A hook encapsulates a book in one electrifying sentence. It will grab the attention of agents, editors, publishers, bookstore managers and clerks, bloggers, journalists, reviewers and readers. So how do you write a hook? Michael Kimball and Stonecoast Alumna Bix Skahill have a simple formula they call The Art of the Hook:
- Start with a protagonist. Use an adjective to describe the protagonist that will elicit emotion.
- Add your protagonist’s goal.
- Next, name the conflict, such as an unwinnable war or impossible task.
For multiple characters or plotlines, pick what best conveys the most emotion in your story. Create empathy with an adjective for your protagonist (i.e. unwitting attorney, guilty clown, angst-ridden teen), and then put the protagonist in jeopardy. Give the protagonist strong motivation to win, stop, escape, retrieve or conquer whatever the conflict is. Use loaded words and be specific.
One example was: To save his best friend’s life, a boy scholar must win a war between magic and machine. The fact that the protagonist is a boy elicits empathy, especially a boy in a war. That he’s also a scholar creates interest. His goal is to save a best friend’s life, no less. How can one boy possibly win a war between magic and machine?
The workshop split into groups and I shared what I had: In THE REAL STORY, a woman must look to her past before she can face the future after discovering she is at the core of a horrible family secret. My fellow writers were less than enthusiastic. It was vague and squishy. It lacks a clear protagonist (just a woman) and a clear goal (she has to face the future?) and there wasn’t any conflict… unless you consider looking to the past as conflict, but that’s pretty weak.
The second hook I came up with was: In THE REAL STORY, a young woman whose life is shattered after learning she was conceived in violence must shed her self destructive ways before she can rebuild herself. Mike said it was too general, and suggested I make it more specific and evoke a sense of impossibility regarding her desire.
Now I have: In THE REAL STORY, a self-destructive young woman must make peace with the fact that her birthfather is a rapist to find the strength to leave her junkie husband and learn to love again. I don’t know if the conflict is strong enough, but I think I’m getting closer.
If you’ve read any dynamite hooks worth sharing, or have one of your own that you’d like to share, please comment!