How do you write a hook sentence?

A hook sentence (also called a narrative hook or literary hook) is a sentence in the first paragraph of a piece of writing which "hooks" the reader into reading more. This is usually the first sentence, but can be anywhere in the first paragraph. "Hooks" do not have to be weird or amazing to be interesting - many new writers spend hours thinking of some "perfect" sentence which will amaze and astound editors, when all they need is something interesting.

Deborah Wiles begins her book Each Little Bird That Sings with the hook "I come from a family with a lot of dead people."

Avi's book Ragweed begins with the statement "'Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do.'"

Paul Auster uses this sentence to begin his book City of Glass: It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

Here are some ways to create effective "hooks:"

  • do not try to write your hook sentence first! If you already have an idea for one, great - most people go ahead and get the story down before deciding what they want to use as the hook.
  • make certain that you start your story at the right part - if you feel that your readers need some huge "information dump" to understand the story, then you're not starting in the right place. The first scene in your story needs to be a scene that will make the reader want to keep reading, not a textbook.
  • think of a question that the reader will want to find the answer to - many times you can identify the "hook" by making it into a question. Look at the examples above - Deborah Wiles makes us ask "What do you mean your family has a lot of dead people?" Avi has you wondering "What is it that a mouse has to do?" And Paul Auster gets your attention by the question of who the voice was looking for and why.
  • try out your hook in many different ways until you find the perfect way to say it - the hook should be short, but interesting. Try using different words and saying it in different ways. Avi could have said "A mouse has gotta do what a mouse has gotta do" - why does it read better the way he finally wrote ti?
  • try thinking of interesting juxtapositions - I have a friend who constantly jumps from topic to topic in any conversation, so we have come up with a conversation "hook" to use. She says "Speaking of ________," and jumps to the new conversation. We end up with sentences such as "Speaking of cats, have you seen the new Harry Potter movie?" or "Speaking of President Obama, I bought the cutest pair of shoes last week!" Making quirky connections is one way to start your creative juices flowing.