June 04, 2020, 02:36:51 AM

Author Topic: Does There Need To Be A Hook?  (Read 6642 times)

Online Doctor_Chill

  • RPG Ringleader and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Ta'veren
  • **
  • Posts: 3766
  • Total likes: 818
  • Gender: Male
  • You've been pugged.
    • View Profile
    • Acerbic Writing
Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« on: July 31, 2015, 02:47:44 AM »
I hesitated to throw this into the Writer's Corner, namely because it's both a reader and a writer question, but I opted for the more conventional area.

Anyway, me and Jmack have noticed lately that there's this growing concern when looking at the first few pages of a manuscript (say first 10 pages) in that there needs to be a hook. It could be from the era we live in today, and I do agree it's most noticeable in the younger generation, but is it a mere by-product of the instant gratification world we live in? There's so many good books to read that we have this perception that we need to be stingy? I was a reviewer for 2/3 years, so I understand the rush that comes with reading, but I guess I don't understand it from a purely "you need a hook" standpoint.

Google "how to hook your reader" and twenty billion advice columns pop up on how to get the reader interested from the onset. But to me, they all seem a little generic. I've tried "why we don't need to hook the reader" and found zilch. One of the biggest things I argued with my English teacher about in school was that it's the worst cliche to drop somebody straight into the action. Arguments have been made time and time again "why should we care?" yadda yadda, but there's the flipside to this: In that we describe all the unnecessary things (your perception of "unnecessary" may vary), and I think that's a common staple of old-time Fantasy, or even what we might call classics. Maybe this is the push against that once rule. I dunno.

I'm the kind of person that can wait a good 50 to 100 pages before I need a real hook. Before I can comment on how things are progressing as a whole and if they interest me. I'm not sure if the critiquers (for lack of a better example) are merely being over analytical, or if this really is the norm. I see it with my parents when they watch movies or TV shows, in that if nothing action-y happens in the first ten minutes, they'll give the old "this needs to pick up" shtick and I start to get a little frustrated. Sometimes slow is good, in my opinion. Sometimes I'm hooked by other, smaller things beside a compelling plot (but how can you create a compelling plot from the onset?) or compelling characters (but how can you create compelling characters from the onset without falling into cliche?). It's frustrating at times, and I'm unsure if there is an answer.

Ramble over, I guess the question was: Does there need to be a visible hook in a book from the onset? Or are you fine with letting it develop over time?
“It’s a dangerous thing, pretense. A man ought to know who he is, even if he isn’t proud to be it.” - Tomorrow the Killing, Daniel Polansky

For book reviews - https://acerbicwriting.com/

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2015, 03:30:41 AM »
I think there needs to be a hook, but that hook can involve lots of different things.
Oh, that's an interesting character, I'd like to read more . . .
Oh, fight scene, I want more of that . . .
Pithy comment that summarizes some aspect of being human, yeah that's neat, I want more. . .
OMG unicorns firing lasers out of their horns, this is a world I'd like to explore . . .
Oooh, turning several tropes upside down in the first paragraph, I got to see more . . .

Offline Rukaio_Alter

  • Writing Contest Regular and Ineffectual Comic Relief
  • Writing Group
  • Ambient Mage
  • ****
  • Posts: 412
  • Total likes: 431
    • View Profile
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2015, 03:51:15 AM »
(This is kind of doubling as a response to some of the posts in the 'Writer with a capital W' thread so apologies if I go a touch off topic in places)

Yes and no, depending on what exactly you mean by 'hook'. For the sake of argument, I'll assume you're referring to plot hooks, because otherwise yes you most definitively need a hook. I mean think about it, boiled down to its basics, what is a 'hook'? It's a reason for someone to want to read on. And that can be due to all sorts of things, not just plot related. Interesting characters/writing-style/world building/whatever, all of them count as hooks. I don't think you can seriously argue that you should start a book off by giving the reader absolutely nothing interesting. Even the old-timey texts you're arguing didn't have hooks still probably interested people at that time through their writing style which has since drifted out of fashion to the modern audience (because tastes, slang, speaking styles, etc change, not just because we're all getting dumber. (Same reason Shakespeare is nigh incomprehensible to most kids nowadays. The common language has changed so much it's almost foreign to how it was in Shakespeare's time.))

Plot hooks, on the other hand, are a bit more debatable and, like all things writing, it depends on how you write it. Slow openings can work very well as a way to get introduced to characters/worlds/etc. However, I will argue that plot hooks are so common and celebrated because they're a lot lot easier to pull off in an effective way. A slow opening is all well and good to get introduced to characters/worlds/etc, but if your readers don't like your characters/worlds/etc (which is can very easily happen since its difficult to get across the depth/complexity of a character/world in just a couple of chapters), you've got absolutely nothing to keep their attention or interest. Even if things do heat up later in the story, that doesn't stop the beginning from being slow and uninteresting (same reason you can have people enjoying the first two acts of something, but hating the ending). Meanwhile, with a plot hook, you just set up a few simple questions (How can the Immortal Dark Lord be killed? Who killed the King? Will our heroes succeed) and, even if the characters/etc, aren't as solid as you'd like, the reader will keep reading to find out the answers to these questions.

As for action openings, which I note you brought up, they work because they immediately pull the audience in with a sense of tension and adrenaline, getting them strongly invested in the events near immediately (provided you write it well enough.) And this sense of investment follows over to the slower paced scenes and, even the characters/worlds aren't that strong, the audience (usually) is invested enough from the action to overlook that. Of course, the disadvantage to action openings is that they struggle to pull off heavy emotional moments due to a lack of character establishment. The best you could probably do is a character death at the end of a chapter after you spent nearly the entire chapter getting to know them. And even then you have to keep the emotion subdued. Having a character wailing and blubbering over that death wouldn't work because we don't know them enough for that reaction to really hit home. So, like most things in writing, there are positives and negatives to them.

Anyway, I think the reason the whole 'hook' thing turns up a lot in critiques on here more because you're only posting the first chapter or so. When you're only critiquing the first chapter of the book, one of the most important questions to keep in mind is 'Would I read on?' And if there isn't a sufficient hook, then it's hard to say yes. Like I discussed in my first paragraph, you can create a hook through all sorts of things, like character/writing-style/etc, but if said characters/etc doesn't strike us hard enough as interesting, then yes, the lack of a plot hook does become noticeable and problematic and people will comment on it. However, this doesn't apply as often to proper readers because they already have the entire book and thus, unlike critiquers, don't need to seek out anything more if they're interested. However, it's not just us critiquers this applies to. Compared to several decades ago where writing equipment was far far more difficult to obtain and writers were a much smaller species, Publishers nowadays have to deal with countless manuscripts from all sorts of people of varying competence and don't have the time or patience to read through them all. Thus, if you don't have a strong enough hook in the first few chapters to keep them reading, they'll move onto something else. It's not so much a case of our culture being too impatient (although arguments could be made that we have become so as a result of this), it's a case of publishing companies adapting to keep up with the time and technology that has since been developed.

Okay, phew, that was a long one.
5 Times Winner of the Forum Writing Contest who Totally Hasn't Let it All go to his Head.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Also, <Insert GOD EMPEROR OF THE WRITING CONTEST joke here>

Offline tebakutis

  • Falsely Puffed Up Rascal Pig and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2444
  • Total likes: 1752
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • www.tebakutis.com
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2015, 03:52:57 AM »
All the advice I've heard about "there needs to be a hook" comes from other authors I know, both those who've been traditionally published and those who are still trying.

From authors (including several I know who've been traditionally published) the reasons I've heard that authors need a "hook" right out of the gate is because the vast majority of agents (who are pretty much the gatekeepers for all traditional press, with the exception of Baen) tend to read the first page, or even the first paragraph, of any book sent to them. If they aren't "hooked" by that first paragraph/page, the author get's a "sorry, not for me!" and the agent moves on to the next fifty slush submissions.

I've also been able to talk with a few former agents who handled sci-fi fantasy, and they also offered some interesting trivia as well. For instance, in some agencies, the agents don't even look at the slush - they leave that for their interns. Some of these interns may not even like sci-fi/fantasy... they're just "doing their time" at the agency to get experience, so they can move on and work with literary books (genre stuff is still seen as inferior to literary in lots of ways). So that's another incentive to hook early.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that due to the large volume of slush agents and their interns receive, they aren't going to read past the first page unless the book is immediately interesting. You don't get 50 pages to impress an agent... sometimes you don't even get one. So it's in your best interest to start the story as close to the interesting point as you can.

You can also see this trend in a lot of trilogies nowadays (since most big presses who DO sign authors sign three book deals). The first book always picks up super fast, while the second and third may take their time (since it's already sold) and they don't have to get moving quite so fast.

To make this even more discouraging, I was recently at ArmadilloCon and learned even established authors who have been traditionally published can't get into the big presses nowadays, just because there's no room. Two authors I spoke with at length had multiple books in print, but got out of publishing for a few years for whatever reason (some personal, some professional, etc). Now agents won't even look at their work (both of them are considering self-pub as a result) and they've already *been* traditionally published!

So, to sum up, it's a tough market right now for anyone trying to break into traditional press. With all the random elements stacked against new authors, writing a book that doesn't grab you from the first page is just another roadblock you don't want to throw in your own way.

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Big Wee Hag
  • ******
  • Posts: 7174
  • Total likes: 4883
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2015, 03:59:57 AM »
Thanks, guys. Very interesting replies to think about.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline tebakutis

  • Falsely Puffed Up Rascal Pig and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2444
  • Total likes: 1752
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • www.tebakutis.com
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2015, 04:19:36 AM »
Ha, just read the thread and noticed Rukaio posted pretty much what I posted, about the same time. Get out of my head! :0

Offline Rukaio_Alter

  • Writing Contest Regular and Ineffectual Comic Relief
  • Writing Group
  • Ambient Mage
  • ****
  • Posts: 412
  • Total likes: 431
    • View Profile
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2015, 04:26:26 AM »
Ha, just read the thread and noticed Rukaio posted pretty much what I posted, about the same time. Get out of my head! :0
NEVAH!
5 Times Winner of the Forum Writing Contest who Totally Hasn't Let it All go to his Head.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Also, <Insert GOD EMPEROR OF THE WRITING CONTEST joke here>

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7299
  • Total likes: 794
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2015, 06:08:39 AM »
As others have said it depends on what is meant by hook. There has to be something in the early part of the story, first page or first few to catch the readers attention and then hold it. However if you want to hold the reader for the entire book then the story needs to have something that keeps them reading and/or turning pages. Readers like to have a sense of getting somewhere when they're reading, at least I do. If something just wanders on and on and never really goes anywhere then I lose interest.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline Eclipse

  • Warning: this topic has not been posted in for at least 120 days.
  • Dragonrider
  • ***
  • Posts: 4819
  • Total likes: 2378
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2015, 09:20:09 AM »
I normally give a book 25% in before giving up on it.if I'm not enjoying it by then I don't think I would suddenly enjoy the rest of the story.

How many pages do you try before putting the book down or do you carry on to the end?
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Offline Raptori

  • Barbarian who does not use the Oxford comma and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Dragonrider
  • ***
  • Posts: 4054
  • Total likes: 2111
  • the prettiest kitty cat in the world
    • View Profile
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2015, 10:37:15 AM »
Yes and no, depending on what exactly you mean by 'hook'. For the sake of argument, I'll assume you're referring to plot hooks, because otherwise yes you most definitively need a hook. I mean think about it, boiled down to its basics, what is a 'hook'? It's a reason for someone to want to read on. And that can be due to all sorts of things, not just plot related. Interesting characters/writing-style/world building/whatever, all of them count as hooks. I don't think you can seriously argue that you should start a book off by giving the reader absolutely nothing interesting. Even the old-timey texts you're arguing didn't have hooks still probably interested people at that time through their writing style which has since drifted out of fashion to the modern audience (because tastes, slang, speaking styles, etc change, not just because we're all getting dumber. (Same reason Shakespeare is nigh incomprehensible to most kids nowadays. The common language has changed so much it's almost foreign to how it was in Shakespeare's time.))
Whenever I write a critique about a first chapter, this is what I'm talking about when I say a hook is (almost always) necessary. I'm not bothered if the 'plot hook' that launches the main narrative doesn't appear until 20-25% through the book if there's enough there to keep me interested until that point. However, if there is no hook whatsoever before then, that means I have to soldier through 20-25% of a book before there's anything there to hold my interest at all, and chances are I'll give up way before that point.

Having the main plot hook early on often means the beginning is more compelling, but I enjoy slow beginnings just as much, especially if it's a slow build to a dramatic climax.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2015, 10:39:32 AM by Raptori »
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.

Offline ScarletBea

  • Welcome party and bringer of Cake. 2nd-in-Command of the Writing Contest
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 12047
  • Total likes: 6871
  • Gender: Female
  • Geeky Reading Introvert
    • View Profile
    • LibraryThing profile
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2015, 12:36:10 PM »
I understand the difficulties of agents and everyone else in the publishing industry to find the 'right books', and how they may put unnecessary pressure on writers to start 'exploding things' right from the beginning.

As a reader, I don't mind. I like slow starts, but like Raptori said, there has to be something interesting, that's the point of a story: can that be called the "hook"? Maybe, maybe not. I definitely don't need the 'exploding things' from the very first pages.

I was also thinking about this the other day within the Writing Group stories. I felt that I couldn't say anything about them just from that first few pages/chapter, other than 'this is interesting, I want to read more' or 'this doesn't seem to be much my style, I wonder if I should continue'.
I definitely couldn't start commenting on plot, character progression, tone, etc.

In an ideal world, we should let writers do whatever they like, and everyone would be published and get their books to the reader. Maybe to make it professionally you need to bend your ideals a bit :-\
At home in the Fantasy Faction forum!

I'm "She Who Reigns Over Us All In Crimson Cheer", according to Peat!

Offline m3mnoch

Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2015, 02:41:44 PM »
okay.  i'm going to tackle this from a couple angles.

angle one:  i've been reading an ENORMOUS amount of writing advice in the last month.

angle two:  i've studied the attention economy for a long, long time.

so, here goes.

first, i agree with most of the sentiments on this page so far:
 - depends on what you mean by hook.
 - you have to make agents (and readers) turn that first page.
 - you can create hooks (tension and conflict) in all kinds of ways.

second, probably the most helpful advice i've read has come from donald maass.  he's got a book, "writing the breakout novel", that's really, really good.  it's filled with examples and works through all of the technical aspects of assembling all of these story elements.  did i mention a bajillion examples?!

that being said, here's a link to a nicely condensed version of his hook-related commentary.   http://www.wordsfromtheherd.com/tension-the-hooks-that-drives-the-story-2/

third, it's the attention economy, man.  there is only one truly inelastic resource in our universe -- time.  that means attention is the most valuable resource out there.  getting someone's attention is hard, keeping it is nearly impossible.

there are sooooooo very many things to occupy a person's attention these days -- movies, music, chatting, news, the web, researching your favorite hobbies, video games, taking pictures of your food.  (i'm kidding on that last one - https://instagram.com/p/5LmGkvk7jt/)

anyway, that's the world we live in.  so, for books to stand a chance, not only are you battling the absolute deluge of words pouring out of every aspiring author's finger tips, you're fighting against world of warcraft too.  this is especially true in our chosen genre.

kevin kelly is my favorite to listen to on the attention economy (this is really good, but dense: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/5.09/newrules_pr.html), but this wired article is a pretty good starter piece:  http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/5.12/es_attention_pr.html

all of this adds up to what i was talking in the other thread about writers with a lowercase 'w'.  these are the adjustments you need to make to your writing to be successful.  these are the compromises that pull you from your capital 'W' tendencies.

tho!  keep in mind, i'm a noob and not published yet and all that, so there's that.

ymmv.

p.s.  oh yeah.  i said i was not published -- yet.

Offline Francis Knight

Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2015, 12:17:06 AM »
The hook is why the reader (agent of otherwise) needs to read on

Do you need one? Yes. Because I have, and many others have, picked up a book in a shop and read the first page and put it down

It had a hook most likley. Just not one that appealed to us


A hook is *not* explosions on the first page, or some dude we know nothig about fighting for his life (unless you are a really good writer)

It is A character with A problem. Tension, conflict, an expectation that this will lead to other things. Be interesting

Sometimes th premise is the hook
Bit the writing better cement that.

Don;t be boring

My tongue has been in my cheek for so long, I've eroded a new mouth.


Duellists Trilogy (as Julia Knight) coming soon from Orbit!

http://www.juliaknight.co.uk/

Offline NightWrite

  • Writing Group
  • Ambient Mage
  • ****
  • Posts: 473
  • Total likes: 248
  • Gender: Male
  • Whisperer of Sweet Word Vomit Into Your Ear
    • View Profile
Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2015, 01:16:00 AM »
When I was younger I believed a plot hook was needed as soon as possible. As I got older I found I could wait for 20-25% of the book to pass. I do, however, sometimes fall back into that old mindset.

I still want something to grab me, but I want it from the characters. If the characters are cardboard cutouts, I'm not going to stick around long enough for the plot hook to arrive. Unique settings may also hook me, but I prefer character over setting.

I forget where I read it, but a few years ago I read an article stating writers only had the first paragraph to hook the reader. Personally I don't think you need it within the first paragraph, but your interest grabber should come within the first few pages.

Offline Yora

Re: Does There Need To Be A Hook?
« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2015, 12:27:53 PM »
A book needs to give me some reason why I should care about it even just to pick it up. I don't start reading books at random just because there's a sword or a dragon on the cover. I need some kind of pitch what will be in the book and why that might be interesting to read. What exactly happens in the plot is not so important as long as I have a general idea what I can expect from the book as a whole.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor