The Importance of a hook

July 12, 2010

First lets talk about what a hook is. When you use Google to define: hook you will find a definition that is about two pages long with so many different meanings that I think it is important to make it clear what I am talking about.

A hook in the way I am thinking is the first few lines of a story that get the reader turn that first page. These first few lines are what convince someone picking up your book in a book store to take that book to the counter and pay for it. But even before that, These lines are what convince an editor or agent to not hit that big red reject button on their desk.

The truth is that even though these lines may not much to do with your plot, introduce your main character or even have much to do with the rest of the book, they do have to do something. They have to entice your reader, be that an editor or someone picking your book of off the shelf for the first time, to actually spend the time to read the rest of your story.

Typically when you send a story to a dead tree publisher, the first page is all you get to impress them. So beyond not making any typos, getting your font correct and spacing what are you left with. The answer is half a page of nearly blank space, and 12 to 13 lines of your story. Those first 13 lines have to convince the editor that they should even bother turning the page. This is where your hook has to be. Let me say this again. You’ve only got 13 lines to convince an editor to keep reading your story. That really not a lot, so those lines have got to be good.

This is a bad example because it is longer than the important first few lines, but think of the beginning of every James Bond movie. 007 pulls the parachute rip cords on the guards and they go flying out of the back of the truck. He jumps into the horse trailer, and flies away in a mini jet, that has to them dodge the stingers that were fired at it, and though it all he manages to blow up his target. Even if that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, you are hooked, you want to see this guy pull more unbelievable stuff like that, just because it was so cool.

So what can you do? Here are a couple of steps that I used when looking at my first 13 lines.

Step 1: Make sure your starting the story in the right spot. This can be pretty tricky and it really varies depending on the length of your story, but if you are writing a short story, you really should start at a point that gives the reader something to hold on to. This beginning of a short should be something that interrupts your protagonists normal routine enough that we are interested. A good example would be something like, The police just showed up at the door. Unless your character lives in a neighborhood where this is a nightly occurrence, this would be something that would change his or her normal routine. This does not mean you have to be in the middle of a life or death situation, but but you should be in some sort of action, something that gets the ball rolling.

Step 2: Practice writing your first 13 lines, it is not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Then when you think you have something give just those lines to someone else. If they are not banging on your door at three in the morning to get the rest of the story, maybe you should work on your hook.

In the end if you are getting ready to submit a story anywhere, have someone look at your first 13 lines. Make sure that they are compelling. If you need help, there are forums out there that specialize in writing those first 13 lines, use them.

As a side note, If you send a story into Flying Island Press, I am one of the people who gets to see if first. I am one of the people that get to say yes this goes onto the next level. I feel obligated to read your whole story. But I will be honest with you, if your first 13 line are not compelling the rest of your story had better knock my socks off.

What about the rest of the story you ask? Well I will save that for another post. But first things first, hook me, then we will worry about the rest of it.

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