One of the most important components of a short story is the Hook. In a story, the hook serves the same purpose as it does on a fishing pole. It’s where you put a mental worm to entice the reader and get them to bite, hopefully reeling them all the way in so they will go ahead and read the story.
In short stories, the Hook can be found normally in the first or second line, definitely somewhere in the first paragraph. It’s just enough of a tidbit that it will entice the reader’s mind and make it hungry to find out what this is about. Just like many components of writing, it can be its own art form. And sometimes can be difficult as heck to come up with.
With the changing times and faster pace brought on by TV, music videos, cell phones, PDA’s, IM’s, PC games, game consoles (basically springing up concepts of instant gratification or fulfillment) short/quick/fast hooks are becoming more and more of a necessity in novels as well.
Think of the Hook in the same vein as what we’re taught out in the business world when seeking employment. Most people have an attention span of 30 to 60 seconds to get grabbed by something and make an impression before the rest of what’s being said becomes so much background noise. So when preparing to go out there and seek a job, you’re encouraged to come up with a 30 second blurb about yourself to make an impact on the prospective employer, give them useful information, and hopefully make a good lasting impression. (As they say in the field, no matter what the truth is, if you make a bad impression in those first few seconds, regardless of all that happens after, that first impression will stick around forever.)
So what makes a good Hook?
Hooks can be composed of text or description, what matters is the reaction they bring out of the reader.
Here’s the first line of my upcoming novel called “Price of Mercy”. The first line reads:
He was a fool.
BOOM - right off the bat, our fertile imaginations explode with questions and assumptions. This hints of someone possibly being in trouble and regretting a decision. Depending on what the next sentence says, it could be an opinion on someone else. Our minds instantly grow curious as the scent of trouble beckons us in for a closer look.
Of course this tiny piece of worm wouldn’t be enough to get the reader to bite, but you’ve poked at their curiosity just enough to hopefully get them to move on to the next paragraph.
Jarrin sat inside his rented coach, which waited in line to enter the gate. The Emperor’s ballroom glowed softly in the night.Behind it, much farther off, was the palace proper. Nestled in the center of the city, the Emperor’s domain was like a small kingdom onto itself. The ballroom was at the farthest edge, a mere drop of all that was kept there.
Now you’ve met the protagonist, and from the first sentence of the new paragraph comes the suspicion Jarrin was indeed talking about himself in the very first line -- doubting his chosen course as he waits in line for the Emperor’s Ball. More of the worm has been exposed, though not enough. Hints of where, when and what. Then the hopeful full clincher:
Over three-fourths of the funds the Baroness gave him were already spent. His reward for services rendered before he was summarily dismissed. Between the coach and his elaborate costume, he was about to make his life very difficult if he didn’t succeed tonight. The Baroness’s second gift had been an invitation to the ball and if he dared use it, the possibility of gaining other employment. The problem was he wasn’t even sure he wanted to succeed, but hadn’t been able to think of another course which didn’t involve shame, poverty, or starvation.
Now the reader knows Jarrin is using almost all he has on a gamble. That his luck has not been good since he was dismissed from service. There’s also the question of what kind of employment could you possibly be expecting to find at a costumed ball. And the doubt Jarrin even wants to succeed adds to the mystery unfolding. Hopefully all enough to Hook the reader into going further.(You can check out how well I do or do not do this in the (not final) sample chapters at gloriaoliver.com) (Price of Mercy should be coming out in 2011 under Zumaya Publications Fantasy Imprint.)
One of the best Hooks I’ve ever come across came from Martha Wells awesome book The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rein Book 1)
It was nine o’clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring a verdict of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.
Instantly the reader springs with several questions at once. Why would Tremaine want to kill herself? Why does she need it to look like natural causes? What has driven this person to this course? (CHOMP) The reader has bit the Hook. The curiosity has been enflamed and they must now proceed or never get answers. They’re hooked!
Grab the nearest book at hand and check out those first few lines. See what beautiful worms they dangled before your eyes on the Hook to get you to bite. Come back here and share those great hooks and let’s be enticed together.