Using Multiple Opening Hooks in Your Novel



hey guys it's Ellen Brock novel editor today I'm going to talk about opening hooks I already talked about opening hooks a couple years ago but I didn't really provide many examples so I wanted to go over it again today so that we can look at a few novels to see how they use opening hooks not only at the very beginning but throughout the first chapter to keep the reader invested so I'm going to go over a variety of hooks today some are more obvious while some are a lot more subtle so you can see what type of hook will work best for your novel but first let's go over what a hook is a hook is essentially raising a question at the reader once answered usually this question is raised through mystery or Clues but it can also be raised simply by presenting an interesting situation or an interesting character something that's so unique that the reader wants to see how it plays out or once they know more about it most novels we use multiple types of hooks to keep the reader invested in this story they might present different hooks back-to-back or they might even present hooks about different story elements even in one sentence in My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Pico there's a prologue that immediately raises questions my first memory I'm three years old and I am trying to kill my sister now that's just a tiny piece of the prologue but you can see immediately how it raises a question for the reader who is this girl why did she want to kill her sister and what was the situation that led to this chapter one then hooks the reader again by explaining how Anna the protagonist was chosen as an embryo to beat a genetic match to her sixth sister so that she could help her sister to get better Anna then describes how her parents explained her conception they sat me down and told me all the usual stuff of course but they also explained that they chose little embryonic Me's specifically because I could save my sister Kate we loved you even more my mother made sure to say because we knew what exactly we were getting rather than raising mystery about what's going on with Anna Pecola chose to tell us immediately that Anna is an organ donor for her sister and this worked really well because like I mentioned earlier the situation being unique raises inherent questions about what will happen and this can help keep the reader engaged you don't necessarily need to be mysterious to get the reader invested the idea is inherently interesting and captivating to the reader by contrast Pico takes the opposite approach later in the chapter by raising mystery instead of telling the reader what's going on the only thing that keeps me steady is knowing I'm not the first person to stand in front of this counter holding the one item in the world I never thought I'd part with I have something to sell I tell him in this section Pico uses mystery to keep us intrigued and invested now I'm wondering why ana would need money so badly and why she would be willing to part with something that means so much to her at the end of chapter one we finally learned that Ana is going to sue her parents for the right to her own body because she doesn't want to make any more donations to her sister and this hits us with another strong hook this is a unique situation that we feel compelled to know more about because it isn't something that we've read before so Pico uses a variety of hooks in this first chapter unique situations as well as mystery to keep us invested she raises mystery about the character when we learned initially about how she maybe attempted to kill her sister as a small child and she raised this mystery about the situation when Ana goes into the pawnshop and we're not really sure why she needs money she also hits us with two unique situations both Ana being chosen as an embryo and Ana wanted to sue her parents for the rights of her own body both of these situations are unique and captivate us inherently because they're not things we've seen before now let's take a look at a novel that has slightly subtler hooks in my diary at the edge of the world by Jodi Lynn Anderson there's a fairly subtle hook in the first sentence I'm on top of the hill looking down on the town of clipton Maine it's an early fall day and so far no one's noticed that I'm where I'm not supposed to be rather than hitting the reader over the head with a really flashy or big hook this is a really subtle hook that just raises questions about why she's not supposed to be on this hill and why she's there anyway in the second paragraph we get a bit more information I've seen two bad omens since breakfast a crow sitting on the fence at the edge of our yard and a Deathwatch beetle on my window so these are both signs that someone is going to die so I thought I'd better write them down in case someone does die and no one believes me later the reader is now by a question is somebody really going to die and the reader is also hooked by a unique character who is this girl why does she see omens and what does this mean about her world a couple paragraphs later we then get the explanation of why she's not supposed to be out on the hill it's not exactly safe to be out the dragons are on their way south again from the northern reaches of Wales in Scotland and Ireland to hibernate in South America the answer to this question creates payoff for the reader it lets the reader know that when you set something up you are going to deliver an answer and that's important and though you don't have to deliver the answer right away and sometimes you might want to draw a mystery out for a long time payoff is very satisfying for the reader and can encourage them to continue reading and to trust you as the writer the sentence also raises questions about the setting and hooks us with this unique situation where we want to know more about the world of the character lives in then later in the first chapter we learn about an ominous cloud that she sees and we wonder for a little while as the reader what this cloud means and how its significant and then later on in a couple paragraphs after the cloud is introduced we learned that this cloud comes to collect people when they die so again we're hooked by the idea of who's going to die whether someone really is going to die and those questions really keep us invested in this story so Anderson uses several different hooks throughout this first chapter none of which are overly big or flashy but all of which are very effective at keeping the reader interested and invested in what's going on well My Sister's Keeper takes about 13 pages to introduce those various hooks throughout the prologue in first chapter in my diary at the edge of the world takes about eight or nine pages I ran it by Khaled Hosseini takes only about one and a half pages to introduce a strong hook that keeps us invest in it this is a very short opening chapter well sandy really only uses one hook in his opening chapter though he brings it back in multiple times and that's why I wanted to use this one as an example to demonstrate how you can continue to raise mystery about the same thing throughout a chapter without necessarily introducing multiple types of hooks the novel starts with the opening line I became what I am today at the age of 12 on a frigid overcast day in the winter 1975 immediately the question is raised about what happened that changed him especially at such a young age and the paragraph goes on to introduce another question I remember the precise moment crouching behind a crumbling mud wall peeking into the alley near the frozen Creek now we're wondering why he peeked into this alley what he saw and how it contributed to how he changed one day last summer my friend Rahim Khan called from Pakistan he asked me to come see him standing in the kitchen with the receiver to my ear I knew it wasn't just Rahim Khan on the line it was my past of unate own sins so this section gives us another question which is a great hook it has us wondering what he did and why he feels like he's guilty and why he feels like he has a sin he needs to atone for and it also gives us an emotional hook because now we understand that he feels guilty and that gets us invested in him as a character then at the end of the chapter were reminded again that something changed in 1975 and again we're wondering what it was that changed so Hosseini does a great job of trickling information to the reader just enough that we feel like we're learning little bit so we're getting a little bit more of a sense of what happened but we're not really fully understanding anything about what's occurring at this point and that's a great way to hook the reader the desire to know and to have those questions answered is really the backbone of how a hook works as soon as you've answered all the questions for the reader they're probably going to lose interest and not really have any reason to keep reading so I hope this video gave you a sense of how you might be able to use an opening hook not just at the very beginning but throughout your first chapter to keep the reader invested I'll be back on Friday with a video about prologues when you might want to use one why you might not want to use one and I will continue to be uploading videos Monday Wednesday and Friday throughout August so make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any future videos and I also be hosting a free workshop on my blog where I'll be critiquing first pages if you want to submit your work to that the link is in the description happy writing guys

40 thoughts on “Using Multiple Opening Hooks in Your Novel

  1. 3 years old and she remembers how she tryed to kill her sister, you cant remember stuff from when you had 3 year old…dumb ideea

  2. Hi Ellen! You once said something about staying consistent with verb tenses. I'm not sure if this qualifies as inconsistent verb tenses. "The four young Ulbing children were bewildered at the things taking place around them." Can you tell me whether "were bewildered" and "things taking place" count as inconsistent?

  3. The winter of 1975

    If you've read The Kite Runner, you'll know why this is important and why it comes up so many times in Hosseini's novel

  4. I am also glad you're back. Your recent videos have improved, but have always been truly excellent.

  5. i love your videos because not only do i learn writing tips and gems, but because i get really interested in the books you give as an example. So it's a great way to get reading recommendations!

  6. Would you guys enjoy reading about a quiet, tiny village in northern Slovenia? The old priest discovers some vulgar graffiti on his church and the reader gets to know his grumpy but kind personality and the problems of a tiny mountain village with old and few inhabitants?
    On his way to get some support for having the graffiti removed, he witnesses a man dying and, following his calling as a priest, hurries to console and finally absolve him. With his last, dying words the man babbles in a foreign language and shoves two blood-stained fingers in the priests mouth.
    Even though he is disgusted and weirded out, he thinks not much of it, rinses his mouth and helps to arrange the funeral. The thought that there was something wrong with the blood that was forced inside his body only occurrs when the next full moon is to rise …

  7. Hi, very interesting video. I have a question, since you focus on story hooks that start at the beginning of the book. Are there other story configurations that are structured like a chain of hooks?
    I think that your story hooks set up interesting scenarios that apply to the whole of the book, to a story that runs from the beginning to the end. I am trying to think about books that are more adventure-based, so in order to get from A to B, to C, etc. until you arrive at the end of your story (Z), you'd need multiple hooks, right?
    I am coming up empty here, except for some pulp fantasy books from the 90s, and those kinda do not count because the overall quest (A-Z) IS a story hook presetented by the prologue.

  8. Opening hooks can be simple: when your story is finished, just change the start so it offers a hint of what the story is about.

  9. They come from the northern reaches of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland? Obviously dragons from the rest of the British Isles prefer to holiday elsewhere.

    Helpful vid, thank you.

  10. I've missed your refreshing no-nonsense, straightforward discussions, Ellen. This one got me thinking about MULTIPLE hooks, as I had previously thought of them as singular. Another thing I learned today is that our own moon is bigger than Pluto! Of course, I knew Pluto was small. But for some reason, always imagined it as bigger than Luna…

  11. Question: all three of these examples are in first person. Any examples of someone doing this well written in third person?

  12. Definitely something I will think about for the opening of my novel. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  13. Hello Ellen from Australia!! thank you so much for being so clear when explaining concepts! I've scoured youtube for editing and writing advice and yours is by far, one of the best channels I've watched! thanks so much for your hard work 🙂

  14. Please ignore the person that gave it a thumbs down. There's one in every crowd, but it's their right. Personally I want to thank you for your time and effort, it is greatly appreciated. (Also, please ignore the adverbs).

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