Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Establishing Story Structure--The Hook

A few years ago I wouldn't have paid any attention to a website about story structure. I'm an organic, trial by error kind of writer. Why else did it take me decades to get published? Trial by error, baby! Yes, and that wastes a LOT of time.

So when my friend M. Gray tossed out her challenge to follow the 10 steps of story structure, I decided to apply it to my current WIP. The timing was perfect. I had the bones of my novel written, why not analyze its structure based on the concepts of Larry Brooks at

First thing is the hook. Larry Brooks (along with Sol Stein's On Writing) emphasizes the necessity of writing the hook early. Brooks suggests the first 20 pages. Stein says the first paragraph. I tend to agree with Sol Stein on this one. Better to get it in early, before the potential buyer gets bored in 5 seconds of reading and puts down the book. Or manuscript (if your desired reader is an agent or editor.)

The hook isn't what the book is about, it's not the plot or the pitch, it's what engages the reader right off. According to Larry Brooks: "It gets our attention early. It tickles us. Intrigues us. "

In my WIP, here's my opening paragraph, my hook:

There was something wrong with Cindy’s baby. At four months, Jakob couldn’t lift his head or focus his eyes. Still, babies develop at different rates. Why should Marcie say anything to needlessly upset her sister?

What do you think? Are you intrigued? Do you want to keep reading? If so, then I've got my hook. If not, I go back to the drawing board. And if any of you want to throw your hooks out for us to look at, please do! Or possibly you have an opening paragraph that you're not sure is a hook or not. Here's your invitation to lay it out for feedback--honest but respectful, of course.

After the hook, comes the "set-up." Next post I'll discuss that.


  1. Ooh, you are a brave lady putting this out there. I am definitely intrigued because as a mother, this would grab me.

    My one (slight) piece of constructive criticism would be the over-use of the word/or variation of "baby" - it appears three times in such a short hook. Perhaps remove the 2nd reference so it reads "At four months, Jakob couldn't lift..."

  2. Definitely a hook! I'd consider combining the last two sentences with a comma and "so".

    This post reminds me of Les Edgerton's, Hook, which greatly improved the way I viewed my manuscripts.

  3. Hi

    I'm hooked, lined and sinkered!

    Can't wait for the setup bit now. How exciting...!

    Take care

  4. I agree the hook needs to appear as early as the first paragraph and I am hooked and intrigued. What’s next?

  5. Yes, I would definitely keep reading. The sentence I come back to though is -- still babies develop at difefrent rates. Good -- but maybe it can be better. It sounds like you are trying to set up the internal conflict Marcie has about telling her sister. So maybe something more descriptive that is normal for babies that age. Something to consider.

  6. Great hook, and I like that not only is it about Jakob, but that the suggestion of a conflict is nestled in there between the two sisters. Def want to read more!

  7. That opening makes my heart hurt a little. But in the way you want! The emotional heartstrings kind of way.

  8. Donna, good point and how did I miss that? Maybe I'll post my entire ms up here paragraph by paragraph for detailed critique lol.

    Theresa, thanks but....if you knew how many times *so* creeps into my writing, you would not ask this!

    Kitty, I put your lovely award on my sidebar. The rules were too confusing for me to figure out lol!

    Collette, you are so right. Another thing Sol Stein says is to write to give an effect rather than for information. And this sentence simply gives information.

    Joanne, yep! That was the idea! I'm glad you caught it.

    maybe genius, Definitely what I wanted. Sorry!

    Ann, if you keep reading my blog you will find out (kind of), because I'm going to use my own WIP as I post about story structure.

  9. Thanks for the link.

    I'm hooked and want to know more.

  10. Everyone, thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would have been to post that and get zero comments? Yes, I took a risk, and my blogger friends came through for me, so again, thank you.

    Deb,I also have the link on my sidebar. It took me countless times going over the steps, and to my ms, and back to the steps. I don't know if I'm dense or what, but I had to learn by doing to fully comprehend.

  11. That's a good hook. It got me thinking "Oh dear..."; and I mean that in a good way. Thanks for leaving a comment on my post today!

  12. I like it! But I might re-arrange a couple sentences. Ex-

    There was something wrong with Cindy's baby. He was four months old but couldn't lift his head or focus his eyes. Marcy debated saying anything to her sister. After all, babies develop at different rates. Why cause needless worry?

    Still . . .

  13. Melissa, I like those last two sentences. Actually your last 3 sentences are good, I'll try them! Thanks for the input!

  14. Great hook! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on such an important topic.

  15. I like your hook!

    I just nominated you for an award on my blog ;)

  16. So glad I stumbled on your blog.
    Great hook! I really like the mention of the baby being unable to focus his eyes. That's a good pre-echo of other things being out of focus. Nice touch with the hint of a problem between the sisters.
    Will be back!

  17. My Chutney Garden, welcome and thanks for the comment! Omigosh, I never thought of that being a foreshadow of other things being out of focus. That is giving me chills at this moment. Or maybe it's the snow outside. But anyway, that's brilliant and you are absolutely right because that's one of the major themes of the book.

  18. I already love the baby and I already love Marcie for noticing and worrying,and I have sympathy for the mother, because maybe she knows, too, but is hoping it's nothing. See? You have me asking questions. It's amazing what language can do. Good post, Karen!

  19. Thanks for this post I will have to review my WIP. Great hook:)

  20. Krista, what a wonderful response/comment! Thank you!

    Christine, Yeah just reading about hooks got me changing my first paragraph a dozen times.

  21. Yes, you're definitely right - hook in first paragraph, if not first sentence!

    I think your first sentence here is great. It sets up everything, really, and then you get into the story and characters etc.

    (And btw I like Theresa's suggestion, but I know what it's like to have certain words like 'so' bug you.)

  22. I love this... Here's my thoughts, take them or leave them. I'd cut the first sentence because the problem stated in the second sentence is the "something wrong with the baby":

    At four months, Jakob couldn’t lift his head or focus his eyes. Marcy debated saying anything to Cindy. After all, babies developed at different rates. Why worry her sister?

  23. SF, Yes, so is one of those words I could put in every sentence if I'm not careful.

    Christine, I like the Why worry her sister? change. Melissa also suggested that, and I think it sounds good. Wonder how many times I'll fiddle with this first paragraph before I finally settle on just the right one. Well, it's important isn't it? It's the hook after all!

  24. I think it worked just as it was. I'd really want to read on. I like the way you bring the sister in too. Wow. I am going to look at those 10 rules now.

    I have posted a few bits of fiction in an interesting site called It's a peer review site. Sometimes you can get some useful comments.