Why you need a story hook

The purpose of a story hook is to engage readers and lure them into your story. The basic definition behind a hook is “pose a question the reader wants answered.” That’s a good start, but how do you actually make that question interesting? I mean, it’s not like you necessarily pose the question word-for-word on the first page. And not all questions measure up to what I think qualify as “story-level questions.”

A hook is made up of several literary elements. When combined and shaped to fit the story you want to tell, then a hook becomes magnetic. Your reader is drawn into your story and pretty much forced to turn the page.

Readers turn pages because they want to scratch an itch—even if it takes them three hundred pages to do it, just like this person holding a paperback book, eager to turn the page.
Photo by Prasanna Kumar on Unsplash

Fundamental elements of a story hook

  • A good story hook occurs on page one.
  • Your main character has a scene goal, and the hook is a part of your character’s WANT.
  • The obstacle in the way of your character’s goal will create action-reaction that helps set up or further define the hook.
  • A story hook is based in a question, either asked straight-up or implied.
  • Reader’s curiosity is aroused through carefully crafted details that all help shape and sharpen the hook.

Other elements to consider in establishing a story hook

Hooks aren’t necessarily all about action or things happening. Sometimes, if we’ve nailed our writing voice, we can set up a hook through mood and tone.

Voice is something that is all you. It contains the conscious and unconscious choices the writer makes during the book-writing journey, and the realizations we have along the way.

In order to find your voice then, that means you need to tap into your natural writing forces—the deep stuff you bring to your writing without even knowing it: your beliefs, values, world view, and desires.

Think about how you might describe your voice when you write. Is it humorous, dark, lyrical, snarky, conversational, edgy, pedantic?

Readers turn pages because they want to scratch an itch—and one way to do that is through your writer's voice. Be yourself and own your voice, just like this woman singing into a microphone.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Your voice carries through your whole story, so it’s going to be noticeable when you aren’t authentic and try to sound like someone else. You can use voice to help set up or shape your story hook in ways readers might not expect. This works especially well for character-driven or quieter stories.

Why voice can act as the story hook is because it is commonly known as the “It Factor.” That element that we can’t quite put our finger on in a definable way but it is the reason you got sucked into the story.

Sometimes, all you need is a great voice and the rest falls into place.

Do we care?—The essence of a story hook

The key to a strong hook is how much does your reader care about the question being asked. This is the difference between a generic, run-of-the-mill question and a story-level question. For example, “What kind of sandwich will Eloise choose?” is not a story-level question unless the author has set up the scene to lead the readers into believing this choice that Eloise make is page-turning worthy—we MUST know what sandwich she will choose. This means the sandwich has to be part of the central storyline, part of Eloise’s story goal, or at the very least, her scene goal.

Character development comes into play here. We are more likely to care about Eloise and her sandwich if we care about Eloise. Once we understand the importance of the sandwich in Eloise’s frame of reference we are decidedly hooked. We are there, with her, in that crucial moment, wondering right along with her what should she do.

A story hook is made up of particles that, when blended together through skillful writing, will grab your readers and not let them go for the next three hundred pages or so. All questions are worth asking and exploring, sure, but only questions that are meaningful on a story level are worthy enough to be called story hooks.

What do you think? Do you know your story hook? Does it sink its teeth into a reader and carry them through your entire book?

10 thoughts on “Why you need a story hook”

  1. I like this post. It’s fascinating to think about how a hook is the way in which any good story draws me in. Yet I don’t know that I’ve ever consciously looked for the hook in a story. Something to ponder now, reflecting on the stories that I like the best– and what was the hook?

    • Me too! I don’t think I ever knew it was the hook that grabbed me so much as I thought it was the main character and that he/she was just interesting or snazzy. 🙂 Now I realize I was hooked by the main character and his/her story problem.

  2. I LOVE writing hooks in my stories and posts. And I love being “hooked” when reading.
    That’s what makes writing and reading so addictive! We’re hooked.
    Great post, Kate.

  3. A great summary of what a hook is and how it should be used. I know that I have a great hook in the last novel I wrote, but I still think my first novel needs a better hook, so this will help me think about it.

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