beginning? Was that enough? Successful relationships have hooks along the way—things that keep you intrigued and wanting to stay.

Turning to page one of a book is starting a relationship, however short or long. The reader is considering dedicating a decent amount of their time to this relationship, but they need a reason. You, the writer, give them a hook, a reason to start this relationship. But, you’ll also need to keep them hooked throughout the book.

Every scene should start off with a hook—not just the beginning of the story. This is the difference between a good story and a page-turner. Keep your readers wanting more by never giving them time to rest. If you implement the hook well enough, they won’t want to.

One of the most effective ways of using the hook is starting the scene off with one, and then answering that hook by the end of the scene. Think of it as a book within a book—every scene should tell its own story. Perhaps something to keep in mind as you write scenes is a question: Would I be comfortable reading this scene as an excerpt? Imagine you are asked to read a section of your book aloud to a group of people who have not read it. Are there sections of the book you think would be boring to strangers? Which scenes are stronger? Compare the two and revamp the weak ones.

Not every scene can start off with a killer hook. Not every scene should. But is the scene starting off this way because it doesn’t call for the hook, or because the true beginning has been buried under fluff? Be wary of scenes that walk the reader through menial tasks, or actions unimportant to the story. Most of us start our day brushing our teeth—we don’t have to watch our characters do it. Cut to the chase, even in slower scenes. There’s a reason we don’t see many bathroom scenes in books…

Every hook should create an integral part of the story, a piece of the picture you’re trying to show, bit by bit. If you find a weak scene in your story, play around with the launch. Experiment with hooks. Try telling the end of the scene at the beginning. Foreshadow. There are many tools in the writer’s arsenal to keep a reader interested throughout a scene.

Keep practicing, and whatever you do, never stop writing.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.


  1. Jeanna Tillery on

    This advice was so meaningful and true. Often as I read, I find myself initially intrigued by a writer, the themes and descriptions, the promise of a good, well told story. And then, as I read on, I get bored with the overly descriptive writing, the unnecessary details and the lack of an ongoing story. I tried to figure out why I got bored so quickly and wondered if I had attention deficit disorder. I am determined to avoid this habit in my own writing. Thank you for giving words to my frustration, and direction to my process.

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