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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Opening hooks.

Now that I have your full attention, thanks to that little picture... Have you ever wondered what an "opening hook" is? It's something that grabs your readers' attention so that they feel compelled to read on. Kind of like I did with the opening picture.

When I first learned the term several years ago I was confused as hell! But after researching it and asking my crit partners about it, I found out it's not nearly as daunting as I first thought. Hopefully this post will help clearly explain it to my fellow writers who don't understand it.

A strong opening hook could possibly be the key that makes or breaks your manuscript. Most often it comes by the end of the first chapter. However according to several agents, you really only get the first paragraph to "wow" them, before getting placed into the rejection pile. Sometimes only the first sentence.

Why? It has been explained to me by several agents, that agents receive thousands of manuscripts per week and go through hundreds per day. They don't have time to read through everything ever sent to them. If it's not up to their standards, why should they bother?

To quote Stein On writing:

"The ideal goals of an opening paragraph are: 1. To excite the reader's curiosity, preferably about a character or a relationship. 2. To introduce a setting. 3. To lend resonance to the story." - end quote.

Your first sentence is absolutely vital. So make sure by the time it's finished you have a strong hook. Here is an example of one I have used during the process of writing my Nano novel.

Example One:

A large dark wolf loomed over the sea of mangled body parts, strewn across the blood soaked ground, head thrown back, howling at the moonlight, with blood dripping from its wide, thick, fangs.

Right away it's got readers wanting to know more. Like why is it attacking? Who did it attack? Is anyone still alive? ect. I even took it a step further and built a bit of tension in that single sentence. It starts out very dark doesn't it? It's still not perfected, but it is a solid opening hook.

Here is another one, from various stages of my Double Trouble manuscript.

Example Two:

The sound of a machine starting up, quickly followed by a scream on the other side of the door, caused the tray in her hands to tremble. Red hot, needle-like pains shot through her arm. She closed her eyes, focusing on keeping her breathing even.

Again it leaves readers wanting to know more, and that my friends is the key to creating a strong opening hook. It needs to leave your readers so eager to learn more that they have no choice but to keep turning the page to find out.

For a hook to be effective, it should do at least two of the following: 1. Appeal to the readers’ emotions. 2. Raise questions about what will happen. 3. Reveal something that isn’t anticipated. 4. Indicate that something is about to change.

If it doesn't do at least two of the the things listed above, it's not a solid opening hook. Do your best to stand out from the slush pile {rejection pile} by having a solid opening hook in the first paragraph of your manuscript and you'll be ahead of the game.

So, what are some the opening hooks you've used for your manuscripts? Feel free to share your stories below. I love hearing about other writers' stories as much as everyone else.

Reference Material: Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein.


  1. The hook I've done that's my favorite is a one line paragraph that says:

    "This place used to be full of life."

    I think that brings a lot of questions to the reader XD