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Back to Basics: Hooks


For this Back to Basics mini-course, we’re talking about hooks. Each Back to Basics course includes a challenge at the end to help you experiment.

Let’s look at the basics.

One of the biggest nightmares a writer can have is the fear that their work is boring. It might sound a little vain, but we all want to believe that what we write is the most exciting thing imaginable. We like to think our narratives are super compelling and that every reader is desperately hanging onto each word of each sentence. But the reality is that this isn’t always the case. Even now, I know there’s a good chance those reading this might be skimming through and looking at this blog like a skeleton: skipping across the structure and searching for the real bones. And that’s fine, sometimes it’s natural to skim, but obviously we never want to lose the reader completely. So how do we keep them interested? How do we keep them engaged? In this Back to Basics course, we’re discussing capturing the audience’s attention with hooks. 


When you first start your story, you need to determine what kind of POV style you want. Let’s look at the different POV styles:

1: The Hook

Admittedly, this point mainly applies to the start of your story, but it’s still probably the most important element in regards to getting attention. Do you have a favorite book? If you do, there’s a good chance that it got your attention pretty quickly within its first sentence. It’s usually something shocking, something that just peaks your interest from the jump. This is the hook and you’ll often find it in stories. It’s essentially making a first impression. Hooks can either be action-packed or make your head scratch. Whatever they may be, the point is that it should grab your reader’s eye. That’s not to say that your hook should be some clickbait headline though. You could have an awesome hook about sharks falling down from the sky shooting lasers at everyone. But if your story doesn’t actually have anything to do with sharks falling down from the sky shooting lasers at everyone then what are you doing? Hooks can and should always be exciting, but they should also relate to the story.


2: Use Active Voice

Another useful trick for keeping your readers onboard is to write in the active voice. Now what is the active voice? There’s a lot of precise words and terminology we can use to describe it. Essentially it’s a style of writing where actions have owners; a character directly performs an action rather than actions just happening to or around them. 

“Batman punched the Joker.” is an active sentence. But “Joker was punched by Batman.” is a passive sentence. It’s kind of a way of restructuring the sentence and the flow of it, which can be useful.


3: Trim the Fat

You might not want to admit it, but there’s a good chance there’s some sort of filler in your writing. And that’s ok, because when you can find those parts of your writing, it’s beneficial to remove them to streamline everything. Details should have a reason for being there, so anything unnecessary can be taken out. What should you consider unnecessary? Well, ultimately since it’s your story, that’s something that really only you can decide. However, if you use five paragraphs to say that Johnny decided to wear his red shoes instead of the blue ones then you might have an idea of what needs to be cut. You definitely don’t want to rush through things but you also don’t want to go on for so long with padding that it deters readers. Figuring out pacing is its own battle but if you can find what details need to be in your story and what don’t then your writing will be in a much stronger place. And in turn, it’ll be a lot more interesting for your readers.


To summarize: it’s important to always keep your audience in mind by opening your story with an exciting hook, using an active voice, and cutting out extra fluff. While you don’t always want to write fan-service, you should keep them invested and caring about your story!

The Challenge:

Hook a reader in two sentences.

Thanks for joining us for this Back to Basics course. If you tried this month’s challenge, you can share it on Discord or social media using #WWB2B. You can also send us your challenge for feedback as soon as possible, via dropbox on our Back to Basics page. Thank you and I will see you all next time!


About the author: Izhan Arif is an English graduate from the University of Illinois, Chicago. His interests tend to revolve around all things superhero, whether it be comics, shows, or movies! He also loves to write (go figure) and when he's not working on Back to Basics, he's also writing videos for WatchMojo!


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