Friday Writing Question: Hooks

Ciao, SEers. It’s my turn for the Friday Writing Question, and I think I have an interesting one for you. It’s interesting to me, anyway, since I agonize over my novel openings.

Hooks.

hooks

More specifically, do you think they need to be the very first sentence? First paragraph? First page? Is the end of the first chapter too long to wait?

Personally, I think as long as the beginning is interesting enough to keep readers reading, the hook can wait. I’d be willing to read to the end of the first chapter if the characters are compelling. But if you don’t give me a burning question to answer or riddle to solve by then, I’m probably out, regardless of how cool the characters are.

What do you think? How soon do they have to come? Let’s talk about it.

Staci Troilo Bio

40 thoughts on “Friday Writing Question: Hooks

  1. As a reader, I don’t necessarily need a “hook.” I just need to be able to tap into the characters and feel as if I’m part of the story. As long as I feel that, I’ll keep reading. As a writer, I know how important a hook is nowadays, but I struggle with it because I like to build a story up slowly. This instant gratification generation drives me nuts! lol! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • At last! A kindred spirit! I like the slow burn, too, Yvette. I want to get to know the characters, just like I get to know people in real life. I often long for “the old days” (the simpler times, when no one was in a hurry and everyone took the time to enjoy things). I’m totally with you on the instant gratification generation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great question, Staci! I totally agree that if I’m not hooked by the end of the first chapter, I am most likely not going to waste my time to go any farther. But, for me, the books that grab me within the first two pages, are the ones I’ll eagerly devour! Thanks for the thought-provoking question.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First lines are definitely an art Staci. But I’m with you on giving the first chapter the chance to captivate me. I’ve read many a book going to far into a book, still hoping for the ‘so what’ factor, lol 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • As a reader, I’m probably too patient. I’ll read pretty far before giving up. But I think that might come from growing up with many of the classics. Many started with glorious exposition and no action, so I’ve learned to wait. (Yet I admit, I wait too long.) But as a writer, I know I can’t do that. As much as “It was a dark and stormy night” might be a fun way to set the mood, I won’t start with the weather, or any other slow-paced description. I just haven’t quite embraced in media res. It’s too jarring for me. (Gee, I hope my work doesn’t have the “so what” factor!)

      Thanks for commenting, Debby.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you, Staci. I give the author until the end of the chapter. I don’t believe you need to hit me over the head in the first sentence, or few paragraphs to get my attention. But if I’m one chapter in and nothing happens, you have lost me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel a lot more comfortable with a chapter than a page, paragraph, or sentence. But there are some readers out there who don’t seem willing to wait that long. Maybe I need to reconsider my writing style. Or maybe those just aren’t my readers.

      Thanks for weighing in, Michele.

      Like

  5. A lot of things can pull me into a story–an interesting author’s voice, a character who intrigues me, even a set-up that surprises me. I recently read a cozy (can’t remember which one) that didn’t have a hook (a dead body) until chapter 5, but the way the author described characters and events promised there’d eventually be a body. And that was enough for me. I think some genres need faster hooks than others. In cozies, I’m fine getting to know the characters and trying to decide which one of them is going to feature as a body or a suspect before the action speeds up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love character-driven fiction. I’ll always give more leeway to a story with strong characters than one that is plot-driven, especially if the plot-driven story starts slowly.

      Thanks for your perspective, Judi.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. The opening line has to, at the very least, ‘set’ the hook.

    We live in a world of instant gratification. The sooner a reader is drawn in and invested, the more patience they’ll have for the rest of the plot and supporting characters to develop.

    There’s a reason prologues, front-loaded backstory, characters waking up and weather intros (when not directly applicable) top literary agents and editors Pet Peeves lists. 😇

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know that I’ll go so far as to say the very first line has to, but definitely the earlier the better. I hate that the world is all about instant gratification now, and that may cost me some readers, but I think we need to feel for the character in some way before we introduce the conflict or driving force in the plot. (See my longer take on that in my comment to coldhandboyack below.)

      I absolutely agree that backstory and cliches have no business front-loading a story, though.

      I loved hearing your take on this. Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  7. I’m probably the worst one to talk about this. I think the one sentence hook is almost cliche today. I also believe that anything can be that hook. Might be a tense situation, a compelling character, or a fascinating world, but if it keeps the reader interested it qualifies. I still like a bit of “a day in the life” for openings too. It’s hard for me to care about a character until I know a bit about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristen Lamb has an excellent take on openings. She doesn’t like in media res. She says you need to establish the status quo first, or readers won’t be interested in the character. She uses an amusement park as an example. Showing the character driving to the park is too much background. Showing them plummeting on a roller coaster is too immediate; we haven’t started caring for the character yet. But watching them approach the first car, sweat beading his brow and stomach all fluttery—that’s where you build concern for the character and a desire to learn more.

      You raise a good point—anything that builds interest can serve as a hook.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I think the first chapter is key. I like short quick first chapters. First lines are sometimes exciting. “His biggest problem to solve now is the prevention of his own death..” That line demands more reading. The downside is the next few paragraphs better be as good.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m a pretty patient reader. Sure, a flashy hook will grab me at the start, but characters are what drive stories for me. I’m willing to wait. If a character intrigues me I will read well past the first chapter without need of a hook. I can also lose myself in settings and be content.

    As a writer, I feel I need to deliver the hook ASAP, because I think most readers expect it. The days of letting a story build on a slow simmer seem mostly to be a thing of the past.

    And for the record, I agonize over openings, too!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Openings are the hardest for me. I’ve been known to rewrite them dozens of times. That’s why I posited this question. I’m a patient reader and will wait longer than most. (I’m currently 51% of the way through a book and I’m still waiting for it to grab me. Most people would have quit by now, but I’m curious to see how the author wraps up a few threads, even though the story is dragging. And I mean, it’s painfully slow.)

      I think writers are more inclined to wait a (small) bit for the groundwork to be laid, but readers who don’t write are looking for that instant hook. This tells me I’m going to be working longer on my openings.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good point about readers vs. writers, Staci. That makes complete sense.

        I really patient when reading but if I’m not intrigued by around the 30% mark I usually bail. The author of your current read is fortunate you’re sticking it out!

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve never done this before, but I’m seriously thinking about skipping to the end just to get that one answer I want (and suspect I already know). I have too many books waiting on my Kindle for me to keep slogging through this one. (And I was really hoping this was going to be my SE book share in July. Not happening.)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reblogging, Harmony.

      I’m curious. Why do you get to the end of the first chapter if you’re bored? Is that just the length you give an author to grab your attention? If you give yourself that long, and the hook is at the very end, why do you then stop rather than checking the next few pages for increased action?

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Level of boredness.” I like that. I think my tolerance for that is higher than most, which results in a huge waste of time for me. It’s also why I spend more time on openings than endings. And why I’ll probably devote even more time to them now.

        Thanks.

        Like

  10. I’m with you; I’d like to think as a writer I’d be able To hook my readers fairly straight away, but as a reader, I’m willing to do one of two chapters if there’s even just a small something making me interested. Characters are usually my hook; I’ll read a ew trashy chapters if the main character or villain is super interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Characters do hook me more than plot. A fascinating character doing not much of anything would compel me to read more than an explosion or a dead body if those plot devices seemed to be planted for shock value.

      That said, though, even Hannibal Lecter would have to do more than think for pages and pages. Internalization and exposition, even from a fascinating character, will only get me so far.

      Thanks, Jess.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Haha, that just reminded me of one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite shows; Hercules The Legendary Journies.
        They were doing a funny light-hearted episode where they were taking a look at what makes a good story. They started talking about the importance of plot and not relying on awesome characters.
        The next scene had the two Big Bads of the series, standing face to face, playing Rock Paper Scissors. It was so hilarious seeing those two Uber villains with nothing to do but play games.
        But, made an excellent point.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. That’s a good question, Staci! I try to get it in right away, but sometimes the setting takes over. Hinting at it helps makes a nice build up, as long as it doesn’t take too long like you said.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.