Wednesday, February 23, 2011

H is for Hook

The opening of a story needs to draw the reader in to the world of your story. A common way to do that is to drop the reader into the middle of some action. But there are other ways too. What interests you when you first pick up a book? It might be the character or the situation. A strong voice. Any of these could hook your middle grade reader at the beginning of the story. What you really need to do is to make your readers curious enough about your story to keep reading.

Some ideas for making your reader curious:

Give your character a strong voice. A character with a distinctive personality will help your reader connect with the story. Intriguing characters share opinions and feelings with readers right from the beginning, through the way they speak or the way the story is told. The reader gets a sense of who the main character is before the story really starts.

Create an unanswered question. If you can create a question in the reader's mind, they'll keep reading to get the answer. A good question comes from a problem or situation that motivates your character to do something. Even a small problem or conflict at the beginning can help hook your reader as they wait to see how it's resolved. The question can be posed right in the dialogue (as in the familiar opening of Charlotte’s Web) or implied by story events.

A key thing to remember when writing for middle graders is that your story needs to activate that sense of curiousity in your reader all through the story. Adults are more willing to wait and see what will happen with a story that has started to lag, because they have faith it will pick up again. Not so for kids. If a book gets boring, they’d drop it and go and do something else.

How do you create a good hook when you're writing? Do you always drop the reader into the action?


Patricia C. Wrede discusses the importance of creating an opening that fits your story.

Ellen Jackson outlines some key elements for hooking your reader.

Margaret Nevinski talks about the hook pulling the reader through the story instead of into it.

Sue Walker writes about making your readers wonder with your novel opening.

Some thoughts on the impact of your first sentence at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

And some examples of great first paragraphs from Adventures in Children’s Publishing.

Alison Stevens tells us about some elements of a good hook.


  1. Great voice is the big one for me. If the voice doesn't capture me then sometimes the mysteries or secrets fall flat!

  2. Love the part about creating unanswered questions! Thanks for the links too :)

  3. Oooh thanks for posting all that great linkage! :)

    Hooks are very important, especially in MG. I love putting my characters right into the action and taking the reader along the ride. Backstory can wait.

  4. I think starting with action is critical for MG. My daughter just stopped reading the 2nd book of The Series of Unfortunate Events because it became snoresville to her after a couple of chapters. The hook definitely needs to pull the reader through the story not just through the first few pages.

    Mary Kole has a fabulous post about making sure you have some context (stimulus) before getting into the heat of the action (reaction).

  5. Great post and thanks for the links. You're so right about curiosity. In fact I think you've inspired me to blog about this too!

    I just read City of Ember, and I think the use of the half-readable secret Instructions letter was a brilliant way to get kids involved and reading on, because they're trying to figure out what it says and what it means. Well-done clues that a young reader can follow are a great way to keep their interest.

  6. Thanks everyone for your kind comments!

    Brooke, I've seen my daughter drop a book at the beginning, the middle or any point when she gets bored (never a Harry Potter book). Thanks for your link!

    Girl Friday, a little mystery with carefully placed clues is a great way to keep curiosity active, even if the book is not a mystery.

  7. Love this! Thanks for all the great linkage.

  8. You're welcome, Julie. I think these "ABCs" are a great reference for myself, and I'm always glad to hear when they are helpful to someone else too.


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