Writing Tip #19: Hook Your Readers

Image source: Anestiev on Pixabay, modified with GIMP

The fishing metaphor for fiction writing is an important one. Hooking the reader is about writing a compelling opening so the reader becomes “hooked” and wants to keep reading.

Three reasons hooking the reader is important:

  • Writers love to tell stories, but it’s just as important to consider the reader’s experience of the work as it is to tell the story. We must write for them, not for ourselves, because without readers, writers don’t have a reason to write.
  • As writers, we develop a reputation. This is just as true here on Hive as it is in the traditional publishing world. If someone reads your work, and it keeps them interested the whole way through, they are more likely to click on your story the next time you publish one.
  • To excel at the art of storytelling, we must make people feel. If they don’t feel something - a tug of the heartstrings, or a desire to know why something has happened, or how a character will resolve a problem - we have failed in our attempts at storytelling.

What Makes Stories Compelling

To compel us (the readers) forward, a story must hook us like a fish jumping for the bait. And to be hooked, we need to discover something about a character right away that makes us want to know what will happen to that character.

The basic elements for making a story compelling are pretty simple: an interesting character in an interesting setting with an interesting problem or desire.

How you go about using those elements is the art of it. Practicing this aspect of storytelling may be the most important thing you ever do as you develop your craft.

An Exercise for Creating Compelling Stories

Here’s something simple to try, as you plan out your stories. Copy the following, then fill in the blanks:

________ (character name) is __________ (geographical location or a place) when _________ happens.

Imelda is at the salon getting her hair colored when she gets the call that her son has been in an accident.

Roger is teaching a 9th grade math class when he suddenly thinks of the woman he loved when he was in 9th grade himself, and runs out the door to go find her.

Joan is walking across a bridge in a gray fog, feeling depressed, when she realizes there is a man standing on the railing, getting ready to jump.

If you did this three times, every single time you sat down to write, you could pick the story you are most excited to develop, and build up an idea list for later.

Launch Into The Action

One of the most important strategies for hooking the reader is to jump right into the story. The reason I love that simple exercise above is because it gets you thinking about the heart of the story.

When you do that, and you realize how important the story’s conflict is to the success of the story, you are much less likely to start out with frivolous or boring details. For some more on this, see Writing Tip of the Week #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump.

Does it matter that Imelda had a troubled childhood in which she was raised in a foster home and that her attitude toward her son has been dysfunctional, and one of his responses is to drive recklessly? Sure, it might be important. But not until we learn about what’s happening in the moment.

Start with the action, and fill in with details later.

Show Imelda in the salon, the whirring of hair dryers and the voices of stylists creating a backdrop for the most terrifying moments of her life, as she asks “Where? When? Oh my God, which hospital?” Show her ripping off the protective gown, her hair still in wraps, grabbing her purse and racing for the door.

Now, you can play with time and work in some of those details. As she races through yellow lights and careens around corners, she thinks of how he used to reach up for her with his tiny arms, asking to be picked up and held. But she didn't. "No, I'm busy. Go play with your toys." Then she hears the word “blood.” The doctor, she suddenly remembers - minutes after their conversation - is losing blood. They must find a donor quickly. Hers must be a match.

By weaving the past into the storytelling, you can fill out the details little by little, when and where they matter, while remaining focused on keeping the story's pace, and keeping your reader on the line.

I hope this helps you to think about how to hook your reader!

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

Writing Tip #9: Should You Plot Your Story?

Writing Tip #10: Don’t Start a Story This Way!

Writing Tip #11: What Is “Writing Voice”?

Writing Tip #12: Reveal Everything and Nothing

Writing Tip #13: Character Types in Fiction

Writing Tip #14: Clichés - Avoid the Conspiratorial Wink

Writing Tip #15: Developing Memorable Characters

Writing Tip #16: Writing Character Descriptions

Writing Tip #17: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writing Tip #18: Don’t Be a Copycat (Plagiarism is Wrong)

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