Hook Examples from Television

A few weeks ago, I talked about 7 things that need to be present in the hook (the mini-synopsis, the query... whatever you call it, it's the thing you send to agents and editors in the hopes that they will want to read your book). I had a hard time finding real-world examples of query letters, but I did find some examples from good, old-fashioned television. That's what we're talking about today.

One thing most television shows do is resell themselves with every single episode. You never know when a new viewer is going to tune in, and you don't want them to tune out just because they don't get it. You need to hook them from the beginning. Sometimes, that hook comes in the form of a voice over that explains the show's premise in a cool, interesting way. See if you can find the 7 things in each of these examples.

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team.
This example is 50% setup, but all the elements are there, and the setup goes a long way towards establishing the characters - not individually of course, but as a team, which is really what the show was about. After this voice over, the visuals that played during the theme song would give you a sense of the characters. In a query letter, you've still got a whole paragraph or two to do the same thing.

Knight Rider: a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man, who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.
This is not a good example of specificity (what the heck is "a shadowy flight"?), but it is concise. All the elements, except for maybe setting, are presented in only 45 words. Of course this hook omits the coolest thing about the show, namely Kitt. That's what needs to go in the rest of the query (and, again, Kitt is everywhere during the rest of the theme).

The alien world of Myrrh is being devoured by dark water. Only Ren, a young prince, can stop it by finding the lost 13 treasures of Ruul. At his side is an unlikely, but loyal crew of misfits. At his back - the evil pirate lord Bloth, who will stop at nothing to get the treasures for himself. It's high adventure with the pirates of dark water!
This is from a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon I used to watch. It's crammed pack with cliche (hey, it was a cartoon!), but every element is there and it tells you what to expect: adventure, pirates, a quest, treasures, and even a little fantasy. All in only 67 words.

Water, earth, fire, air - long ago, the four nations lived in harmony, then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years later, my brother and I discovered the new Avatar - an airbender named Aang, but though his airbending skills are great, he's got a lot to learn before he's ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.
Last example. This lacks a little in that it's unclear how one can be a "master of all four elements" or what "airbending" is without being able to see the accompanying visuals. The other thing about this one is that first person in a query is a no-no, unless it's a memoir. Both of those things can be tweaked to make this appropriate for a query letter. Even so, I think the first person works really well here. Mainly because that last sentence gives you a sense, not only of Aang's character, but of the narrator's character as well.

These examples aren't perfect. I present them to show how the 7 things - protagonist, antagonist, goals, stakes, conflict, setting, and theme - can be presented in an interesting way in a short space. None of these examples is longer than 100 words. That leaves you with another 150-250 words to clarify the 7 elements, talk about your credentials, and mention why you chose that particular agent. If you can do all that concisely, you will have gone a long way towards your goal.

Last tips for today:
(1) Read your query out loud to yourself. You can catch a lot more errors that way.
(2) Imagine your query being read by the guy who does movie trailers. I'm not joking. It helps.

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