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What is a Hook?

by Ana Howard

Many agents and editors, when reading manuscripts today, are looking for a strong opening ‘hook.’ But often authors struggle with how to use this device and ask the question, ‘What makes a strong writing hook?’

A hook sentence, often called a narrative hook or literary hook, is a sentence in the first paragraph of the manuscript that either asks a questions or makes the reader ask a question and therefore captivates the reader. Frequently it is the first sentence of the book.

Many different strategies work to grab the reader’s attention. The following are some examples:

  1. Begin with an actual question:  How do you forgive yourself for destroying a life?
  2. Start with an exaggeration or exclamation:  He was a useless person.
  3. Use juxtaposition:  Speaking of love, what’s hate got to do with it?
  4. Employ a simile, metaphor and/or quotation:  My mother used to say, ‘Life is a bowl of cherries,’ but she was dead wrong.
  5. Open with a vivid description or scene:  When the tornado hit, the first thing I saw were corn cobs flying toward me out of the strangely green light.
  6. You may also start with a dilemma:  At the age of six, I had to choose between my mother and my father.

Spend some time developing your hook sentence, and don’t try to write it first. Often this will come to you as you’re writing. Make sure you’re beginning the story at the right point, and keep the hook sentence short. A powerful opening is essential is today’s market, but the rest of your novel must deliver on the promise of that strong beginning. Utilize readers, writing groups, and professional editors to make sure that all aspects of the novel rise to the same level.

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