Hook, Hook, Where is the Hook?

The hook is what you say when your friends ask, "So what's your book about?" It's how you tweet about your book. It is the fundamental concept behind the plot of your story, written in such a way as to make the reader say, "Cool, tell me more."

But how the heck do you distill 100,000 words into one sentence of cool? It's not easy. The internet has some good tips already, but I'm going to throw my own version into the mix because with something as subjective as a novel hook, you can't have too many ways to think about it.

I think there are 7 things the hook should have:
  1. Protagonist. Who is the story about?
  2. Antagonist. Who or what is against the protagonist?
  3. Goal. What does the protagonist want to accomplish?
  4. Stakes. What will happen if the protagonist does not accomplish their goal?
  5. Conflict. What is keeping the protagonist from accomplishing their goal?
  6. Setting. Where/when does the story take place?
  7. Theme. What is the story's main subject or idea?
Figure out that information, then stuff it into a sentence. That's your core. The rest of your query, synopsis, and even your novel needs to be focused around that. For example:

A cowardly bookworm receives a package from his supposedly-dead mother, so he joins a crew of air pirates to find and rescue her.

This is the hook for Air Pirates. Can you see the elements? Some are weaker than others, but they're there:

Protagonist: cowardly bookworm
Antagonist: not specified, but implied in the word "rescue"
Goal: to rescue his mother
Stakes: his mother will be hurt or die (implied in the word "rescue")
Conflict: he doesn't know where she is, and presumably someone doesn't want her to be rescued
Setting: implied with "a crew of air pirates"
Theme: a coward overcoming his fears

As you can see, not everything has to be stated explicitly, but the more clear the 7 elements are, the stronger your hook will be. (There's a lot to be said for voice, too, but I'm not dealing with that here).

Also be certain nothing else is included. The more you try to cram in, the more questions are raised. In the example, I didn't tell you about the future-telling stone in the package because, although it is important to the story, it raises a lot of questions. And as far as the hook goes, it doesn't matter what's actually in the package, just who it came from, and that he thought she was dead.

So an exercise for you. Take a look at the (current) hook below for my Shiny New Idea,* and see if you can find the 7 elements in it. Which ones are weakest? How could they be made stronger? (I'm not asking you to do this in the comments, though you're welcome to, if you want).

A fugitive ninja must convince a young con-artist to take the throne, before the nobles kill everybody in civil war.

Then take a look at your own hook and do the same!

* Post-Apocalypse Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!). Don't worry. It all makes sense in my head.

(This post is a remix of an older one) 


Author Joshua Hoyt said...

Thanks for this I have always struggled with the hook this spells it out into a clear format that I can follow.

Adam Heine said...

You're quite welcome, Josh. I'd never say it's THE way to do it, but it helps me think about it. Glad it helps you too.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love having something to "check" against and this is a great list! It makes more sense to me than some formulaic approaches, which hint at the right idea, but may not work for every story.

Your hook sounds great! I think coming up with the hook before you write the 100,000 words is the way to go. I'm doing that for the first time now, and it's so much easier.

Matthew MacNish said...

Excellent breakdown Adam! This makes it look easy, but it is NOT.

And Ninja, Dragons, AND Mechs? I want to read that story.

jjdebenedictis said...

This is a great primer! Making those one-sentence loglines is always a hair-tearing experience. And I agree with Susan Kaye Quinn that your hook sounds great.

Adam Heine said...

Glad you guys like the hook. It's still changing as I'm planning everything (a sometimes-frustrating process, but at least it's faster than drafting). I'm sure you'll hear more when I have things to say about it.

Hepius said...

Great post! I like your hook. I love the process of creating a new story. I hope you are enjoying it.

I had to take up the gauntlet and give it a shot:

"A young huntress battles silver-eyed warriors and scheming foreign nobles when she leaves her forest homeland to find a cure for the Wasting."

Probably a little long-winded for a log line.

Adam Heine said...

23 words ain't bad, Matt. I usually shoot for less than 25 (though obviously the fewer, the better).

Lux and Stan said...

Very inspiring. I should seriously question these with my own writing. Thanks.

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

I always struggle with this because it makes my WiP sound kind of stupid.

"A witch who uses her powers to help people fall in love begins having feelings for a man whose marriage she accidentally destroyed."

It's difficult because there's SO much more to the story. I hope I did this right; it's my first attempt :).

Adam Heine said...

I like it, Keriann! I love the inherent conflict that she destroyed his marriage.

Keriann Greaney Martin said...


Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks for the great tips! I'm trying to come up with a hook line as we speak, for a contest...