Hooks. We’ve all heard about the importance of a good hook. But what exactly is it? And how do we write one?
Let’s begin by looking at the elevator pitch – the entire story condensed into one sentence. A daunting prospect! But it doesn’t have to be. Because the perfect elevator pitch is made up of three parts – your story concept, your main character, your main conflict. And it highlights one question for each of these elements.
- Concept – is it high enough?
- Character – what do they want?
- Conflict – why can’t they have it?
But, these three elements don’t just make up the elevator pitch – they’re also the fundamental building blocks to your book’s perfect hook. They hook your reader in, and make it impossible for them to stop reading until they get to the end.
Your Perfect Hook – Part One: Concept
Take a look at your idea. Can you express it in a couple of sentences? Can you hone your idea so that it can be easily communicated to another person, and make them immediately want to know more?
Check out this video link to Michael Hauge talking about The High Concept Movie. The same ideas apply to writing novels as well. It’s a long video, and I suggest watching it all at some point, but for now you can just watch the very start to get an idea of the importance of knowing your concept.
In Conversation with Michael Hauge: The High Concept Movie
An easily communicated concept is fundamental to all forms of story-telling. Here are two examples of recent YA books:
The Fault in our Starsby John Green:
A dying teenage girl gets a reason to live when she meets her true love at a cancer support group.
Dumplin’by Julie Murphy:
Deep in the heart of Texas, a rebellious fat girl enters a beauty pageant run by her conventional beauty queen mother
From these examples, it’s easy to see that on one level, your perfect hook is a sales tool. As a writer, you want to hook an agent. An agent wants to hook a publisher. A publisher wants to hook a reader – and the ability to hook many readers translates into sales. And sadly, there are lots of interesting stories out there not being published because they don’t have a big enough hook. In these cases, feedback from publishers is often along the lines of – ‘I love it, but I don’t know how to sell it.’ I’m not going to debate whether this is right or wrong, because that’s not even the point – if the current market demands a perfect hook, and if we want to get an agent and get published, then a perfect hook is what we must provide.
As writers, then, it’s tempting to ignore the importance of the hook, and to think of it as a sales tool for marketing – and therefore nothing to do with the serious creative process of writing an actual book (ahem) – but this would be a huge mistake. Because your perfect hook is much more important and fundamental to the creative process than that. It’s actually the most useful bit of thinking and planning that a writer can do at story conception.
Working on writing your book’s conceptin an easy to communicate form, highlights holes and issues with the story.
We have to fully understand our main character– we have to know what they want, why they want it, what they’ll do to get it, what they won’t do – anything? We have to feel their desperate need to have this thing that they want. We have to want it for them.
Then we have to destroy them! What is the main conflictstopping them from attaining their desire? What or who is the fundamental obstacle standing in their way?
Once we fully realise the main character’s desire line and the main conflict, the elevator pitch should be simple. And when it’s finally simple, we can breathe a sigh of relief. Writing the book is easier from this point on, because the concept of the book is clear.
So, we need to know the concept to hook the reader – but why does it hook the reader? One reason is because it contains so much promise – character, conflict, story world, journey, probable scenarios they hope to read about. One of the big pleasures of reading is seeing the premise unfold – seeing if the writing matches up to the concept. Did the writer successfully fulfil ‘the promise of the premise’? This phrase is from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. I recommend reading this entire book – but especially the section about the premise. It really helps with the whole process of thinking about your concept.
Another great resource for developing your concept is Anatomy of Storyby John Truby – especially Chapter Two, ‘Premise.’ In it Truby talks about concepts and ideas not as tools to sell your story – but as ways to design your story, as ways to develop it and to fully understand it. Watch the following video where Truby explains the importance of knowing the story concept before starting to write. I recommend watching the whole video, but the bit about the story concept is at 4.00 mins.
John Truby – The Premise Line
Honing your concept gets you ready to write your book. And when it’s written, you’re ready to pitch it. There are loads of events where you can sign up to pitch face-to-face and get immediate feedback. You don’t have to have a big personality or be chatty with strangers. You can be a quiet, bookish person (ahem – like me) and still do a good job at a pitch meeting when you know your book’s concept.
So let’s define our hooks. It isn’t easy to pin down an entire book into an elevator pitch, but let’s do it! And if we’re really struggling, then there’s a hole somewhere. In that case, we need to take another look at defining our main character’s desire line and the main conflict standing in their way. Once we’ve done that, not only will we have the perfect elevator pitch, but we’ll also have a solid, fully-formed concept to pin above our desks in massive letters as we start writing!
Part Twoof Writing your Perfect Hook – Conflictwill be along in May, as one of the themed monthly blogs. And Part Three, will be here in August when we explore Character.
I pitched my book (and got my agent as a direct result) at the Comma Press event, which takes place annually at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. (Thanks, Melissa Welliver for organising our fab trip!) I know lots of people here have also pitched both in the UK and the USA, to editors, agents and other writers. It’s great for meeting like-minded people – book people are the best! Let’s get a list going of writing events where you can hook potential readers and pitch your book!
Julie Marney Leigh writes contemporary novels for teens about fun, friendship and feminism. She grew up in Lancashire, and now lives in Scotland where she gained a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, and fell in love with the city.
She lectured in English at the university for many years, as well as being a Director of the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School. More recently, she is an alumna of the Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children Course with Catherine Johnson.
She is represented by Chloe Seager at Northbank Talent Management.
Follow @jules_leigh for updates.