Do you remember the last great book you read? Or maybe even your favorite book? I remember mine. It’s Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. That first paragraph packs such a punch it instantly drew me in. I couldn’t put the book down from start to finish. Niel Gaiman, among many other authors, are the master of a great hook. They can get you sucked into a story and change your life. I strive to do the same for my readers.
How do I write a great hook for my book?
The first step to creating a great hook to your book is by including conflict. This is the simplest and number one best way to draw people into your book. Conflict creates drama, and drama creates interest! What better way to pull people into your story than starting off with some juicy drama! Whether it’s introducing the antagonist right off the bat or even if it’s some kind of minor conflict that has nothing to do with the main plot at all. By including conflict, intense emotion, or surprise, you can draw your reader in and make it so they’ll never get out of your book until they’re finished.
What makes up a good hook?
There are loads of things you can include in your hook to get people to stay. Here are some of my favorites.
- Begin at a cliffhanger
- Start with mysterious circumstances
- Start with a weird/interesting character
- Introduce an antagonist
- Start with intense emotion
- Start with a surprise
- Pose an interesting question
- Induce dread
Every drama show starts with cliffhangers. You can utilize these bad boys to tell a part of your story that ends on some cliffhanger and then circles back around to the beginning of your story. A good example of this is in Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. By starting out at the conclusion of your book, you give readers an insight into the chaos to come but don’t tell them the outcome. This will make them want to read through your entire story to find out what happens at the end!
Having mysterious circumstances is just as effective. They do not need to be a part of your climax. What makes your world odd? Your story odd? Your character odd? By including something out of the ordinary straight away, you can help your readers understand your world, your characters, and your plot. Especially if writing a mystery, fantasy, or science fiction, this tool can be especially useful. By hiding the majority of the mystery from your audience in the beginning, they will want to know what’s going on and why. They won’t be able to put down your book, then!
Nothing gets people going better than interesting characterization. By starting off with a character’s flaws, quirks, or other interesting descriptions, you can draw your readers in. When I think of this example, I think of William Faulkner’s iconic chapter from The Sound and the Fury and the single line that starts Jason’s section. “Once a b***h always a b***h, what I say.” This is an excellent way to tell the audience exactly what Jason is about, and you can do the same with your characters. You made these amazing characters, so let them shine!
This one is a ringer. While cliffhangers and mysteries are types of conflict, this section refers to the most common type of conflict: physical fights. Nothing is more interesting than a book opening with someone beating the ever living crap out of someone else. You can also do this in the form of arguments, bar brawls, and gunfights. Nothing throws the audience into the conflict of your story better than that. Whether the main character loses, or whether they are taking part at all, can make a very interesting beginning of a book.
What a better way to pull your readers in than to introduce the villain right off the bat. Better yet, combine this option with the Mysterious Circumstances and put your hero right in the villain’s clutches. This can show itself in a variety of forms whether it be a kid at school getting his head plunged into the toilet or a superhero who has fallen into the clutches of an evil super villain. By introducing your antagonist in an interesting way, this can be a useful tool to make readers what to know more. They’ll want to know why your villain does what he does, how your hero got into this situation, and what is to come.
If you don’t want to have someone in fisticuffs or have some kind of conflict going on right away, using emotion is a good substitute. Maybe your character is attending a funeral and is sad? Maybe your character had the best day of their life, but it all has been ruined by something? You can use emotion (not just the sad ones) to rope your readers in. If the emotion is intensely happy, be sure to follow it up immediately by tragedy. Your characters will hate you, but your audience will love you.
Nothing’s better than a surprise! Whether it’s a good surprise or a bad surprise is totally up to you. I personally prefer to write bad surprises right away, but you’re the author! It can also be combined with any of the options above to make a really juicy hook. I enjoy surprises, especially when they are of the macabre nature. This one is a little harder to pull off because it is difficult to execute the perfect surprise in the first paragraph, but if you can nail it, this tool will make a great opener.
Pose a Question
This connects to some others, but by leaving your viewers with a burning question in their mind, you can get them to finish the entire book. This works great for mystery novels, but it works for pretty much every other genre as well! Who is she sleeping with? Why does this boy have magical powers in an otherwise magical world? If you can get this across, it will leave your readers wanting much more out of your story. This can also be a question about your main character’s morality if you like. I feel Neil Gaiman nails this in American Gods. We readers are left wondering what kind of person Shadow is because we immediately learn he just got out of prison. I love using this hook for stories about vigilante or anti-hero characters.
There is literally no better way to start off a horror novel than with this. If you’re crafty, the dread will be from something not consequential to the plot. Start your readers off uneasy and lay into a feeling of uncanny, too-normal dread. This dread also works wonderfully with high fantasy and science fiction genres. Your reader will want to know they’re in for a terrifying ride, so opening with suspense tips them off to the tone of the entire novel.
Where do I put my hook?
At the beginning, silly! Your hook should be the first (or first two) paragraphs in your book. You want to get them literally from the first word so they know your book is worth the read. When I go shopping for books, I will often open the cover and read that first paragraph. If it gets me, I buy the book. If it doesn’t, I put it back on the shelf. Treat your first paragraph like the most important part of the book. It’s not the climax, not the great prose, but the hook.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some good starting points for crafting a great opening paragraph to your next novel! If you’ve already got your manuscript written, go back and really look at your first paragraph. Is there anything else you can do to spice it up and make it suspenseful, full of conflict, or unsettling in any way?
No one wants to open a book and read about how happy everyone is. That’s not really why we read books at all, is it? Don’t be afraid to start your book off with pain and conflict. Every good opening move has something unexpected, like Starlord’s music in Guardians of the Galaxy or the documentary opening from What We Do in the Shadows. Work those into your books and make something they can’t put down!