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How To Write A Great Hook That Grabs Your Audience Hook, Line, And Sinker!

By Ashley Austrew

In this article, we’re going to teach you how to write a great hook. Now, did that get your attention? We didn’t think so. Luckily, we’re here to help you avoid starting your own essays, stories, and papers with the same sort of uninspired introduction.

The trick to getting readers invested in your writing is crafting an excellent hook. If you simply tell someone what you’re about to write, as we did above, it doesn’t create much anticipation to find out what’s going to happen next. Whether you’re working on a heart-thumping thriller or an emotional personal essay, an effective hook allows you to grab your reader’s attention and draw them into your work.

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Everyone from academic writers to beloved authors like Toni Morrison or Stephen King use hooks in their writing. Here’s what you need to know to craft an impactful hook in whatever you’re working on, and some go-to strategies that can help along the way.

What is a hook?

In writing, a hook is “something that attracts attention or serves as enticement.” In other words, it’s how writers “hook” their readers into continuing to read. Typically, the hook is something you deploy in the first line or in the opening paragraph of your work. In music, a hook refers to the part of the song that’s catchiest and also most likely to “hook” you.

In essay writing, the hook might be a stirring anecdote or a compelling fact that serves as a way into the rest of your piece. In fiction, the hook may be a uniquely arresting first sentence or an event that drops your reader right into the action. Even journalists use hooks when they write a compelling lede, or introduction, to a news story.

Wondering what this looks like in action? Let’s look at a few examples.

Examples of effective hooks

1. “Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Roger Ebert

Hook: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.”

Why it works: This personal essay by famed critic Roger Ebert uses a compelling opening sentence to hook readers. “I know it’s coming, and I do not fear it,” Ebert writes. Immediately, the reader has a question: what is coming, and why isn’t it to be feared? We get the answer before the end of the sentence. The thing that’s coming is death, and Ebert doesn’t believe there is anything in the afterlife worth fearing.

This is an effective hook because, even though it answers our initial questions, it leaves us with more to wonder about. If this writer does not fear death, how does he feel about it? What led him to feel this way? How do his beliefs compare to what his readers might believe? These new, more complex questions compel the reader to follow Ebert into the rest of his essay.

2.Uncanny the Singing That Comes From Certain Husks” by Joy Williams

Hook: “It’s become fashionable these days to say that the writer writes because he is not whole: he has a wound, he writes to heal it. But who cares if the writer is not whole?”

Why it works: This example is from an informative essay on the craft of writing, and the writer begins by grabbing readers with an effective strategy. First, she shares a common assumption she believes many people hold: writers are wounded artists who write to heal. Next, she blows it up: who cares? Readers may agree or disagree with this, but either way, they’re going to keep reading to see where this writer’s argument goes.

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Hook: “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.”

Why it works: In fiction, hooks serve many purposes. They grab the reader’s attention, but they also help establish the scene, characters, and plot. In a matter of three sentences, readers of Toni Morrison’s Beloved know this story is about a painful history and complex relationships. They know this house is important. They’re immediately acquainted with Morrison’s sharp, lyrical style. This hook accomplishes all of that while also serving the biggest function of a hook in fiction writing: to make readers want to know what happens next.

Why effective hooks matter

As you can see from the examples above, a hook serves a lot of different purposes in writing. An effective hook can:

 

  • Help set the scene or define the subject you’re writing about.
  • Help you introduce characters or establish yourself as the authority in the piece.
  • Introduce readers to your voice, style, and tone.
  • Grab the reader’s attention and give them incentive to keep reading.

There should be a “why” behind every piece of writing: why does this information or story matter, and why are you the right person to communicate it to the reader? The hook is your first opportunity to answer these questions for your readers and give them a reason to invest in your work.

Check out these timeless and tantalizing hooks from novels for more inspiration.

How to write an effective hook

Now that you know what a great hook looks like, here are some tips for crafting the hook that will work best in your own writing.

1. Determine your purpose.

Are you writing to inform or to entertain? Are you showcasing a personal story or trying to draw your audience into a fictional tale? Informative writing may begin with a question or by dispelling a common argument, whereas a narrative essay may start by drawing readers into a scene using action. The intent behind your writing should drive your opening hook.

2. Connect with your audience.

In order to grab your reader’s attention, you must first know which readers you’re going after. If you’re a surgeon writing a professional paper for your colleagues, your hook will need to speak directly to the interests and concerns of other surgeons. If you’re a student writing an admissions essay to send in with college applications, then your hook will need to help you stand out from the crowd. Decide who you want to pay attention to your writing, and then write your hook to them.

3. Set the tone.

Once you know your audience, it’s time to think about the tone of your piece. Ask yourself what mood you’re trying to create for your reader and what information they need to know immediately as they dive into your piece. If you’re writing a formal paper or essay, then your hook will need to be as engaging and succinct as possible. In fiction, you may want to withhold some information and begin with action to draw readers in.

If you aren’t sure what path to choose, write a few different hooks and choose the one that makes the most sense with your piece. Some different kinds of hooks to consider include:

 

  • A quote from an expert source or that relates to what you’re writing about.
  • A personal anecdote.
  • A relevant and well-sourced statistic.
  • Questions that challenge the reader or spark their curiosity.
  • A joke, if appropriate for the type of writing.
  • Vivid or unexpected language, as seen in the examples by Toni Morrison and Roger Ebert.
  • Starting in medias res, or “in the middle of things.” Get straight into the action.
  • Setting a scene by including details about the place, time, or characters.

What to avoid in writing hooks

Even though a hook is designed to get the reader’s attention, you’ll want to make sure your hook is attracting positive attention, not making potential readers roll their eyes and tune out. Here are some common missteps to avoid when writing your hook:

 

  • Clichés, such as talking about how “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” in a piece about recycling.
  • Broad statements that aren’t supported by the sources or facts included in your piece.
  • Including personal anecdotes that don’t relate to the main idea of your writing.
  • Withholding vital information to the extent that the reader ends up confused rather than interested.

A well-written hook is like a taste test for the rest of your piece. It should give readers a sample of what you have to offer and leave them hungry for more, not make them feel unsure about whatever is coming next.

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