Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Develop Your Book's Hook With These Three Questions

by Cindy K Sproles @CindyDevoted

Writers hear valued advice daily. Conflict drives the story. Character development is critical. The plot must push readers through to the end, only to mention a few. There is one aspect of our writing that jumps ahead of conflict, characters, and plot. It’s the first thing the reader sees. The line that makes them decide on the spot, whether they will continue to read. The hook—and oh, baby—is this ever important.


Seasoned writers understand the value of a good hook. Many are like myself pouring days over that first page until it’s perfect. To begin, here are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself about the beginning of your book. Keep in mind, there are exceptions to every rule but truthfully, on the hook, it’s hard-pressed to skimp.

Question one: Is my hook on the first page of my draft? Well, is it? The hard truth is, readers are very finicky creatures. They know what they like to read and the amount of time they give you to “clue” them in on the conflict, is short. Some readers will allow the writer five pages before they throw caution to the wind and your book out of the window. Approximately 30% will give you to the end of the first page, another 70% insist you give them a solid “draw them in moment” in the first three paragraphs. That’s a little frightening when you think about it. It makes our readers seem somewhat fickle but cut them some slack. Most are avid readers who consume book after book like M&M’s in a bowl. This should tell you something. A) Readers are smart B) Readers want to be pulled into the story immediately. This is a great gaging tool for you as you begin your novel. 

I see loads of manuscripts beautifully crafted but what they lack is the “draw me in moment.” They’re filled with amazing descriptions and they paint beautiful pictures in my head, but what is a beautiful picture without the reason? As an editor, I find newer writers will locate their hook about seven to ten paragraphs into the first chapter. Remember, that 70%?

Question two: What is the conflict my protagonist is experiencing and how can I drop my reader square into the middle of that conflict? How can I gut-punch them with words and when they catch their breath, start them running alongside the protagonist? You know your story so search it out.

It’s important to remember that a good hook does not always represent an action-packed scene. Many times it’s a quandary, a situation, a problem the protagonist battles with. For example, Charlotte Bronte’s hook from Jane Eyre. 

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

Or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Call me Ishmael. 

A hook doesn’t have to be a killing spree or a mad race. It simply needs to force the reader to ask this all-important question – “What on earth is going on here?”

A good hook can be contemplative like in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. (Comtemplative but curious.)

Your hook can very well be dropping the reader into the middle of a battle, with guns or swords wielding. Whatever you choose, it absolutely must make the reader ask “What on earth is going on here?” When the reader asks that question, their curiosity forces them to turn the page and if you work hard to craft your paragraphs, you will drag them by the nose ring from chapter to chapter.

Question three: Does my hook set the pace for the story? – I’m sure you’ve heard writing instructors talk about pacing. What is pacing? Pacing is the speed that your story is told. It doesn’t necessarily mean the speed at which the story takes place rather it’s the length of scenes and pages, how quickly the action moves and moving the story ahead at a pace that doesn’t bog the reader down. It’s how quickly the writer feeds the reader information. Look over your first couple of pages and once you nail down your hook, then put it through the tests. Does it feed your reader quickly or does it weigh them down with unnecessary information otherwise called backstory? We sometimes feel as though we need to give the reader every detail but it’s not necessary. 

Remember, our readers are smart. Think of a movie. When the first scene opens you are thrust into the middle of a moment. Nothing works you up to it by telling you all the information that led to that moment (again, there are exceptions to every rule but rules have to be broken properly or the result is still a lost reader.) We want our readers to jump into the fiction bubble and live out loud not have them questioning why we didn’t just get to the point. Anything that forces your reader to rabbit trail, ends with a frustrated reader. 


One final tidbit. Know the purpose of your story. Know what you want the reader to take home at the end of the day. We end our days, months, and sometimes years, there are life lessons. Some end perfectly while others cause us to stumble to our feet, dust off our knees, and repeat that we will not tread that path again. Your story is the same way. If you haven’t explored your plot enough or dug into your characters deep enough before you start to know what you want the reader to take away from the story, then you will have readers who close the book unfulfilled. When you craft your hook, it’s important to know the purpose of the story so that the beginning defines the goal or desire of the protagonist and sets them on a journey to fulfill that desire.

Hooks aren’t always taken seriously. We are so excited to get into the meat of the story that we leave the reader stuck on the bench waiting for the train. Discover the hook of your story and craft it with great precision. If you need inspiration, search for the best hooks in literature and I would bet you will recognize the greats all have block-buster hooks.

Your challenge is to stop where you are in your work and search out your hook. If you can get it into the first line or paragraph, then awesome but don’t let it slip onto page two. 

Feed your reader and they will thirst for more.


Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries and the executive editor for christiandevotions.us and inspireafire.com. Cindy is the lead managing editor for SonRise Devotionals and also Straight Street Books, both imprints of LPC/Iron Stream Media Publications. She is a mentor with Write Right and the director of the Asheville Chrisitan Writers Conference held each February at the Billy Graham Training Center, the Cove, Asheville, NC. Cindy is a best selling, award winning novelist. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.


  1. I don't know that you said anything I haven't heard before, but I love hearing it again in your mountain accent, lol.

  2. You practice what you preach, Cindy. I'm drawn into your story every single time. For nonfiction books, the hook is just as important. Story draws them in (and keeps them there). In my current project, even though it is a Bible study, every chapter begins with a story. And the first line is always a hook. Thank you for your wisdom!!

  3. The hook is equally, if not more so, important in non-fiction. Something has to drag the reader in. So you are absolutely right.

  4. I find hooks challenging, but I understand their importance. Thanks for the advice!

  5. They are tricky. That's why you keep working on them.

  6. Cindy, so much of what you shared here aligns with what I'm reading in Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron. Your questions have me thinking through my opening page of my story. I'm going to take them and use them as a filter to see if I've set up a solid hook. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Thanks, Cindy. Such wisdom is always welcome.

  8. Thanks Cindy for sharing your wisdom.