Hey warriors! This post is the first in what might become a series of snippets from my journey as a writer. This post is on hooks, those first sentences meant to draw you in. A blogger and Ydubber I know, Lydia K, recently posted this post on her blog and it looked like so much fun that I thought I’d give it a go. So here we are today! I’ll be analyzing 10 of my hooks (even from different drafts) from worst to best and explaining why they’re bad or good in my opinion. Then I’ll share some of my favorite hooks from books with what I’ve learned from them! This will be a long post, but I hope it helps you! Let’s dive in!
Note: This is based on my own experience as both a reader and writer. Some things may not match your experience or your audience.
I began writing when I was about 7, but I really began to treat it as a passion and dream instead of a hobby when I was 12. Not because I knew how or knew what to say but because people began to really enjoy my words and I became more able to write large amounts. Here were some of the hooks of books that encouraged me to think I could:
If, by chance, you read the “Southern Cooking” magazine, you might find a wonderful article.Cooking Canine, age 10-11
Analysis: This hook is… something. The grammar and arrangement doesn’t present me well because it’s overloaded with comas. The lone adjective I used was nondescript, not drawing much interest.
What I could have done to improve it: If we remove “by chance” we lose two comas that muddy the sentence. We could also replace “wonderful” with a more drawing adjective to make us question what’s within the article.
Maddie Henderson was a student at the prestigious Hailee Quinn academy.Academy Action, age 11-12
Analysis: We began this one by stating a fact, which is my current favorite way to write a hook. However, this doesn’t leave us with much to question or prove. If I read this sentence now, I wouldn’t want to continue.
What I could have done to improve it: If I had begun with a fact that left room for questioning, the reader would have been forced to continue. “Maddie Henderson wasn’t your average student at your average school,” isn’t perfect either, but by stating something vaguely I make the reader more curious. How do we know this? What does that mean? It encourages them to continue.
“Elizabeth Jackson had always been part of the guardian ponies.”– The Pony Revenge, age 11-12
Analysis: This one is extremely similar to the previous example and has the same problem. However, I did make it slightly more curious. What are the guardian ponies? Is she a pony? Why has she always been involved?
What I could have done to improve it: This one needs to be vaguer still. “She had always been one of the revenge ponies,” is both clearer and more interesting. Who is she? What are they? We know “she” is a revenge pony, though, which means she is a pony. I prefer it, but that’s a personal preference.
Once I was 12, I really began typing up my stories. Typing them up instead of writing them by hand was far quicker, meaning I could write much more. I also felt extremely inspired because I could share writing more easily and could get help from new writer friends.
The 13th century scientist Eustace sniggered at the tool before him.Second Moon, age 12
Analysis: This hook is much better although the subject isn’t vague. Why is he sniggering? What is this tool? What is it for? This hook is one that makes us ask questions by diving straight into the narrative. I enjoy this one.
What I could have done to improve it: It could have done without mentioning that he was a 13th-century scientist in this portion. I could have just said “The scientist Eustace.” I can’t think of any other improvements.
“Intro to Atmosphere’s High School, by Ms. Solar Energy: Welcome to Atmosphere High, home of the Comets!”-Universe draft 1, age 12
Analysis: This isn’t a good hook at all, at least not in my opinion. It’s full of information we never see again in the story. We never again mention the Comets, so that shouldn’t matter. Ms. Solar Energy never appears again either. Those are about the most fascinating things in this hook. I also repeated “Atmosphere High” twice. It’s wordy and doesn’t have much connection to the plot.
What I could have done to improve it: This sentence really can’t be fixed. It’s the first sentence of a snippet the main character reads from a pamphlet so I could introduce the school. However I didn’t need to introduce it in that way. Always start with the protagonist in a chapter 1. If you do a prologue in third person, you can choose another character, but this strategy can cause us to fall in love with another character first and that can cause problems. The main character is meant to be most important, so starting with them makes it clear who’s priority from the beginning.
The short man with white hair that practically glowed smiled as he stared at the large map in front of him.Universe draft 2, age 13
Analysis: This is an example of starting a story with a prologue from the perspective of the villain. It works, but it can cause us to start sympathizing with him before we meet the main character. While you do want a villain you can believe in or even feel bad for, they can not be more loved than the main character.
What I could have done to improve it: Why is his hair important? I could easily have made it less central: “The short white-haired man smiled as he stared at the large map in front of him.” I also should have made it clear that he is not the protagonist. I need him to appear sinister or at least a little less likeable. “The short white-haired man smirked at the large map in front of him and gave it a quick nod.” This shows he has a plan and the smirk makes his intentions seem less friendly.
The long braid of periwinkle hair with silver highlights swung back and forth as Foggy Skye walked up the stairs nervously.Universe draft 3, age 14
Analysis: Again with the hair…. When you start with physical details, the reader is given random information that isn’t relevant to them yet. They haven’t had a reason to care about the character, let alone care what they look like.
What I could have done to improve it: Instead of using the hair for description, it could have set the mood. “The long braid swung back and forth gently across her back as Foggy Skye nervously walked up the stairs,” is a more interesting sentence. Why is she nervous? But it still doesn’t grab me as much. It’s not my favorite.
It was strange, but it was her.Little Red, age 13-14
Analysis: This is short and sweet, a declaration that we don’t understand unless we read more. This is much better. What’s strange? What does it mean, that it was her? However, the opening scene that followed had little relevance to the plot and did little for character building.
What I could have done to improve it: The sentence itself is good. However, I needed to put more thought into keeping the reader hooked and connecting the scene to the plot. The hook may be the first one or two sentences, but the reader needs to remain hooked throughout the story. Confusion and poorly written scenes don’t help that.
After I joined The Young Writers’ Workshop my writing greatly improved. I wrote my first novel-length story in less than a year.
As she gazed into the box, Eloise felt a tear fall.Box of Leaves, age 14
Analysis: This sentence isn’t awful, but it isn’t too drawing either. Yes, we wonder what this box is and why she’s crying, but we don’t care much for her yet. Our first impression of her is that she’s crying over a box.
What I could have done to improve it: This sentence comes across as quite dramatic and unnecessary. It would have been better to write something from just before that moment as the hook. “She hadn’t expected to find the box. But as she gazed into it, Eloise felt a tear fall, frozen in time.” This one is personal preference, though.
“When everyone you love runs from you, you start wondering if anyone will ever stay.”What Matters Most, age 15
Analysis: This one is the best hook I think I’ve ever written. Why? Because it states a thought as fact that makes you wonder who the character is, why they know this, and how they know this is true. It points us to their past as we dive into the present story. It uses simple language to describe a feeling, meaning it cuts deeper than flowery language. I recently revised this one and currently have no thoughts on how to improve it.
Some Favorite Hooks and Why They Work
These are some of my favorite hooks from best-selling authors.
The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum.The Joy-Luck Club, Amy Tan
Analysis: This one is powerful because it supplies interesting information but leaves us asking questions. Who is she? Why did she buy a swan? What did she buy it for? To find out, we have to keep reading.
“Before you agree to have Joseph come live with you, ” Mrs. Stroud said, “there are one or two things you ought to understand. “Orbiting Jupiter, Gary D. Schmidt
Analysis: When I read this line, I instantly wonder about many things. Who is Joseph? Who is he coming to live with? Who is Mrs. Stroud? What ought they understand? He also instantly makes Mrs. Stroud seem realistic by using common speech. We also are instantly plummeted into the narrator’s perspective. This is done extremely well.
Henry Smith’s father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.Trouble, Gary D. Schmidt
Analysis: Trouble immediately begins with the character and a belief he and his family have that directly affects the plot. This is actually one of the character’s misbeliefs. We also wonder who their father is and why he believes this. I definitely am hooked by a story starting with a fact or opinion that needs to be proved.
When did this fairytale become a nightmare?Dust, Kara Swanson
Analysis: By asking a vague question, Swanson plants the question and more questions in our minds. When did this fairytale become a nightmare? What fairytale? What happened? Who’s speaking? We are eager to learn more.
When writing a hook, consider these points:
- The hook is the first impression readers get of your story and your writing, right after the cover.
- The hook should be clear and express your writer’s voice clearly.
- If you begin with poor grammar and confusing words, your reader will not enjoy your story as much.
- The hook should not satisfy the reader. It is meant to pull them in by causing them to have questions that are only answered by reading further.
- A hook filled with information that doesn’t matter to the reader will not draw a reader.
- A hook that is irrelevant to the plot will lead the reader to the left when you need them to go right. It is more of a flashy distraction than a hook.
- Be careful who you use first in your story as they are the first person in the story the reader might get attached to.
- Short hooks and questions that are written well can cause the reader to ask lots of questions in a few words.
- Too much emotion in a hook is like switching channels to a death scene halfway through a show. You don’t care enough about the character to really feel the emotion and be affected by it.
- Facts and opinions make great hooks because a reader wonders how the character knows that or why they believe it. If these facts or opinions are meant to relate to your audience, they instantly attract those people.
- Using a misbelief or past pain in a hook can plunge us into the plot, although you don’t want to do this too quickly. Jumping into ice water isn’t fun.
- If you are writing in first person, the hook should instantly establish what the character thinks, hears, or sees.
I hope this post was helpful to you! Which hook was your favorite? What was something you learned? Was there anything you disagreed with? What’s your best hook? Let me know in the comments!