TAP013, How to Write a Great Story Hook for Your Novel | The Authorpreneur Podcast (Audio Only)

Welcome to The Indie Authorpreneur Podcast! I’m your host, thriller writer Amelia Hay.
On this podcast, I will bring you, business, marketing, and writing advice, so
that you can create your dream author business, build your author platform, and
be creatively independent. You can find the episode show notes and lots more
information on the podcast page at www.ameliahay.com/podcast Happy Monday, Writers! In this episode, I
wanted to discuss the first plot point in a story, which is the hook. I
originally was going to record an episode on the ordinary world plot point.
And a few minutes before I was going to record, I realized that I needed to
discuss this plot point first because it’s really what encourages the reader
to start and to continue to read your story. So, before we get started I would
like to point out that this episode will contain a few minor spoilers from the
Thriller Novel, Sanctus by Simon Toyne. So, spoiler alert! If you had this book on
your to be read list on Goodreads, or wherever it is that you keep your to
read list then just know that I will be spoiling the hook. And I’ll probably
continue spoiling parts of the novel through this plot and story structure
mini-series that I’m doing with my podcast. In a nutshell, the hook is the
opening moment or in story terms the opening scene. It’s usually the very
first thing that happens in your story. It can often be the first line and kicks
off this story plot. Think of it in terms of a series of dominoes. The hook is the
first domino in a series of dominoes to fall over. So it triggers everything else
after that. So usually the hook introduces character, setting, and theme. I
know this one’s super obvious but it needs to hook the reader into the story.
I guess it contributes to the name of the plot point, the hook. I think it’s
also important to point out the many writers mistake the hook for the story’s
inciting incident. The hook is not the event that incites the story’s main
conflict. This inciting incident is that moment when the story’s conflict starts
affecting the world of the protagonists and they’re forced into the main
conflict of the story whether they want to or not. The hook is that moment
that starts everything. Without this hook the events that unfold doesn’t affect
the lives of the protagonists. Nothing basically happens without this sort of
very first moment. So, it’s the very first thing that happens. Be warned the hook is
usually one of the hardest scenes in the story to write. So don’t panic if it’s
not right the first time. When I started writing Immunity back in 2014. I outlined
the story and chose a story hook. Two years later I’ve added several scenes in
front of the original story hook which now creates a better first read. I did
this because I understood the main reason for a hook. It’s to entertain,
create intrigue, and set the story in motion. This original story hook that I
created back in 2014 is still in my story. As I continued writing the
story, I realized, “Oh, I need these things to happen because I need to explain how
James got to this point.” I sort of felt like it was really important that I
needed to explain to the readers how he got there, because I started the
book in action. What I realized now was the inciting incident. I didn’t set up
his ordinary world and create the story hook. So I had several scenes. Its just a
thriller, so the scenes are quite short. I think I added up an extra 2,000
words to the novel at the beginning. So let’s take a look at the hook from
Simon Toyne’s Sanctus. I’m going to unpack the scenes leading up to the
introduction of the protagonist ordinary world, so you can see first hand how a
reader reacts to his story hook. And I love his story hook by the way. It’s
really what got me hooked on the book. I feel like this particular story has a
really good example, just so I can show you how this is supposed to look. So the
story opens with a monk waiting in a cell. We learn he is just climbed to a
new position in the secret order where he’s learnt their terrible secret. And we
get a sense that this secret they’ve been hiding it for many many years. We
get a sense that the secret was so bad that he was horrified and couldn’t serve
with them. So he was waiting in that cell to be killed. After hearing movement
outside the cell which the monk seemed to know with certainty was the order
coming for him. He describes the order is quite secretive and they
will go to any lengths to keep this secret. After hearing movement outside
the cell, he unties his belt from his robe. And his belt is made out of like
this really thick rope. It’s not so it’s not quite a belt. It’s just like a rope
that’s turned into a belt. And he managed to squeeze him out of a narrow window of
his cell into the cold night. We also get a sense to these several levels above
ground. At this stage we don’t know how high he is, but I do get a sense that he
is quite high off the ground. So, what can we learn from the scene? The author
created a rich and vibrant world. He made the setting of the first scene, which is
a cell, seem quite real. As I read it, I sort of felt like I was there with him
in the cell. He really went into that amount of detail. The scene also creates
a sense of mystery which leads you to ask a few questions. What is the terrible
secret that he learnt from the religious order? What is the monk planning next?
You can sort of guess what the monk is planning next, but you don’t know. You
sort of think, “is he really going to do this? What is he gonna do? Is he
gonna throw himself over? Is he gonna try and escape? You don’t quite know
what he’s going to do once he’s outside the window. You can sort of speculate but
that’s really what drives you to read the next scene
in the book. In the second scene, nine floors down another monk is washing
blood from his hands. He is the Abbott. This scene… The start of this scene, it’s
just, I found it quite jarring, because this was clearly the result of the monks
initiation into this order and learning this secret. So there was bloodshed
involved and I was like, I found it just quite… Another monk of the same order
enters the room and tells him that brother Samuel (who’s the guy from the
previous scene) has escaped his cell. He also reveals they had searched the
Citadel’s outer grounds looking for a body assuming he had jumped, but the body
was not found. Then another monk, Brother Athanasius alerts the Abbott that Samuel
has climbed the Citadel and was 400 meters high. The abbot for some reason..
The abbot remains certain that the secret is safe and they will catch
brother Samuel. So obviously, this is something they’ve done before. We also
learned that Samuel is climbing the citadel which they also describe
as a mountain, like it has some type of cliff face. So, what can we learn from
this scene? The author introduces the world of the religious order and its
ancient rituals, laws, and politics. We get a sense that is quite archaic.
They’ve been doing things that are practically medieval for a very long
time, even in the modern age. A few questions are answered which cause you
to ask more questions and a further layer of mystery is created. We are left
wondering why brother Samuel is climbing up and not down to escape. You can kind
of guess, but this leads to us another question about the secret surrounding
the sacrament. How bad is this secret? Is it really this bad? In the
third scene, we see that Samuel is climbing the Citadel’s rock face. And we
really get a sense that he’s done this before. He’s no amateur climber. So, we get
a sense that he’s had a life beyond the religious order which sort of also
indicates his age. He’s most likely middle-aged which is quite young, I think for someone to be a monk. In the fourth scene, Samuel struggles to climb
the Citadel with the strong winds and the changing surface of the mountain.
Samuel reaches the top of the mountain as well at the end of that scene. In
scene five, we see a really short scene where the tourists arrive in the city. At this stage we start to see the city from the point
of view of the tourists. We see the sense of the grandeur of the Citadel. In
the sixth scene, Samuel sits at the top of the Citadel and struggles with his
faith. He is haunted by the knowledge of the sacrament. At this stage he
mentions a prophecy revealing what would happen if the sacrament is known outside
of the Citadel; which kind of explains why now that he knows about the
sacrament, he’s most likely going to be sentenced to death which sort of
explains why he’s now outside now trying to escape.
He also ponders sharing the knowledge to the outside world. As he’s pondering this,
he starts to see this prophecy in new light and realizes his next course of
action. And it’s at this stage you sort of think, “no, there’s no way that you’re
going to do this. This is absolutely crazy.” So, what can we learn from these
particular scenes? The author sets the scene of the outer city. So, the
city surrounding the Citadel which is referred to as Ruin. We see the Citadel
from the perspective of a tourist. Suspense is added to the story by the
tourists entering the city. So there’s now an audience. And, at some stage we
know, that Brother Samuel is gonna have an audience. We know this is happening
for a reason. We also see that Samuel is in a crisis of faith. Which is really
fascinating, because we get a sense that to reach this particular position within
the religious order he has to be there for many years. So, he’s been serving at
something for many years and he’s now learned this terrible, terrible, secret
that’s caused him to re-evaluate everything he knows about the deity that
he serves. So, what can we learn about story hooks
from the way Simon Toyne has written this first four percent of Sanctus? These first six scenes do actually take up the first four percent of his
story. I would like to point out that your story hook and doesn’t necessarily
need to be an epic thing that is drawn out over a certain percentage of your
story. Sanctus is written in this way to add suspense and create a page turning
effect. These first six scenes are quite short and you do flip through them quite
quickly. The scenes featuring Samuel were probably written together and then
broken up to create a sense of suspense in the editing and revision phase. That’s
what I’d sort of did with immunity. I wrote a certain scene together and then
I chopped it up to create the hook of my story. Essentially the hook of your story
should leave your reader asking, ‘what next?” And turn the page, but at the same
time introduce your story’s world, characters, and be a catalyst for the
story. Your story hook needs to be that moment that starts the story in motion.
Without your hook the story probably wouldn’t happen. Without this particular
moment nothing is set in motion and that’s how your story hook needs to be.
Especially if you are writing in the thriller genre. I hope you found this
session on the story hook really helpful. If you have any questions feel free to
come over to the blog post and ask them underneath, in the comments section. I do
pay attention to the comments on my blog and if you do have a question you would
like me to answer in the podcast, feel free to ask it there as well. Thank you
for listening and I’ll talk with you next time. Thank you for listening to The Indie
Authorpreneur Podcast for backlist episodes, show notes, and links on today’s
topic visit www.ameliahay.com/podcast. If you loved this episode
then click the subscribe button and share it with all your friends.
I’m your host Amelia Hay and I’ll see you next week for another episode. Happy
writing, everybody!

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