How to Find Exactly the Right Story Hook Header 2

How to Find Exactly the Right Story Hook

How to Find Exactly the Right Story Hook Pinterest

What is your story hook? That can be one of the most frustrating questions for any author—for two reasons. Either you have no idea what your hook is, or you have no idea how to describe it.

The good news is both of these scenarios are quite common.

The bad news is they’re both deep doo-doo if you’re hoping to:

a) Write a book worth reading.

b) Convince anyone to read it.

For many authors, the big trouble in finding or creating a story hook is that it’s sometimes tough to see the forest for the trees. The hook is the tiniest of entry points into your vast and fascinating story. When you’re the ringmaster at the center of the circus—the one on the inside looking out—it can be downright tricky to figure out the best way to lure people inside the tent to see your fabulous show.

However, if you can’t find the entry point to your story, it often signals a bigger problem than just marketing trouble. It’s first and foremost a sign you’re struggling to find an awareness of and control over your story.

Fortunately, we’re gonna fix that today.

The Two Different Functions of a Story Hook

When writers talk about “the hook,” they might be talking about either of two related but different things.

1. The Hook in the Premise

This is the unique aspect of your story premise. It’s what makes your story stand out from all the other “different but same” stories in your genre. If you’re lucky, it’s what lifts your idea into the rarefied air of the eagerly sought-after “high-concept premise” that makes agents, editors, and producers see green $$$ and start salivating.

Your Idea Machine William C. MartellThis is what screenwriter William C. Martell is talking about in his book Your Idea Machine when he asks:

If a viewer had a list of 100 indie movie loglines in a TV guide or the onscreen cable guide—just a handful of words to describe each film—why would they select your film? What is the core element that makes your story idea different than the others?

For Example:

Q. What makes Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn different from other epic fantasies?

A. A unique magic system.

Mistborn Brandon Sanderson

Q. What makes John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars different from other YA romances?

A. The protagonists are both dying.

Fault in Our Stars John Green

Q. What makes Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple different from other whodunits?

A. The detective is a sweet little old lady.

Murder at the Vicarage Agatha Christie

Q. What makes Charles Portis’s True Grit different from other westerns?

A. It’s about a teenage girl bringing outlaws to justice.

True Grit Charles Portis

Q. What makes The Book Thief different from other World War II stories?

A. It’s narrated by Death.

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

And the list goes on and on. There are no new stories, but almost all the truly memorable incarnations feature some unique element—however small—that offers a new slant on the same ol’ tale. If you remove any of the unique elements from the stories above, what’s left? Not something most of us would care much about reading, huh?

2. The Hook in the First Chapter

The other manifestation of the story hook is as the all-important structural element in your first chapter. This is a carefully chosen scene that serves to introduce the premise hook, grab readers, and pull them into the story.

Authors often mistake the structural hook for the Inciting Event (which occurs halfway through the First Act at approximately the 12% mark and in which the protagonist has his first direct encounter with the main conflict via his Call to Adventure). The hook is not the event that incites the story’s main conflict. But it is the first domino in the line of events that create your story’s seamless narrative weave. In that sense, it is the moment that begins everything.

But it’s more than that too. Above all else, it is a representative of your premise hook. If you think of the premise as a promise, then the first chapter is where that promise will initially be either kept or broken.

Why You Must Know Your Story Hook

The hook in your premise will define your entire story. The sooner you can identify and solidify your story hook, the more control you will have over creating your story’s entire narrative. This is yet another reason I love outlines: before I ever begin my first draft, I know my premise and its possibilities inside out. But even if you prefer to discover your story in the narrative drafting stage, you still need to have a firm grasp of your premise in time to let it influence your revisions.

If you fail to understand your premise, you will also fail to understand your story.

Whaaa? You tellin’ me I don’t know my own story, girl?

Yep, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. If you can’t find and identify this tiny beating of your entire story, then chances are excellent your story doesn’t actually have a beating heart. Or, just as likely, it’s struggling along, like Frankestein’s homunculus, torn between multiple hearts, all fighting each other to be top dog.

The result is a mess—and a sure indication of an author who has no control over his creation.

Victor Frankenstein James McAvoy

An author who doesn’t understand his story hook is an author who has no control over his creation.

On the other hand, when you have a firm grasp of your story’s premise, you automatically have a solid understanding of what your story is about. And when you know what your story is about, you will be able to direct its narrative with confidence in making the proper choices for its best interest at every step of the process.

Even better—when people (even agents!) ask you what your story is about (which is always code for: why should I care?), you’ll never have to struggle for an appropriate answer.

How to Use Your Story Hook to Create Your Opening Chapter

Your understanding of your story hook will influence every bit of your narrative. But the very first decision it will help you make is in your first chapter.

This always makes me happy. Why? Because the first chapter is arguably one of the most difficult chapters to write in the entire book. There is just so much an author must get right in order to properly introduce and set up the rest of the story. The most important of those first-chapter tasks is always, always, always entertaining readers.

If you did your job right in creating an interesting and unique story hook in your premise, then you’ve halfway hooking readers. So here they are looking at your first chapter. What are they going to find? Does it resonate with the expectations raised by the story premise? Even more importantly, does it fulfill those expectations?

Are you seeing the parallel here?

The hook in your story premise must create the structural hook in your story’s opening chapter. They’re linked. The premise says, “Here’s what this story’s about, and I promise you’re going to like it.” The opening chapter then says, “Here’s the story! It’s everything you wanted it to be, isn’t it?”

2 Ways to Introduce Your Premise in Your First Chapter

Sounds easy enough, right? But how do you do that? How do you leverage your premise to choose a gripping and fulfilling opening scene?

Start by asking yourself these two questions:

1. Is the Premise Present in the First Chapter?

The first and most obvious step is simply to make sure your premise is actually in your opening chapter. Whatever is interesting about your premise needs to either make an appearance or at least be teased right off the bat. There are two ways to do this.

1. Show the Premise in Action

In some stories, the premise will need to be developed over the course of many chapters in order to reach fruition (see #2, below), but in others, it can be shown in its full glory right from the start.

For Example:
  • In Fault in Our Stars, the promised premise is immediately available to readers: the protagonist has cancer, goes to a cancer support group, meets her love interest.

Fault in Our Stars Support Group

  • Same deal in The Book Thief. Readers are immediately introduced to the narrator Death (and the promised book thieving).

Book Thief Gravedigger's Handbook

  • This is also an approach I was able to use in my historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, which promised readers a woman falling out of the sky and gave them that in the very first lines.

Flying a biplane, especially one as rickety as a war-surplus Curtiss JN-4D, meant being ready for anything. But in Hitch’s thirteen years of experience, this was the first time “anything” had meant bodies falling out of the night sky smack in front of his plane.

2. Introduce the First Piece That Kicks Off the Premise

Other premises will need to be developed more slowly. If you were to immediately plunge readers up to their necks in the premise’s action, nothing would make sense and the hook would ultimately fail for lack of context.

However, this doesn’t mean you still can’t open with a piece of the hook. Just as the opening chapter itself is the first domino in your plot’s line of events, the structural hook can also be the first domino in a careful buildup to the premise’s full promised power.

For Example:
  • True Grit offers a hook that is more situational than those previously mentioned. The protagonist Mattie Ross can’t go after the outlaws until she has a reason to: first, her father’s death, then the local law establishment’s refusal/inability to measure up to her ideals. But the first chapter still neatly introduces its premise hook in its opening line:

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood….

Mattie Ross Kim Darby True Grit

  • Mistborn offers much the same with a prologue (one that actually works!) that sets up the political and social situation, along with an outside view of central character Kelsier, with hints at his exciting abilities and his fervor for the rising cause of revolution.

Mistborn Adventure Game Kelsier

  • This was the approach I used in my portal fantasy Dreamlander. Its premise promises the protagonist will enter a parallel fantasy world through the access point of his dreams, but this event doesn’t actually happen until the Inciting Event. Still, I was able to immediately pay off the premise in the first line:

Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this was one was sure trying its best.

Dreamlander NIEA Finalist

2. Can the premise be represented in microcosm in a cohesive opening episode?

Because the first chapter will introduce your protagonist in her Normal World before she has encountered the story’s main conflict, you will rarely want to open with that conflict in its full-blown state. Instead, you must create ways to introduce the character’s status quo, while still balancing the promise of the conflict to come.

An interesting way to approach this is to think of your first chapter as a mini-episode all its own. It presents a characterizing “story”—complete with beginning, middle, and end—that gives readers a glimpse of your main plot in the form of a symbolic microcosm.

This won’t work for all stories, but it is a common gambit in some movies.

For Example:

Russell Crowe Master and Commander Opening Scene

  • P.J. Hogan’s adaptation of Peter Pan opens with Wendy’s jovial if gruesome telling of her favorite pirate story—about the ruthless, blue-eyed Captain Hook—which both symbolizes and literally foreshadows what is to come.

Wendy Peter Pan 2003

  • Ridley Scott’s Gladiator opens with what is a (strictly speaking) nonessential battle sequence that functions to introduce the characters and their Normal World—and, just as importantly, to pay off the premise and hook viewers.

gladiator first battle1

  • This is the approach I used in my medieval epic Behold the Dawn, which opens with a (strictly speaking) nonessential battle sequence that introduces the protagonist’s brutal Normal World and leads directly into the actual plot’s first domino.

Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

2 Questions to Double Check You’ve Chosen the Right Opening

After you’ve chosen a gripping and promise-fulfilling opening, double check it against the following questions to make sure you’re balancing the needs of the hook against the cohesion of the rest of the story. The most challenging balancing act of the opening chapter is remembering it isn’t just about hooking readers, but also about setting up the story to come.

1. Is Your Opening Scene the First Domino in Your Plot?

The trickiest trick of the opening is finding a hook that perfectly symbolizes your premise, grabs readers’ attention—and is still the first domino in your story’s narrative. It cannot stand by itself. Even if it is clearly a “standalone” episode (as in Gladiator and my Behold the Dawn), it must still lead into the main plot.

For Example:
  • The opening battle scene in Gladiator immediately moves into Emperor Aurelius trying to pass his throne to protagonist Maximus—which leads to the Inciting Event when the emperor’s jealous son murders him.
  • The opening battle scene in Behold the Dawn leads directly to the protagonist’s confrontation with the “heretic” monk known as the Baptist, who turns out to be an important face from his past, prompting the protagonist’s journey to the Crusade in the Holy Land.

2. Is Your Opening Scene Focused on the Setup of the Normal World?

Here’s another tricky balancing act of the first chapter: it must begin with the characters in motion, wanting something pertinent to the main story goal, and doing something that will eventually lead them to a meeting with the main story conflict—and yet, the first chapter isn’t about the main conflict. Not yet.

The first eighth of your story is your opportunity for setup. The characters will have goals and meet obstacles, but neither will fully solidify until the main story goal and main conflict arrive in the First Plot Point at the end of the First Act. This means you will rarely want to open your first chapter with the big guns of your main conflict. Instead, you must figure out how to set all that up, while still being as fascinating as possible.

For Example:

Read or watch any one of the stories I’ve cited about. They all pull this balance off masterfully, opening their stories in interesting, sometimes even intense moments, but still leaving room to build up to the main conflict in the Second Act.

Do Your Two Hooks Match Up? One Final Test

So now you’ve got a great hook for your premise and a great hook for your opening chapter. But how do you know it’s the right hook?

Easy. They match. The hook in the first chapter is a direct reflection and/or setup of the hook promised in your premise.

And if it’s not, then one or the other is wrong and you need to reevaluate your choices. Either you’ve started with a faulty premise (your story is really about something else), or you’ve chosen the wrong starting place to represent that premise. As Martell went on to say:

…the hook doesn’t just make the story sound interesting in order to attract an audience. It really defines the story itself and creates strong dramatic and emotional scenes. A hook is not just a gimmick. It’s a lens that we view the story through.

If you can discover and strengthen your story hook at every step in the process, you will have created an incomparable foundation for both your storytelling and, eventually, your marketing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How have you represented your premise’s hook in your opening chapter’s hook? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Ms. Albina says:

    I liked your article. You give great advice on writing.

  2. This is a great article. Really got me thinking. And it was especially nice because I realized I could answer the first question! (The `what makes your story unique’.) It’s the coming of age story of a young goblinish creature, a war captive, looking for a sense of belonging among his human captors. There. One sentence. (I’m so proud.)

  3. This is one of the most helpful articles I’ve read. Not only do you provide a clear definition of the often misunderstood concept of story hooks, but you also fully explain the functions and importance of a good hook. On top of that, you give us excellent examples and helpful tools for applying your wisdom to our own writing. Thank you so much!

  4. After receiving feedback from an agent, I revised my first chapter. I had to cut the first half of it completely, which nearly killed me (not really). It was messy work, but it had to be done. After reading this article, I realize that by beginning the chapter a little further into the story, I deliver the hook sooner to my readers. AT LEAST I HOPE SO!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s great! There’s common advice to “cut the first chapter” (which certainly can be overkilled), but it exists because that hook is so often buried under a couple pages of “throat clearing.”

  5. There is so much to digest in this post, and coming up with a good hook has been struggle for me since I first started writing. And everything you say is right; your hook has to be original and entertaining, as well as give enough feel of what the book is about and who the characters are without using infodumps.

    It’s hard to find that perfect balance between entertaining and informing, but when you find it you know it. For me, I ended up cutting most of the first 25 pages from the first draft and keeping just a few sentences of it, but I think it worked out well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The more I learn about writing, the more I’m convinced it’s *all* about balance. Ace the balance and you ace the story. But that is, of course, easier said than done. 😉

      • Was just discussing this with someone else. There are very few things I’ve discovered in which balance, if not the answer, is an important factor.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Truth!

        • J.M Barlow says:

          Yep, I’m pretty sure I’ve had conversations with the both of yous about balance in and around these parts. And it’s true – balance applies to everything. Balancing checkbooks, balancing diet. Simply walking, or standing on your own two feet.

          Balancing priorities. The balance of two people in a relationship (let alone a whole family and whatnot).

          Balance of what you give and what you receive.

          I mean the list goes on. More on topic:

          plot / character
          education / entertainment
          pace / detail

          the entire concept of structuring a novel is about balance – but it’s not just about fiction. What about writing articles? There’s saying your point so people know what you’re going on about, and then proving that what you’re going on about is correct – or with purpose. Or just has tangible value. Without the “I told you so”

          There’ll come a time in the very post of mine where I’ll stop listing examples of balance, or even talking about balance, so that I don’t throw the universe (don’t get me started on physics and theory…) out of whack.

          Cheers!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Good points. I’m a klutz in real life. Maybe I should apply a little of that balance awareness to the stairs. :p

          • J.M Barlow says:

            That could help. Thick carpets help too.

            ….but then again, hardwood definitely looks the best and cleans the fastest. Decisions decisions…

            Speaking of which, decision-making is entirely about balance.

      • Ha! Everything in writing is easier said than done 🙂 But when it all comes together it’s all worth the hard work.

  6. Kate Johnston says:

    This month, I rewrote the opening chapters to my once-MG/now-YA novel to introduce the character more clearly in his Normal World, as well as to also bring forth his characteristic moment and the Lie (both of which weren’t all that clear in the previous version).

    The hook is in there, it always was in there, but now I’m wondering if it’s REALLY in there, yanno? With your article as my map, I’m going to make sure I truly understand the definition and function of hook and whether I used it to its best advantage. Thank you so much for this information!

  7. Ah hooks, easy to forget about, but so crucial to a story. And that image you used looks so painful! But it’s a great representation of what we want to do (in a very non-literal sense).

    My story, Matter of the Heart (odd connection there) begins from the very first line with an allusion to the main conflict (lights from a neighboring space station are gone), but doesn’t explain it in full until later (the reason those lights went out). It starts with one side effect related to the conflict, though not one which necessarily sets the plot itself moving. I do hope it’s still effective in grabbing reader’s interests though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds like a great opening. Gives you space to develop things while still creating that sense of “something’s wrong” that instantly hooks readers’ curiosity.

  8. I was one of those who until recently had confused the hook with the inciting event.

    In my case, my protagonist is shown in his normal world when a new person enters, which will begin him down the road that will change him forever. This could be a stereotypical boy meets girl, but my hook is that the boy was a shy and inexperienced nineteen year old college student and the girl was his precocious fourteen year old cousin who he hadn’t seen in five years. Both of these are major components of the theme. Their blood relationship forces them to keep their activities a secret from their families. Their differences in age are instrumental in showing her trying to handle the social life of seventeen to twenty-one year olds while a ninth grader.

    At that point, his situation changed but he hadn’t started to change yet – so it’s not the inciting event. Although there was this new person attracting his attention, he continued in the tried and failed methods of his normal world. Coincidentally, it was right around that 12% mark that my protagonist had his epiphany (and yes, the voice of God may have been involved.) It wasn’t about physical attraction (which he had routinely experienced) but instead about emotional bonding and commitments (of which he was as brand new as she.)

    But he was still to blind to tell if she was also interested.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re certainly not alone. The Inciting Event is one writing concept that I’ve had dead wrong at least twice in my evolution as a writer. :p

  9. Katie, This is so timely for me. It seems that I rewrite the Hook no less than 50 times (per draft). I’ve recently been participating in the Mystery Thriller Week, and have met a lot of great author and blogger folks putting together a collaborative event.

    Their contest came to mind immediately when I read your fantastic post about writing the Hook. They are awarding 1st-3rd prizes, and 1st is a doosie! Free e-book formatting and cover art with some other fun items. It’s free and only requires 300 words. Hope to see some of my fellow Wordplayers in lights on the final night of awards! The deadline is February 12th. Here’s the link for anyone who wants to enter.

    http://wp.me/p7S0UT-jf

    Have a fantastic night! Sherrie

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is great, Sherrie! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to participating in Mystery Thriller Week on Facebook.

  10. Matching the hook in our premise and in the first chapter is the challenge.
    Sherlock would have commented it was “elementary,” while indeed it’s not.
    It’s hard work and demands a discerning eye, and rewrites … and more rewrites.
    As you pointed out, that’s where the mastery comes in—and then, once you’ve hooked the reader (promised great things to come), then to deliver on those promises…
    Thanks for the teaching, Katie!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Really, it’s a shame we have to begin our stories with the beginning. Be nice to start with something a little easier. 😉

  11. Thank you. This was fantastic. I’ve been following your posts for a long time, and almost always find something useful or inspiring in them. But for me, this is one of your best.
    The story I’ve been trying to write is very complicated and doesn’t fit neatly into any sort of traditional story structure I’ve encountered. I’ve been mired in false starts and over-complications.
    Today, you’ve given me a new understanding of the Hook as both 1) the unique selling point of my premise and 2) the scene in the beginning that highlights that uniqueness for the reader.
    This simple yet profound bit of advice is exactly what I needed to hear today. I now have a much clearer vision of what my story is at its core, and where it has to start.
    Writing has become exciting again!
    Again, thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s great! A clear vision makes all the different in plotting a story’s big picture. All the best! 🙂

  12. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the terminology is a bit off.

    It’s true that most professionals do refer to his strategy as a “hook”, but shouldn’t it actually be called “bait”? Fish don’t grab onto a hook because it is a hook.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah. I like that a lot.

    • J.M Barlow says:

      Depends on the fish. If you’re fishing for suckers… all you need is a hook.

      (I’m actually not kidding… my cabin’s lake is full of them, and when you ice-fish there you don’t even need bait…)

      If you want the good stuff, like trout, yeah you better bait up. Or “fly” by the seat of your pants. Sorry… I’m just fishing for a few laughs here.

      Okay, I’ll stop

  13. I like that you mention the character’s normal world should be presented. In the first chapter of my forthcoming novel, the main characters, through psychic ability, know a horrid event has occurred. The normalcy of the city perturbs them further, and wets their appetite for more knowledge.

  14. As I was thinking about this, as an analogy, I considered the people who frequent the nature trail I visit regularly. Do I aim for those who stop and look at nature in all it’s forms as I do, or do I try and grab the attention of those jogging, cycling or simply walking a to b earbuds in oblivious to the treasure they’re passing through trying to open their eye to it all? Which raised the question of audience (podcast #16) and who am I writing for? (ep 300)

    Without knowing what you’re fishing for, how do you know which bait/lure to use to hook with? But if you’re writing for yourself, then doesn’t it come down to telling the best story you can and whoever stops, stops?

    • Random commenter here. 🙂 You mentioned the difference between starting when you’re writing for yourself and when you’re writing for others. Gail Carson Levine, in her book `Writing Magic’ pointed out that when you start your story the person you’re trying to hook is yourself (that’s an almost direct quote) then when you have more down and are ready to edit, you can worry about how to hook your readers. Of course, a lot depends on a person’s writing method.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        I love that quote! Totally agree with it.

      • Hello random commenter 😉 That’s a very interesting thought and really helpful. It also reminded me of an interview I watched over the weekend on ‘Well Read’. The host was interviewing Judith Ann Krentz (not familiar with the author or the genre: romance suspense) but when asked/talked about character development she said they all started out as ‘stick figures’, very basic, just some minimal information (along the lines of the first several questions in Katie’s character interview section in Outlining) and how, through successive drafts, she develops each.

        So thank you for the quote and added insight, really helpful and much appreciated! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good analogy. And this emphasizes *why* it’s so important to understand your audience. However, my approach is simply to try to write the kind of story *I* would want to read and therefore for readers out there who share my tastes.

      • Thank you, that’s really helpful! And along with the quote above changes the perspective and alleviates a lot of pressure.

  15. Alex Wilson says:

    I know it flies in the face of a lot of what you said in this podcast, but I do believe I have the right hook in the first chapter of my book, and yet can’t really find the “hook”.

    I think I’m struggling to find the difference between the theme of my book (which is a large series, potentially very large!) and the hook. Like in series such as Harry Potter, I don’t have just one theme, especially as my entire work (which could be a few series linked together very closely), but my main two themes are revenge (whether there’s a place for it, can it lead to a positive end, or only ever end in ruin?) and grief (which produces the desire for revenge. It’s kinda a look at different ways of grieving). But those aren’t all that obvious, it’s deliberately subtle, and in fact in the opening my main character has no desire for revenge, as he doesn’t know any of what causes revenge yet.

    In the opening chapter, it looks like the hook could be something to do with loneliness… I know what the character wants, but that is one facet of the larger story. Very important, and it doesn’t get dropped… I just don’t know how to unpick my overall hook from my main theme(s), it’s all quite subtle, and in complete contrast to the way I approach most of the rest of my life, my writing is very instinctual. So when I try to find something consciously, like the hook, or previously the themes (the book really told me the themes, I wrote it and suddenly realised the theme I’d unconsciously been writing to), I find it very difficult.

    I know I’m rambling now, but I’ve literally just listened to your podcast and am now panicking, because there’s important marketing reasons I need to know this!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What you’re talking about has more to do with thematic framing–which is also important, but which is more about setting the right tone from the very beginning (which it sounds like you’ve done). The Hook is more of a plot issue–it introduces the dramatic question that drives the plot. Ultimately, the primary function of a good Hook is simply to present a situation of contrasts in which something is ever so slightly “off,” piquing readers’ curiosity to find out why.

      • Alex Wilson says:

        Thank you for response, I’m glad you were able to understand my ramblings! Would I find the hook somewhere in my theme, then? Using the term you use in your response, the “dramatic question”, I’d say I have that for my character, I’m very certain what he wants, but it’s quite small and intimate, set against larger events that get in the way, these events igniting his desire for revenge, which directly oppose his goals. All he wants is friends and family and to be loved, to fill in the whole that is his grief for his mother, but the larger events he’s unwillingly a part of stoke his desire for revenge, and he risks losing himself to revenge.

        The loneliness is very evident from line one of page one, and things are definitely off-and I know I will illustrate that the Main Character is grieving and lonely and wants friends and love-but we don’t know that this is because the main character’s Dad, who is also lost in his grief, meaning he isn’t giving his Son the love and support HE needs, is kind of preparing his Son to take that revenge on both their behalf.

        Does it sound like I’m hinting at the hook I’ve got going? Saying, “here’s part of the hook, but you only know half of it, so go ahead and read on”? Can I do that???

        I’m sure I’ve got my hook in there somewhere, but it’s not easy to unpick my instincts!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          The dramatic question comes from the plot, which is the story’s exterior conflict. The thematic question comes from the character and his arc, which provide the interior conflict. I like to think of the exterior conflict as a “visual metaphor” for the interior conflict. It dramatizes the theme and puts the character in physical situations that force him to grow into finding the answer to the thematic question.

          In short, eveyrthing’s all very tied up together. (More on that here: 3 Steps to Find the Heart of Your Story.)

          That said, it sounds to me like your opening scene’s exterior conflict *is* providing a great visual metaphor for the interior conflict and theme. The juxtaposition of the character’s loneliness against his desire for companions–and blocked by the obstacle of the father’s conflicting goals–is a nice bit of irony and contrast that certainly has the potential to hook readers if done well.

          • Alex Wilson says:

            So it sounds like I might’ve found my hook?? Because what I’ve described is definitely the heart of the series, not just this single book, he struggles with his desire just to have friends to stop his loneliness vs his desire for revenge for the whole series, which the external conflict (which in his past actually causes his internal conflict), makes all the more harder.

            So I have my hook? It sounds like it based on what I know of hooks.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Yep, I’d say so. 🙂

          • Alex Wilson says:

            Is there a way there can be a hook for the internal conflict, that of his loneliness vs want for revenge, and the external conflict, that the villain must be defeated, but to do so, 12 people must sacrifice themselves first who are close to the main character (which obviously puts his internal goal at great risk, even without his desire for revenge), even though he does not find out this out until a few books in? There are hints… or maybe ripples of this fact there from the beginning: the person he’s grieving for is one of these 12 sacrifices, but you’d likely not be able to put this together yourself, it serves as quite a twist. But can they be reconciled and work together? Because I think that’s the issue I’m trying to figure out here.

            I can use the internal conflict hook quite clearly from page one, spell it out if I really wanted to, but I’d only very vaguely be hinting at the external conflict hook/twist.

            I really am not sure anymore…..

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Oh, yes, definitely. Inner conflict can certainly create a wonderful hook for readers. The only caveat there is that you don’t want to get so lost in the character’s interiority early on that you miss out on grounding readers in the story world or creating a sense of physical progression.

  16. Ede Omokhudu says:

    Very good information Katie.

  17. Hi Katie

    Really good advice but always something that I struggle with especially when I am writing the first chapter or the first scene in the first draft. Therefore I try to improve the story hook in the 2nd draft and it usually seems to work. Just my view.

  18. Becky Fettig says:

    Great article but I’m unclear on what is the difference between the hook and the premise. Are they both the same? Does one build onto the other? Thanks!

  19. J.M Barlow says:

    This is a fun article to read when considering my 8-Volume Graphic Novel WIP.

    Volume 1 must hook with it’s individual hook, AND hold the promise of the overall premise.

    Then I have to provide a premise hook for 7 more volumes. They are entirely sequential, but each volume is a step towards the very end.

    Trying to make each of the 8 volumes have a “this is why you should care” premise hook may be a bit of a challenge, so hopefully each previous volume helps with that.

    Volume 1 has some heavy lifting to do. I think it’ll live up to the task, though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great point about how the first book in a series must act as a hook both for itself and the series as a whole. I was going to mention that in another comment but forgot, so I’m glad you brought it up!

      • J.M Barlow says:

        Well it’s definitely something I constantly am thinking about, what with having put together much of an outline for a trilogy. It’s the same deal. The difference being that the overall pacing of a trilogy spans three separated sections, rather than 8, as in my graphic novel. …not to mention a series that I plan on beginning at some point after I’ve actually finished a few other things first. Stupid brain.

        I actually find the “hooking” process pretty fun. Coming up with a premise is always enjoyable, and setting it in motion is where it all starts to come alive. I wouldn’t say it’s an aspect that I particularly struggle with, but I still like reading about the detailed nitty-gritty of it. The cogs and such. It’s not always enough that I innately know, or have learned something. I need to know why and how.

        I’m getting off topic.

        The benefit to writing in series/volumes/whathaveyou is that your previous story can sometimes provide a hook. I mean, you’re putting out a sequel to Dreamlander and I’m already hooked.

        I know for a fact that the end of Volume 1 of my graphic novel will be a hook for Volume 2, 2 for 3, 3 for 4, 4 for 5… (i’m just going through them in my head right now…) 5 for.. fbgrihdfbgvskdjzfx (< —- that's what the inside of my head looks like) yeah all of them.

        And Volume 8's ending. Well, it's an ending.
        .
        ..

        ….
        …..but it's also a hook.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          It *is* fun! Really, what we’re doing is hooking ourselves before we hook anyone else.

          • J.M Barlow says:

            Yeah, exactly. I was actually thinking that, right after reading the article. Forgot to make such a comment. This whole article goes hand in hand with your common advice of writing what you’d like to read.

            You could read any high-fantasy (for example) novel. Why read this one? It goes the same way with creating the hook. Why are you writing this story? Because you want to read it, and it doesn’t exist yet. The fact that it doesn’t exist yet is because the others don’t have [this]. And not only does it not have [this], but the entire story changes because of it.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            I honestly think the whole “write the story you want to read” advice is one of the most exciting in all of writing. I get excited every time I hear it. It’s like getting permission to do give yourself Christmas all day, every day. 😀

  20. Hi K.M.,
    Are there caveats with regards to literary fiction given the greater emphasis on character?

    Cheers,
    Ty

  21. This is one of my favorite posts so far—it was extremely insightful and helpful to me. I feel like I’m learning more here than I did in 4 years of undergrad creative writing courses.

  22. Max Woldhek says:

    Hmm. I’ll have to ponder this. Until now I’ve mainly thought of the hook as something that tries to pull in the reader as quickly as possible, make them interested in what’s going on on the first page. For example, the first sentences from the short story I’m currently writing:

    “As a seniour vigilator, Urni Vierakson was used to shouting faces. He leaned closer. Shouting faces sticking out of a brick wall, however? That was a new one.”

    Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files has been a huge source of inspiration to me. Opening sentences from some of his books:

    “It rained toads the day the White Council came to town.”

    “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The Hook *is* what you say it is, although there’s a little more to it, as I’ve talked about in this post. You’ve got a great hook in your opening line, BTW!

  23. Alex Wilson says:

    I read your last post, but was unable to reply on that conversation thread… dunno why, but oh well. Knowing me, I’ve probably talked too much!! Lol!!

    By “character’s inferiority…” etc, you mean that I mustn’t get distracted with describing and showing my character’s loneliness, my hook that we’ve discussed-I’m pretty certain we’ve found my hook now, right? I’m on the right line? Obviously you can’t tell me exactly what my hook should be, but what I’ve found is a workable hook?-and forget to orient the scene in a physical location, and to also move on. Don’t spend too much time spelling out his loneliness basically? I hope so, because I know that’s the case here. At least as certain as we can ever be!! Hahahaha!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s weird. You couldn’t comment at all? Sometimes the sub-threads get too full and you have to start a brand-new comment.

      And, no, that was a humongous typo on my part. What I meant to write was your character’s “interiority“–his internal conflict and narrative. Sorry for the confusion. 😕

      • Alex Wilson says:

        Yeah, I think it just got too full, obviously it indents further each post, so it’s to avoid posts being a word-length thin, which is ridiculous and really hard to read, so I’m not too bothered by it happening, like you said, we can always just start a brand new comment! 🙂

        Ah right, interiority!! Lol!! I think my response still stands though doesn’t it? I basically have to just avoid carrying on examining his interior conflict too long, I’ve got other things to achieve in the opening chapter besides laying out my hook-which as I said, I’m pretty sure I’ve got now, right?

  24. The idea behind my current WIP is that it should be as mundane as possible. It’s more like a test, in fact, to see how engaging I can make a story with limited ideas. The main conflict is that the impact character doesn’t want the main character to break his gaiwan. The first domino is that the main character sees the gaiwan and tries to understand its usage. That’s the hook in the story. I couldn’t tell of a hook in the premise, because there is none. There’s no genre, so I can’t say why it’s different from others of its genre.

  25. M.L. Bull says:

    Thank you for this post! It helped me better understand the concept of the “hook” of a story, and identify what the hooks of my novel actually are for my main plot. My premise is: A teenage high school dropout and drug dealer who later strives to get his GED. (Usually it’s someone older who gets this). I open the story with a prologue of him making his last drug deal and promising to himself never to sell drugs again. Then in chapter one he talks with his father about his desire to go back to school and further his education.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good for you! Being able to distill the premise is so important in grasping the story as a whole.

  26. I’m really stuck with my opening. My book is my protagonist telling a story of what happened to him 3 years previous so he knows what is going to happen of course. What I’m pretty sure the hook is for my story, is supposed to be unknown till near the end of the book. So how do I explain the hook without ruining the whole story in my opening?

    I know it’s hard to answer without more details. At the beginning I was going to have the protagonist introduce himself and the story he is telling. Obviously he has to say something interesting or no one would read on. So do I just allude to the fact that all was not as it seemed, something like, “I’d find out soon enough that what seemed like a simple case of depression was not at all what it seemed.” ??

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Although you certainly want to be able to tease out some mysterious details from beginning to end, if the interesting aspect in question isn’t revealed until the very end, then it’s almost certainly not the hook in either your premise or your first chapter. Instead, look for something concrete you can use to give readers a reason to read on to that point. Just the mere promise that something good is eventually going to happen isn’t enough. The premise has to be realized right away, by concrete foreshadowing if nothing else.

  27. Holy cow! This article is EXACTLY what I needed. I’ve been in a frustrating wrestling match with my first chapter for months, trying to make it do what it was supposed to do, to no avail.

    When I read this, it was like a bolt of lighting hit. As I thought about what my premise was, and what kind of opening hook would best express it in my first sentence or so, an alarm went off in my head. It suddenly dawned on me that I’d already WRITTEN that perfect opening sentence. It’s just that I’d gone and buried it pages into the first chapter, after 1000 words of set-up. I went back, ripped it out, stuck it as the beginning of a new first chapter, and voila! All of the sudden I was winning the wrestling match!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Woohoo! That’s the best kind of writing revelation. Glad you’re having fun with it again. 🙂

  28. Wow, fantastic article! Is there anywhere on your website, or in your books, that you go into greater detail about matching the hooks?

    I think I understood what you were talking about with each individually, but I’m having a harder time splicing them together. I would also be very interested to see some examples, real or fictitious, of hooks that don’t match and how they could be tweaked.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is the first I’ve written in-depth on this subject. As for a (made-up) example of hooks that don’t match… Let’s say you’re reading a story that’s supposed to be a thriller about someone trying to assassinate the head of the CIA–that’s the premise hook. But the opening chapter begins with no sign of the CIA, no sign of the spy skills the protagonist will use, or any hint of tension. Instead, it opens with a scene of the protagonist trying to get the grocery-story clerk to restock the eggs.

      • That makes sense, but it does make me think of a couple more questions.

        Would you mind if I emailed you about them; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

        Alternatively, I can just as them here in the comments or wait for you to write more on the topic. At the rate you write and respond, I won’t have to wait long in with any of the options 🙂

  29. Thanks for another helpful post, Katie. The examples of books & hooks (what makes this story different from others) were especially helpful to me. They also provoke a question. Does the hook have to be as short as those you’ve provided?

    My WIP is a Romance, and what makes it different from most is that the leading characters are middle-aged, the woman is 10 years older than the man (but looks his age), and she’s NOT drop-dead gorgeous. Is that too long a hook?

    Thanks again — for ALL our advice.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Pithy’s always good, but if you can sum up your story’s unique premise in two sentences, you’re doing good.

  30. Madelaine Bauman says:

    I’ve been puzzling over this concept for a while, trying to build the opening hook and scene for my fantasy novel.

    I have the premise but have been struggling with the opening scene for a while. I think part of the problem is the lack of hook with the premise itself. It’s a generic fantasy story, not much setting it apart from others.

    “After escaping slavery, gladiatrix Danica Rowan wants nothing more than to travel to her in-laws home to restart her life with her husband, Alasdair, and settle down. But when a threat on their lives is made by a strange cult, they must find a way to stop a dragon king from gathering objects of power, continuing his reign, and how they are connected to it all.”

    When you have a “generic” idea like this, how do you find the hook?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hooks are hooks, whether they’re unique or not. However, the word that jumps out at me more than any other in your premise is “gladiatrix.” That’s what would interest me in this book.

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