Many writers have heard of hooks, and have heard we should use them in our manuscripts as a tool to engage readers and keep them engaged, but what we’re not told is how to identify what a hook is or where to use them to maximize them other than in that key opening line.
In WRITING ACTIVE HOOKS, we’ll look at five specific types of hooks. There are more, but these are the most common, and the most universal, which means by understanding how to craft them, most readers will respond to them. Some will resonate more with you than others. That’s true with all readers, too. The important element to remember is to use hooks wisely and judiciously through your manuscript and to understand their intent.
Why? Because hooks help guide your reader deeper and deeper into your book. They are road signs that intentionally entice and direct them to turn the page and keep reading.
The intention of the first line of your book is to get the second line read. The intention of the second line is to compel the reader to read until the end of the first paragraph. The intention of the first paragraph is to get the first page read. The intention of the end of the first page is to get your reader to turn the page and keep going.
But it doesn’t stop there. The intention of the end of a chapter or scene is to compel the reader to keep reading, at least begin the next scene or chapter where you thread in hooks. The intention of the end of your book is to entice the reader to pick up the next book in the series or, if you’re writing a stand alone or single title book, to feel compelled to find more of your books or find out about you as an author.
The strongest hooks raise questions or reactions in a reader. A reaction, whether reluctant or not, is subconsciously drawn that makes the reader want to discover more. It’s not the kinds of questions raised that will take the reader to the end of the book to discover the answers, though some may have elements of that included. No, it’s smaller increments of curiosity we’re raising with our word choices and strategic use of hooks. We’re seeking the kinds of responses that pay off for both reader and author.
Not knowing anything else about the story, does the above first line of a story imply danger to someone? If you can say yes, even if you as a reader don’t yet feel the immediacy of this danger, then you have the Danger hook.
NOTE: Danger is relative to your character and the situation, as well as to you as the reader.
There is little action in the line above, but there is danger. Sometimes action goes hand-in-hand with danger, and at other times, one or the other aspects of the hook—action or danger—applies. It’s still one hook. Not two.
What if the author, MacHale wrote a rough first draft without hooks?
ROUGH DRAFT: Missiles had been hitting near the headquarters for some time.
Notice how the above draft creates a more passive statement. It’s a statement of fact and, without any further information, the reader might assume this was being accepted as the normal state of events. Using the past tense decreases the emotional impact of the Action/Danger hook. The sense of urgency that something bad could happen at any moment has been watered down so the hook no longer applies. The danger, or threat, of the missile is past, so the hook is not as strong as it could be.