IWSG #21 – Hooking and I Don’t Mean Street Walking or Rug Making

IWSG buttonThis post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.

~~~oOo~~~

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Diane | Sheryl | Lyn | Michelle | Stephanie

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Now back to our regular broadcast. hehehe

I recently submitted some work for critique. I was pretty sure I had done a good job, but they said there was no hook. This is the second time I’ve been given this feedback.

Light bulbs flash. Bright red lettering with arrows pointed downward say:

FIX THIS!

So I did some reading. Everyone seemed to agree that the hook is why a reader keeps reading, but…BUT not everyone agrees on how it is done.

Emotional Reaction

The character shows emotion that the reader relates to and click it’s magic.

High Stakes

The reader understands the stakes and click they sympathize. More magic.

Open Question

A questions arises from the scene and the reader must know more. Magic. More magic and then an explosion of sparks.

So, I’m feeling pretty low. Anyone out there have an opinion on hooking. *innocent smile* Keep it clean people, I have a child’s mind.

*facepalm* Okay that didn’t come out right, but I still want to know how you’d approach the problem. πŸ™‚

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98 responses to “IWSG #21 – Hooking and I Don’t Mean Street Walking or Rug Making

  1. What often draws me to a novel is the premise, but what pulls me in and keeps me there is the voice, the writing style etc. I’ve read novel descriptions that sound amazing, but then the actual story/writing doesn’t hold me. So, I guess I was “hooked” at first but then I wriggled off the line? πŸ™‚

  2. I often wonder if my novels are short on hook. Interesting summary, Anna.

  3. I love a good hook regardless if it is emotional or whatever and I do think they are necessary. I really hope you get yours all figured out Anna!

  4. I believe all three of those are considered hooks and it depends on what suits your story. There is more than one type. This is my favorite book about it. It was a good read, kept me involved and I learned a lot. Hooked by Les Edgeton (One of my very favorite) HERE

    All those hooks along with story quality keep me reading, Maybe its the intensity of the presentation of question, emotion, or high stakes, or the voice that kicks starts the hook. Probably which hook depends on the type mystery, fantasy, sci-fi , adventure, romance, as which one works best for that. You might use them all in the right story too.

    I think its like all elements of writing just developing the skill and recognizing when it works and what you like. That book helped me understand hooks better. Reading it got me exciting about my writing. I do need to read it again.. This book is one of the few I think a must have on the book shelves like a dictionary or thesaurus.

    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  5. Hooks are subjective to some extent. What hooks one reader might not hook another. A while back, I read a book called Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton. It’s a great book on focusing on the beginning of a novel.

  6. Kristen Lamb also mention Les Edgerton’s Hooked (will be buying the book soon) as well. And from what she says about hooking readers and from my own reading experience, it’s a variety things that happens in the beginning of a story to keep a reader turning the page until they reach the end. Basically, the incident (the core of the novel and how the MC deals with it) that brings up more questions than answers. And as a very curious person, I’ll keep turning the page to find those answers. Then add on top an unique voice. I see a ‘hook’ as a delicious recipe and that writers have to gather the right ingredients to blow our readers away. So experiment away on your hook, find what works that you could build on, maybe change the scene or character introduced in the hook, keep a thesaurus handy and get Edgerton’s book asap (know I will).

  7. The easiest way to try to get a hook is don’t start at the beginning. Think about how late in the story you can start and try to start after that.
    You’re after making people understand as quickly as possible what is motivating your character.

  8. I think you’ve already received some excellent advice here. My only suggestion is to think about hooks as you read, or even as you select the books or stories you WANT to read, and then ask what it is that “hooked” you. I have to say, your blog titled hooked me, so there ya go!

  9. Sometimes I am hooked from the first few characters, but I think it depends on the genre. For example a murder mystery opening with the scene of the murder. Where an urban fantasy might take a little while as we get to know the world and the protagonist.

  10. We’re all different. For example, I always toss aside books with action opens. I hate being dropped in the middle of a story. I read for character. For me, the hook is a compelling protagonist or two, not a central conflict. Once I’m intrigued by character (I don’t have to like him or her), any conflict, whether inner struggle or situational, will β€œhook” me.

    We should all write what we’d like to read, Anna. Think about what hooks you as a reader and go from there.

    VR Barkowski

  11. Hooks are a pretty common problem. In my experience, they’re usually buried in a lower paragraph or page. I try and underline sentences that grab me way down the page!

    Happy New Year and thanks for supporting me on my blog πŸ™‚

  12. I like the innocent smile. #innocentlysmirksback I’m sighing, too, because I wish I had a magic answer for you. For me it all has to do with voice and connecting with the MC. It’s doesn’t have to be a deep, longing connection. Just a snippet that makes me go ‘Hmm…’ I need to know more about this character. That can even be done through and element in his/her world. Sometimes an intriguing world element gets me. All the best to you in 2016!

  13. those are all great ways to hook – you definitely need to grab the reader and relate to them, even though all readers are different and each interprets the scene in her own way. think about books you just couldn’t put down and ask yourself what was it that made you love it? finding out what the crazy character would do next? unpredictability? excitement? a problem they were so close to solving and you knew the answer but she didn’t? many times a paradox or twist is a great way to hook a reader too.
    good luck and happy 2016!

  14. That’s a hard one, mostly because it’s so subjective. Also, fellow writers are harsh critics, especially the more analytical ones they’ve become emotionally detached from the page. So, my question to you is: did you hand your piece over to many readers, people who have no stake other than enjoying a story? I would ask them first. The advantage: they are not analytical and they can speak from true emotional reaction. The drawback: they are not analytical and therefore if they detect something wrong they can’t tell you why. Bottom line: you need both, but I would ask the readers first and then go to fellow writers. But ask many because chances are, there’s nothing wrong with your piece, it’s just that it’s so subjective and it appeals to some but not to all, you just happened to ask the wrong people. πŸ™‚

  15. I love hooks and to be hooked. However, I’ve found that what hooks one might not hook the other. It’s that can’t please them all thing.

  16. I agree with a previous comment – your post title hooked me in so I think you already know what you’re doing with hooks! I wish I had some good advice but it looks like you’re already received tons. Good luck!

  17. Like some other people have expressed, I think hooks are mostly subjective. I don’t read crime thrillers, so no matter how engaging the ‘hook’ I’m not going to be sucked into the story. I also think the hook depends on the genre. Different genres need different things presented right away. For example, when I’m writing romance, the reader wants to know right away who’s in love and why they should care.

    Someone once said–and I can’t remember who now–when you write a book and you go back to edit, throw the first three pages away immediately, because you probably haven’t gotten to the real action until three pages in anyway. I don’t know if you should take this advice literally, but it gives one food for thought.

  18. Wow, you certainly wrote a relevant post, Emaginette. Hooks. What’s it all about? Alfie? Keep reading. All these comments point to the same thing. What hooks you during a good read? What hooks you into watching a full movie? I love studying my favourite novels. And I just completed a story breakdown for The Bourne Identity so I could identify what makes a good story. While hook is one aspect, there are so many more. It’s about good storytelling. I still studying your favourite novels is a good way to find the answers. List a few questions, like Why does this scene work? Why do I care? Why am I turning the page? and I bet the answers will fuel your creativity. Because if they can do it, you can do it! Happy New Year.

  19. One comfort for you, I hope, is that writing with a hook is a skill that requires practice. Even a writer with natural talent still needs to refine that talent. Think of your favorite book. What hooked you on the story? Have you ever read something you had low expectations on and found you connected and loved the story? What did you love about it?

    The DaVinci Code to me is not a well written book. But it’s insanely readable. It’s plot driven with an interesting premise. The chapters are very short, sometimes only 3 or 4 pages, and end on an unresolved note or a sign of trouble. You MUST turn the page to find out what happens. That is the genius of the book and why it sold a zillion copies; interesting premise + fast pace and hooks. Not every book can be like that (nor should it, since the main character is super bland and the writing was sort of basic), but using an idea like short chapters that end on a mini-cliffhanger you can apply to any writing. Thinking of an interesting viewpoint on an expected topic, making the character instantly likeable or interesting are all things you can use.

    And time! It takes awhile. I’m learning every day πŸ™‚

  20. Good question and great advice – I’ll be following some of that, as we all need this help. The first pages are always the hardest!
    http://yolandarenee.blogspot.com/

  21. Great Post. Great Question. I don’t know, you got me hooked. πŸ™‚

  22. I’m still learning, but I do have a background in sales I fall back on for this sort of thing. The hook is similar to the Call to Action, but the difference is that the entire passage should build to something that makes it nearly impossible for the reader to put down. It is a story in and of itself, one that starts off gently, rouses as it continues, and builds to a climax.

    That’s the best way I know how to put it, for now. This is what happens when I start reading blog before coffee. πŸ™‚ Good luck.

  23. Hooking a reader is tough. I try to do it within the first paragraph and extend it to draw the reader right through the first chapter to make them want more. High stakes is usually my game. I agree with Cherie’s suggestion about Les Edgerton’s book. It was fantastic! Good luck.

  24. Hooked? You mean this post is about writing a hook for a story?Phooey..LOL Your title hooked me in for sure! A great hook AND a fantastic book cover will get some interest. The reader will pick it up if the book cover catches their eye and the first few lines of the story hooks them in to read the story, if they like it. I discovered most of my stories begin with a character exclamation. I don’t know why, but that’s how I get into the action and hope it draws the reader in too. You can do it. Enjoyed your post.

  25. There are all sorts of hooks, but I think the one that works best is to leave a question in the reader’s mind. Something intriguing enough to make the reader want to read at least a few more pages to find out the answer to the question.

  26. An agent once told me he looks for character and conflict in the opening pages of a manuscript. A good hook involves an engaging character and a hint of the conflict to come. Easy. Right? πŸ˜›

  27. I think those three things are it. It has to be something readers will connect with universally, like a situation.

  28. Very interesting topic! I’m learning a lot from the comments folks are leaving.

    By the way, the title of your blog post made me smile as I used to do rug hooking πŸ™‚

  29. I always start my books leading into some sort of action because my books are all romantic-suspense. You could read the first chapter of a few books on your general to see how others did it.

  30. I think any hook should be at least 2 fold. There should be one in the first line, and one at the end of each chapter–preferably different ones.

  31. You’ve given me one more thing to think about as I get back in gear to finish the latest revision of “Sasha’s Journey”. I know I need to print the whole thing out and just read it when I’m done this time, and now I’m adding one more thing to my list of things to look for. Great post! Good luck finding that hook.

  32. I wish I could come up with a perfect solution for you, but that’s just not possible. I never know if I’ve got the right hook until it hits me in the face, and viola, I know that’s it. It’s often the last thing I write before I think the book’s finished.

  33. πŸ™‚ :)A big smile to start off and cheer you up!
    I tend to follow (albeit loosely) a method that I learned from an English writer. She (sorry I can’t remember her name) suggested that all stories should have the following elements: Problem, Obstacle, Complication, Predicament, Crisis and Climax. This formula has helped me in the past. My own novel begins with an explosion and goes on from there but this ‘thrown into the action beginning’ is not for everyone and I had to go back and ‘go deeper’ with my characters in order to tell a more rounded story. I am currently reading a cozy crime which concentrates heavily on the main character Myrtle in the opening chapters before we get to find out there is a dead body in her garden. I am thoroughly enjoying this genre and approach too. I hope you find your way and don’t stay down too long. We have all been there and can fully understand. Keep going and stay true to the story you want to tell. All the best. You can do it!

  34. Ha, I don’t think I can bring up anything that hasn’t been said already. For me, it’s the voice with a bit of tension. Maybe action tension, maybe emotional tension, but the voice will usually hold me over until the tension comes along.

    Best of luck hooking your reader!

  35. Hooks are hard. The first chapter is always my bugbear 😦

  36. Ha, wish I had the answer πŸ˜‰
    Plus, what hooks one person, doesn’t necessarily hook another. Go figure.

  37. What hooks me – isn’t the end of a chapter hook – it’s the story. But you may have just been told that a whole bunch of time in the above comments πŸ™‚

  38. It may sound silly.. especially as I never read other people’s comments (I don’t want to be influenced) but you have to be a good reader to be a great writer… It’s the voice that always keeps me hooked.

    Find your voice, you’ll find – and keep – your readers πŸ™‚

    Best wishes!!

  39. It’s tricksy, the hook. When something is too obviously a hook, I feel manipulated and step back from the narrative (as a reader), but at the same time, a good storyteller does decide what to tell you and what to with-hold to build tension. I suspect that there isn’t a single answer (as always seems to be the case when the question matters). It’s probably a case of what’s best for the particular story you’re working on now.

    • Thank you. I see now that I haven’t learned all there is to hooking a reader. All I can do is try some of the suggestions until I find one that fits. πŸ™‚

  40. This is such a great question to bring up! From time to time I will read a manuscript as a favor, and this is a common problem (and one I face myself with every story). Too often a writer will start out with some backstory or explanation, rather than dropping me into some sort of action…and that doesn’t mean a car crash or something “big,” but the story needs some immediate movement of some kind. I agree with others, what hooks some of us won’t hook others in. Sometimes I read literary fiction and can’t find the hook at all, other than some nice writing.

    I would suggest asking your readers if they have any ideas about what would “hook” your particular story for them. If I see this problem in something I’ve read, I usually offer a suggestion as to what would work for me as a reader. The writer doesn’t have to take my advice, but I can usually pinpoint a different starting place.

  41. Yikes, that’s a tough one. I’m good with hooks, but I keep writing these anti-heroes that agents have a difficult time with. “Can you make your protagonist be less of an asshole?” is a question I’ve heard more than once.

    I think I got my hooking skills from being a journalist, where the first sentence is everything. This is one tip that’s worked for me: think of the first thing you’d tell your best friend about the story. That’s your hook.

    Hope that helps!

  42. That is a tough question. I write non-fiction and I put it all out there, the ‘what’ in the first chapter. After then its when, where, why and so on. There are a lot of good suggestions here, what a smart group we have!

  43. You have so many great answers here and I think the best advice you’ve received is that it is like voice, it is subjective and what hooks one reader will differ from what hooks another. I read mostly crime fiction, thrillers, suspense and mysteries and I expect to be hooked in a big way, right away. While I agree that I need to care about the characters, I can only read about character for so long. Those fabulous or not or not so fabulous, perhaps evil characters must being doing something that grabs my attention and they need to get to it fast. My attention span is short and my time is valuable and the older I get, the less time I find that I am willing to give a book to capture my attention. I expect the hook to serve a multi purpose or at a minimum a dual purpose, but if I have to pick one, I like immediately feeling tension and the story posing a question that I’m dying to find the answer to. So, of course, I’m compelled to turn the page to find the answer. Others mentioned this also … tension, tension and more tension. Show me conflict and stakes. Show me the main character in jeopardy and the stakes and I will want to read more. I will be more compelled to keep reading if the chapters are short.

    I hope this helps. And I also agree with everyone else. The title of your blog post hooked me. It grabbed my attention and you kept it all the way through as well.

    Best of luck and Happy New year.
    Melissa Sugar
    http://melissasugarwrites.com

  44. Glad to be a part of your blog tour! Hope you get lots of sales this week.

    I am a firm believer in the “Goal Motivation Conflict” method. That’s a book by Debra Dixon that was published a long, long time ago! (Back before the turn of the century.) Every character in your book wants something, there’s a reason they want it, and there’s something in the way of them getting it. There’s a dark moment toward the end, then all is resolved. I start there…but I struggle with that dark moment because I don’t like to make my characters suffer!

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

  45. I’m with Stephanie. I want to see a goal in the beginning, with obstacles that the character has to overcome. I do care for an engaging voice as well.

  46. jennifer@badbirdreads

    I am fine with any hook as long as it calls to me in some way.

  47. The above blog title hooked me…immediately. πŸ™‚
    Whatever you did with the title, just transfer it to the story…hope that helps?
    (I’ll pop by your blog tour hosts when I get a moment)

  48. You’ve had loads of great advice here! A hook could be a really arresting first line. Those are hard to do. High stakes are a must, of course, but for me a really unusual situation on the first page will always prompt me to read on to find out what the heck’s going on.

If you're new to writing, ask me anything and if you're experienced, feel free to share what you know. Learning something new in the craft is always welcome.

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