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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

23 July, 2009

Plot - The Hook

It makes sense that if you want someone to read your book that it has to have a hook. When they read that first line (paragraph) they should instantly want to read more. Particularly when your book is still unpublished and you are trying to convince an agent or publisher it is worth the effort, you really want to make a great first impression.

I have to confess, this is a skill I have really yet to learn. I understand why a hook is important and I have read countless pages of advice on how to write an interesting beginning to a story, and I still haven't really managed it.

Recently I was looking over my work and I noticed that the large majority of my stories begin with a single character doing something utterly mundane in the morning. I don't know why this is a recurring trend in my writing, but I have at least identified what I am doing and I understand that this does not make for exciting reading.

Advice I have been given:

  • Start with action - everyone loves action and putting your characters in danger can make the reader feel sympathetic for them (personally I really don't like stories that begin in these situations as I prefer to care about the character before they get into danger, but I guess it is a matter of opinion).
  • Start with dialogue - have your character say something interesting to get the reader interested.
  • Start with a mystery - something a bit odd or different that makes the reader want to find out more. I have to put down Orwell's 1984 as a great example of this as in his very first line the clocks struck thirteen.
Despite this advice, found in a myriad of forms, I'm still working on perfecting the hook. What I do know is that the start of the book has to be interesting for people to read it. It doesn't matter if you think you have the 'best' story ever if nobody ever gets beyond the first page. Managing to get people into the story and reading on is definitely a skill I need to develop.

I'd love to know how everyone else deals with this.


  1. I start with a dead body or start with humorous dialogue. But those are trademarks of my genre.

    They say to never start a book with your character driving a car or talking on the phone. Never end a chapter with your character going to bed.

    But rules are made to be broken!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. As a reader, I think I'd prefer action to open the story and hook me. After that, dialogue that includes a mystery. Plain dialogue doesn't seem to cut it, but, you never know how compelling it might be.

  3. For me, I think of where the story starts, and start a bit AFTER that. Then the reader is wondering what happened in those previous five minutes, or hour, or whatever, and that keeps them reading to find out. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't--at least in my books.

  4. Thanks for sharing these - ElanaJ, that sounds like a good idea and one I hadn't thought of.

  5. You said that you prefer to care about your character before the action starts. I think this is really insightful, and the key to starting a story. You have to put your character in a situation that not only seems interesting, but will eventually make you care about them. You want them asking lots of questions about the story ahead of time.

    I have read in a lot of places that starting with dialog is risky, but have no opinion, thought I'd mention it.

    Also, you should check out hatrack.com, Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) has a lot of great advice that I keep coming back to when I get confused.

  6. Thanks Ben - and thanks for the link.