Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Four Great Ways for an Author to Hook a Reader

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Pick a book from your reading pile and read the first line of the story. Did it "hook" you? Did it make you want to read more? Or did you put the book back down and promise yourself you'll read it later

Hooks are that important. They are really the difference between your book being read or not.

So, how do we create great hooks? Here are four things to do.

1. Create a question in the reader's mind.

A hook should be provocative and immediately immerse the reader in the ongoing story question. For instance, 

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984.

What questions should a reader have? What do the weather, the month, and broken clocks have to do with the story? Sounds ominous to me, as if something very much worse was going to happen.

Another one: 
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

This first line tells us a huge amount, including that the protagonist doesn't speak correct English, that he's been in another story which the reader may have read, and that he'll get on with the story, no matter what.

2. Start In media res

Or, in English, "in the middle of." Instead of miles and miles of backstory or description, we can start in the middle of something very important and immediately hook our reader. Don't worry, you can use the backstory and description later, but start with something interesting and gripping.

Mother died today. —Albert Camus, The Stranger 

Can't get much more in the middle of something than that, right?

Here's another one: 
“It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” --Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden. 

The foreboding, the fear hanging over her head is palpable. Would you read more?

3. Use an interesting character or description

Surprise your reader. Show them someone or someplace so intriguing they can't put the book down.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 

This line foreshadows the character who ends up in real problems.
The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. —Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt. 

Beautiful imagery!

4. Give your character a goal

The goal can be implied, but the power is in letting the reader know right away that the character will have to fight to get what he or she wants.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.

Immediately, we know that catching a fish is the main thing he wants.

Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. —Ha Jin, Waiting. 

Wow! Why does he intend to divorce her? Why doesn't he? 

There are many more ways to create hooks, of course, but these will give you a good start.

A couple of words of warning: 
  • Don't think that the hook is the answer to making your book great. Everything in the book needs to be great.
  • The hook needs to be directly connected to what happens in the book and, at least to some degree, an overview of the entire book. For instance, don't have an easily or quickly solved problem be your hook. "She thought she was going to die," sounds like a great hook but if she's not under a threat of death throughout the entire book, the reader will feel cheated.

What kind of hooks do you like? Post a favorite hook or one you're struggling with and we'll work on it!


I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.

Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or


  1. Great advice, especially your warnings. The hook shouldn't be a trick.

    1. Absolutely! A hook is only a tiny piece of the writing puzzle.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. As always, your posts are crafting wisdom I hunger for and pay attention to. The timing of this one is especially relevant. THanks.
    Jay Wright; Anderson, SC

    1. You're very welcome, Jay. Thanks for letting me know it's helpful.

  3. I always look forward to reading your posts. Thanks for your great advice.
    ~~The altar was abandoned. Except for him. Kneeling, head lowered as if in deep conversation with God. I wondered what had caused him to linger. Was it a thankful heart? Or a burden too heavy to bear?

  4. Very good! Lots of great questions raised. Yay!

  5. Great points on how to hook the reader and set up a preview of the following events.
    You are a special writing teacher. Thanks for helping writers learn their craft and become stronger story tellers.