Part 4… of a 10-Part Series on Story Craft

About the workshop I’ve been promoting here… check at the end of this post for news about a recent MAJOR TUITION REDUCTION

Part 4: Your Hook

Breaking bad, Good, or Otherwise.

This isn’t just for the sake of clarity.  Within each of the four contextual quartiles of a novel – each quartile with its own context, in this order:

1. setup (wherein you create reader empathy, establish stakes and provide foreshadowing, all BEFORE the main plotline launches)…

2. response (to the First Plot Point, which launches the hero’s quest on a new, steeper pathl aka, The Plot)…

3. attack (on the problem at hand)… and…

4. resolution – wherein all paths lead to a final confrontation between the hero and the antagonism, in context to the decisions and actions taken that lead to this point.

Okay, that’s a chewy list.  I encourage you to read it again, and perhaps yet again, until it clarifies.  Because this is one of the major elements of craft that separates professionals from newbies, the published versus the unpublished, or if you’re self-publishing, buzz versus dead silence.  (If you’d like a little more on this, click HERE to read a longer tutorial on the Big Picture role and justification of story structure, no matter what your writing process.)

Literally the first structural milestone in any story is the “hook”…

… which should appear within the first twenty (or s0) pages of your manuscript, the earlier the better, usually in your very first scene. It can take many forms, even as a Prologue when called for (nothing wrong with Prologues, by the way, despite what some famous authors say… even the opinions of the rich and famous are only that – opinions… you can find a contrary valid opinion on virtually everything).

The hook has a singular mission, regardless of how it plays within the narrative: to capture the reader’s attention, curiosity and even emotional engagement, even before they actually know enough about the story to understand why.  A hook can drop the reader smack into the middle of a chase scene, a moment of truth, or even a fast-forward preview of a scene that will actually take place at the very climax of the story.

Or, it can frame a situation or deliver a moment of tantalizing foreshadowing that rivets the reader to the pages, even without a clear sense of what it all means.

One way to determine if you have a viable hook is to look at the nature and degree of information dispensed in your first pages. If you are focusing on description of location and the nuances of a culture, chances are it’s not a hook. A hook is about something happening, or about to happen, or a situation that puts extreme stakes into motion.

The acid test is the presence of action, or imminent action, in the hook moment, something fraught with threat and danger and the implication – this is not the time to explain why, that comes later – of stakes.  If the reader can put themselves into that moment of darkness and risk or promise, even before they’ve come to know and love your hero, then chances are you have a viable hook working for you.

If not, you are skipping over one of the most powerful structural tools available.  Without a killer hook, you risk losing your reader before you get to the good stuff, which is always a rookie mistake.

Don’t make it in your story.

Want more?  Would you like to go deeper into the basic essentials of craft?

Join me and story coach Jennifer Blanchard in Portland April 3 through 7, for a deep dive into the full realm of story craft – definitions and criteria included – covering this and many more elements and essences of a successful story… a story so powerful it’s almost as if it’s on steroids… all presented in context to your writing process, whatever that might be.

Click HERE for a description of the workshop — which is, as of this weekend, being offered at a massive discount from whatever previous price level you’ve seen — and a link to the enrollment page.  

Click HERE for a closer look at the four-day agenda.

OrHERE to go straight to the workshop’s website.




Filed under 10 Part 101 craft series

2 Responses to Part 4… of a 10-Part Series on Story Craft

  1. I’m working on a hook that pays off at the Midpoint, and am absolutely lovin’ it. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Robert Jones

    Hi Larry…and everyone else, old and new,

    It has been a while since my last post, but sometimes life’s major plot points redirect our efforts for a while. I’ve read over the current series of posts, and would like to share some thoughts, if I may, on hooks.

    Hooks are often confused with inciting incidents. How does one spot a hook? And more importantly, how can we understand it’s nature to use it to entice readers?

    Inciting incidents certainly “hook” us, but a hook delves more deeply into the core plot, often foreshadowing what will be launched by the first plot point. I teach as I have been taught–by example. And one great example you can look up for yourselves–which has a number of inciting incidents that builds to a hook very early in the story–is a classic literary thriller called “The Collector,” by John Fowles.

    The opening is from the antagonist’s POV. He’s admiring a girl who doesn’t even know he exists, standing behind her in line, admiring her hair, lots of creepy things we would consider to be the traits of a class 10 stalker. And while all those things pull the reader into the story, they are inciting incidents. The hook is when the villain let’s slip that all this happened before she came to be his “guest.”

    The main story (conceptual notion) is built around that of a man kidnapping a girl and basically holding her hostage as his personal possession within room in his basement, basically looking after her as one might a prized pet or a trophy. Foreshadowing that poses real danger for the girl. And it hooks the reader into the story within the first couple of pages. It’s a perfect example of how a hook works and what separates it from an inciting incident. It very much incites, but as one author put it, it essentially starts the engine of your story. It ignites a spark that gets the engine of concept humming. Optimally (for my money, anyway), It also ties directly to that moment when the first plot point steps on the gas an launches the core story.

    Be it from the hero or the villains POV, there is coming that moment when something they do launches that FPP. And in some way they are thinking about it, marching toward it, fueling that vehicle. Your hook is the moment when they turn the key in the ignition of what will become the heart of your story by the end of the first quarter. Foreshadow that, even subtly, and your hook will grab the reader’s curiosity. Which is psychologically where the hook takes hold and doesn’t let go until a resolution is discovered.

    We are all problem solvers and voyeurs at heart. And the best writers leave their audience hanging by the thread woven of vicarious experience until the very last minute.