A hook is a line or paragraph that draw readers in instantly. Writing hooks is essential to writing that page turner story that your reader just can’t put down.
Transform an ordinary line into a hook
One line stating a goal, preferably using the words ‘want’, ‘need’ or ‘must’. Put it near the opening of the scene.
had to needed to get out of the building undetected.’
Add motivation to give goals importance
Example: ‘He needed to get out of the building undetected or they’d lock him up before he could save his daughter.’
Add a time limit to give goals urgency
How to apply the suspense of the ticking clock:
Step 0 – decide on one ticking clock. Either use one big deadline or several small but strongly varied types of deadlines per story
Step 1 – Set the deadline
Step 2 – introduce or emphasize the threats / consequences
Step 3 – Show the passage of time, e.g. through:
Weather chances: rain replaces the sunshine
Rhythms of nature: day, hourly time, tides or seasons
Actions of character: getting to the building before the other does and
Progress disaster: a bridge slowly crumbling
Add threats and obstacles for suspense
Example: ‘No way in hell he could win the fight with every guard between him and the back door. He needed to get out of the building undetected.’
Hook the reader subtly with psychological tricks
Doors are mental barriers. If you cross the threshold, you enter the danger zone. Make use of this psychological trick by taking a moment, linger on the door and give a hint of trouble. Describe the sound of the door closing behind the protagonist, to emphasis his inability to turn back. Rules of the game:
– Each doors must look and sound differently for this trick to be effective while repeatedly applied.
– Keep the implied promise of suspense. Something exciting should happen after entering the room.
Turn off the lights. Humans rely on their primary sense of vision. Without it, you must grope your way along without knowing what you’re about to stumble upon. There are plenty of different ways to use lack of light, for example: windowless rooms, night time, baddie cuts the power, rolling black-outs or candle light.
Use the sounds of ongoing action, especially those that impose threats such as the growling of dogs. Using irrelevant eerie background noises such as the shutters banging against the frame, is a nice way to slow the pace without lowering the suspense.
Another way to make the most of sounds is by using words that suggest sounds in themselves. Use this only when the word meaning is suitable!
- Ow/oh/ou/oo like howl, moor, growl, slow, wound, soon or doom – This creates a sense of foreboding.
- S + (short) i like hiss, sizzle, crisp, sister or whisper – creates a spooky vibe.
- ee/ ea + s like squeal, scream, sheer, creak – creates acute fear.
- T/P/K like cut, block, top, shoot, tackle, tuck (short verbs) – suggest action and or fighting.
- R like run, race, riot, roll, rip, hurry, scurry – suggests speed and fast movement.
- Tr – like trouble, trap, treat, trick, treasure – creates an anticipation of trouble.
The more isolated the protagonist, the less chance of a rescue or moral support. Don’t forget to also deprive him of the ability to call for back-up. There must be no chance at a lucky escape.
Despite being a thing piece of cloth, you feel a lot more vulnerable when you’re not wearing it. The same goes for characters. Have your character take off his shoes and or coat, to really make him seem vulnerable. This effect can go either way, it can create a safe feeling on its own but combined with a subtle threat, it amps up the suspense massively. Note: never do more than one full strip tease in a story.
Bell, J. S. (2011) Crafting novels & Short Stories.