Snapshot: My Best and Worst Hooks (+ What I’ve Learned)

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.


Age 10-12

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.

Age 12-14

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.

Age 14-15


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.

Conclusion

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!

Why I Journal + A Peek Into My Journal

Hey, warriors! How are you doing today? I’m excited, since I get to talk about a big change I recently made in my life in today’s post! I’m going to tell you the reasons I journal, show you my journal, and give you my best journaling tips. Let’s dive in!


Why I Journal

On May 18 this year, I made a choice. I was already planning on launching my blog on May 20th, the nine year anniversary of the tornado that changed my young life, so, after reading an inspirational magazine(don’t judge ok? Magnolia Journal is helpful) I decided to call the day my new year. Kaley’s New Year. You may already know the details of that from this post on my private blog (sorry if I don’t let you in; it’s private for a reason. Still, I might if you request it.) but one of the changes I decided to make was to start journaling.
So I did; on May 19th I was so excited I wrote an introduction and from May 20th on I’ve written an entry every day possible. I try to start each day with the date, a word of the day, and the time my first entry starts. Inside I list what needs done and, at the end of my day, I recap just a little and rate my day. Some days I’ve had insanely short entries and skipped several parts but I’ve tried my best to write one every day. I’ve only missed two days this far and I’m at over 50 pages.
But why do I journal? Because I need to be freely confined. I need a plan each day, but I also love to be creative and able to do whatever I feel like doing. I have certain things that need done, but I also try to have fun and chill time. I journal to remember, to mark my growth. I journal to process what’s happening to me and I journal to vent feelings and thoughts I just don’t need in my way. I journal to figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing and I journal to figure myself out. It’s been amazing.

A Peek in My Journal

Here’s a snippet of my journal…. It might not all make sense and it might be a little weird but it’s who I am. I like it. (Click on the pictures to see them better.)

So You Want To Journal?

  • Here are some things to keep in mind if you journal or want to start journaling:
  • Journaling isn’t hard! You don’t need to write five pages every day. Last night I wrote less than five sentences. That’s fine! If you need to skip a day, don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay.
  • You don’t need a fancy journal. I’m using a fairly small one that fits in my back pack by Soul Scripts, my favorite journal brand, but it was a gift. Any journal works fine!
  • Try and make a set time to journal each morning and evening if you can. It’s good to start the day with goals and end with reflection time. But if you only have ten minutes to journal a day and it’s at lunch time, that’s still fine!
  • If you didn’t notice, journaling is forgiving. Why? Because a book can’t talk back and it’s whole job is to help you learn and grow into a healthier, stronger, wiser person. It isn’t very healthy or wise to beat yourself up.
  • I love to start each entry with a word and its definition when possible because it gives me something to think about as I dive into my day.
  • I also love to end the day with a rating and a short bit about why I rated it that way. It shows me what I like and what I don’t like and I get to know myself even better.
  • A journal with blank spaces for page numbers is amazing because you can fill them in as you reach them. It’s so thrilling to realize, “hey! I’ve written twenty pages!”
  • Be honest with yourself. Some days aren’t good days and you don’t need to pretend they were. But often, bad days have some highlights. Don’t drop the good all together, but know that there’s a little light even in the rain and that it’s going to rain sometimes.
  • I took notes from a conference in my journal at one point and wrote twenty pages in two days. Your journal doesn’t just have to be for to-do lists and reflections. It holds anything and everything!
  • I try to bring my journal with me when I go places because sometimes you need to calm down even in public and a journal is a place for silent ranting. It’s also a continuous check-list with things you need to do and things you want to do, as well as dates of when things happened. It’s a great thing to have on hand at any time.
  • A journal is great inspiration and practice for authors, too! If you keep one, don’t slack on your writing skills because this is a place where you want to put words on a page daily. Make it worth it!

I hope this post was helpful! Do you journal? Do you want to try? What journals do you like? How do you journal? Let me know in the comments!

How I Write: 26+ Things You Should Know About Your Main Characters

Hello again, everyone! Welcome or welcome back to Words! Today’s How I Write post is on characters. In my experience as a reader, characters are more important than plot, because if we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the plot. You need both the person and the journey: without a person we care about, the journey doesn’t matter to us. I’ve been researching characters over the past few months and here’s some of what I’ve found. Here’s how I plan out my characters. (You can always read the other How I Write posts here.)


Step One: Meet The Characters

First, I plan them out the first time with just a list. A pantser could stop right here if they wanted. I also try and take some notes as I write about the things I decide along the way. Maybe you insert that they like mint chocolate chip ice cream and had a bad experience with strawberry. That probably won’t change, so remember it. Sometimes I forget to take notes as I write (because who really has time to jot down everything in both the book and the notes?), which is why I’m learning to read through and list that stuff after I write the first draft, too. Here’s what my character list for my book What Matters Most would look like:

  1. Amelia (She’s a scatterbrain, and she loves attention)
  2. Clover (quiet)
  3. Trixie (Not chatty but not silent.)
  4. Noah
  5. Brock (football player)
  6. Ryleigh (insecure; dealing with a lot)
  7. Zara
  8. Wyatt (fallen into peer pressure and seems shallow)

Step Two: Get To Know Them

As I work more, I plan out the key details. Sometimes that’s before the first draft, sometimes it’s during the first draft. But remember: the strongest characters are people we can believe in before we create their journey. The character defines the journey, and it shouldn’t be the other way around, which means you need most of this information before you decide on the plot. These are things that matter to them and what made them who they are. You might be asking “Wait. Don’t I need to find their fear, misbelief, and desire first?” I would say no! Why? Well, do you always know what your own misbeliefs, fears, and desires are when you first embark on a journey? I don’t! But I do know what I care about (which dictates my desires), what I’m passionate about (which has to do with my beliefs), and what I’ve been through (which is the root of my fears). Here’s what one of my character’s brief lists looks like:

Trixie

  1. Art obsessed
  2. Not fake (and proud of it)
  3. Born in Mexico (and proud of it)
  4. Not her mom, sister, or dad. Just Trixie.

If you’re struggling to come up with a list of your own, think about their personality, their skills, their talents, their weaknesses, and their back story. If you could choose only a few things to highlight about this character in your story, what would be most important?


Step Three: Take a Walk In Their Shoes

Some people like details more than others. Some just see where the story takes their characters and others stress about knowing their character’s brain inside and out. Most people agree, though, that you should know their deepest desires, fears, and misbeliefs, as well as what lead to these desires, fears, and misbeliefs. Think of this as stepping into who they are. You can start with the easy questions, and order them so they get harder, forcing you deeper into their heart. Peel back who they are, layer by layer, until you reach their heart. Here are the questions I ask my characters. You can ask them in any order but this order is my favorite.

  1. First and last name
  2. Height
  3. Age
  4. Birthday
  5. Middle name
  6. Ethnicity
  7. Place of birth
  8. Favorite things (this can be a whole list of its own as well)
  9. Happiest memory
  10. Favorite thing about their self
  11. Hobbies
  12. Dream job
  13. Aesthetic
  14. Crush/ romantic partner
  15. Things they’re bad at
  16. Pet peeves
  17. Things they hate (this can be a whole list of its own)
  18. Most embarrassing memory
  19. Biggest secret
  20. Weaknesses (Especially the fatal flaw that causes them the most pain in the story)
  21. Strengths (Especially the one most highlighted in the story)
  22. Smaller desires (eg. to publish an article, to visit Paris, to get a new bike)
  23. Smaller fears (eg. spiders, the dark, heights)
  24. Their deepest desire
  25. Their greatest fear
  26. Misbelief

“What about their appearance?” you might ask. “Don’t I need to know what they look like?” Yes, but you probably already have a picture in your head as soon as your character ventures into being. If you don’t, the best way I’ve found to figure out what they look like is to make a bitmoji or animoji of them. You can also find a face claim online, a picture of a real person that you think looks like your character. But don’t waste time on finding the perfect face for them. The reader will probably imagine them their own way, anyway. A story is about a character’s heart, mind, and life, not their face.

Now, as you dive into writing, remember this: no first draft is perfect, but they often make the best plans ever. If you decide your story is worth the effort and struggle it takes to edit, revise, and even redraft, make sure that you take a break to go through all of the questions you can find because at this point you should have all of the information you will need. If there are any holes you find that seem really important, now’s the time to figure them out before you dive deeper. The biggest problem I had with my first sci-fi fantasy novel was that I didn’t take the time to character build or world build until just before the third draft. This caused a lot of problems; I had many scenes that conflicted each other, and the information wasn’t in one place. You don’t need all the details but you do need to know something and have it in one place so you can add as your characters and story grow. 

My favorite examples of character building in writing that I’ve read thus far is in Gary D. Schmidt’s books. In his Okay For Now, the main character says certain things a lot, and the things he repeatedly says match up with his back story. I won’t spoil it, because you should read it yourself, but an example would be a character saying “I’m serious” all the time because nobody takes them seriously. In his Just Like That, he presents characters with strong backstories that are the basis for every move they make. In his Orbiting Jupiter, the narrative character is not the main character, but the main character is revealed to be not who everyone thinks he is. All three books do have some content warnings and are technically part of a series, so research them before reading them, but they are powerful stories. Why? Because the characters are powerful and we can believe in them as they pursue their dreams.


I hope this helped you! These tips come from experience, as well as Abbie Emmons’s YouTube videos and Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. What are your favorite examples of good character building? What is your own biggest character building tip? What posts would you like to see next? Let me know in the comments!

How I Write: My Journey + Why I Write

Hello there! Welcome or welcome back to Words! This post is the first of many about How I Write. Every author writes slightly differently, but most authors start out feeling at least a little lost, hopeful, and/or curious. Writing is a safari, and they don’t really know the jungle yet. Of course, that’s ok, and you have to explore on your own. But do you want to come face to face with a lion because you didn’t know they were there? I’m guessing the answer is no. That’s why those of us who have been through the vicious attacks of the writer’s journey are here to help. This post is my story.

My Writer’s Journey

I’ve told stories, living in another world, for as long as I can remember. When I was little, the few moments when I wasn’t creating I was listening to my mom read stories. My world wasn’t really Earth when I was little; it was Pretend Land. And as I got older… well, I’ll explain that later. Anyway, I’ve created stories forever. I learned to read in kindergarten, getting from picture books to Junie B. Jones by the end of the year. Then, when I was in 1st grade, I discovered writing.

I don’t remember much about that time, but I do remember some of my first stories: a story suspiciously reminiscent of Clifford Picks Apples, a stack of index cards taped into a story I never wrote about a witch, a story about a girl who moves a lot titled “Houses,” and one based on a writing prompt about waking up as the president of the United States. Needless to say, they weren’t really unique. But that’s what new writers do: they imitate, and I did it quite decently. Then in 2nd grade my teacher introduced me to reports and poetry. I loved them both, and I’m so thankful for that year even though I didn’t love my teacher. Also in 2nd grade, I reached a 6th-grade reading level. I read ALL the time, which most authors would tell you is the best way to learn to write. 

My sisters and I started playing with AG dolls and with legos when I was about 8-9. Both things revolutionized how I created. I could build any place I wanted with legos, and with dolls, I could watch “characters” interact. I wrote newspapers for our stuffed animals and for our dolls. I began writing small books for the dolls and ended up creating a short series of mysteries without almost no plot. But I was noticing the key elements of stories more. In 5th grade I wrote poetry and essays for school and I started a blog on The Little Novelist.

Also in 5th grade, I created a way to pretend without toys and to write without paper. I started to act out scenes in my room, playing multiple characters. It started with Melody Hardy, the Hardy Boys’ little sister that I made up one night when I finished a Hardy Boys mystery that I didn’t want to end. Then it expanded to adding characters to all of my favorite books. And then I added to Melody’s world, suddenly making it my own. I took Frank, Joe, their parents, and their aunt and totally made them my own, giving them different stories. But they weren’t even the focus anymore. A group of girls I called V Crew was. Their names were Victoria, Virginia, Viola, and Vanessa (quite creative indeed and totally not straight out of the girl V names section of my baby name book I’d just gotten). They grew, and soon I’d reached about 50 characters in their world. I would go through phases of creating stories, focusing on one character for a period of time, then moving to another. But soon V Crew and the Hardys were overwhelming. So I changed worlds. Since then, I think I’m on my 5th world of my own. And yes. I still act out stories in my room like a child. But the way I see it, I’m an actress/playwright in hiding. And yes I’m weird but weird with a purpose. Besides, that’s not what matters. What matters is that as my characters grew, I grew. I learned what makes characters seem believable. I learned how to create dialogue.

Somewhere within there, I wrote an article about my tornado story (more on that some other time) that was published in Clubhouse Magazine when I was 12. Then I wrote The Pony Revenge, my first finished story, and Universe, my first full book. The Pony Revenge made me think I could actually write stories, and Universe made me think I could actually write books. Since then, I’ve never looked back. I have created an estimated 300 characters in total since I was 9. can. I know it. And that’s what makes me come back. But why do I write? Why do I tell stories?

Why I Write

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t caught up in some story in my brain. I write because it takes me out of reality for a moment. I write because it helps me process things. I write because it can speak my passion to more than just me. I write because, in teaching others, I learn. I’ve figured out so many important lessons from books and creating worlds in my room. Words are daggers. They can have many kinds of blades, and they pierce the heart only when used properly, with good aim and a strong hand. You have to judge, based on circumstances, which daggers to use and how to throw it (You’ll probably hear me mention this multiple times, although I’ll try to find unique ways to convince you too). If I can artfully arrange my weapons so that they have the most effect, changing a life, then I want to take that chance. So I’m learning to do that. And I’m here to teach you. 

As I dive into this blog and grow, I hope that you’ll join me. And as we both learn more about words and the power they have, I’d like to say that both of us will change. This place will be a community of growth. You may have read about mushrooms in biology or you might not have. But my favorite this about mushrooms is that they’re the perfect picture of a strong, growing community: their root systems, the way the get nutrients to grow, intertwine to provide for each other and plants around them. They share what they gain so that they all benefit. That’s my vision for this blog, and I hope you’ll see it too.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my story and maybe even learned something. Do you have any questions? What do you hope to learn from this blog? Let me know in the comments!