Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hook Writing Game

First off, big welcome to my new followers *waves*. Glad you’re here. Hope you stick around!

So a week or so ago, I shared my query letter with you guys, but as my agent’s super-awesome, could-not-be–better assistant, Sarah Goldberg pointed out, the query is only the beginning. The sample pages have to be pretty rock-on, too.

This got me thinking about opening hooks. Like what makes them good? And how do you write one?

I have no idea what the answers are to these questions. The best I can offer you is an analysis of some of my favorite hooks as a reader and then tell you about the hook game, aka a writing exercise for honing your hooking skills (say THAT 3 times fast, why don’t you?).


“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This one has two things going for it for me as reader. (1) Voice. This is the voice of a storyteller, the kind that makes you want to lean back on your pillow, close your eyes, and get lost inside this world. (2) Surprise. The fact that the Dursleys are proud to be normal surprises me as reader.  I usually expect the opposite.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Stephen King, The Gunslinger

This one is easy. It’s got conflict, right from the beginning.  It also creates an immediate goal for the reader — I want the gunslinger to catch up. Right away, I’m rooting for the hero.

“They shoot the white girl first.” Toni Morrison, Paradise

This one has conflict and surprise, but it also sets an immediate mood. It warns me this is going to be dark and difficult. It almost dares me to continue reading.

“There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me—not forever, but periodically.” Janet Evanovich, One for the Money

Yowzers. This one hooks me in three ways, voice, mood (funny in this case), and conflict.


So from this little analysis, I’ve identified five ways to a hook a reader, through  voice, surprise, conflict, goal, and mood. And I would argue that most successful stories use all of these techniques some way or another in the opening pages.  

Now, I’m not going to claim even for a minute that I’m an expert on writing hooks. I’m really not, but I can say that I’ve spent a lot of time practicing how to write hooks. And no matter where you’re at in your writing career, practice will always help you improve.

So for practice, I recommend a little game that should be played with a writing partner (for the record, I didn’t make up this game but learned it from another writing colleague who’d learned it from someone else, etc).

Here’s how it works:

1.   For the first week, you and a friend decide on the number of hooks you will write as potential starts to stories over the next week. (When I played the game, my writing partner and I chose 10 lines).
2.   At the end of the week, share the lines with one another.  
3.   For the second week and all that follow, continue to write 10 brand new hooks, but also write 3 opening paragraphs, using any of the hooks written the previous week, no matter who wrote them.

Make sense? So every week after the first one, you’ll come up with 10 new hooks and 3 new paragraphs, all of which, if you’re lucky, might turn into genuine stories. And feel free to lower those numbers if it seems intimidating.

Now the game might sound silly, but it works. It’s both fun and challenging at the same time. Your partner will show you things you’ve never thought of before and vice versa. You’ll inspire and challenge each other.

You’ll find yourself wanting to write an opening hook so good that your partner will be unable to resist writing an opening paragraph from it. And if you play it long enough, you’ll begin trying new types of hooks, ones which employ a voice you’ve never used before or which are so strong, an entire novel might spring out from it.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, my current favorite hook is this one from my fabulous critique partner Lori M. Lee’s current WIP: “Death lived in a high-rise penthouse at the center of the South District.”

Yowzers…you got me there, babe.

So what's your favorite hook? And if you're in a sharing mood, feel free to post some opening lines. I'd love to read them.

As always, good luck and happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. What a fun and challenging game! I think I will attempt this, although maybe not 10 LOL. That does sound intimidating.


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