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The Hook – engaging readers from the first line

Shepherds hook
By Hook or by Crook

The hook is a vital ingredient for agents, editors and publishers if my manuscript is to stand out among the hundreds of submissions the professionals receive. A hook may encourage the reader to continue with the paragraph, the page, the chapter. First impressions count because they can make or break the story, sending the reader deeper into the novel or casting it aside.

I looked at one of my novels to find and express the hook in the premise and then in the chapter. (I entered it into the Mslexia Novel competition but it wasn’t selected.)

In line with one of the sites I visited, I asked myself this question about the premise.

Q. What makes Dead Man Floating different from other murder mystery novels?

A. The detective is a morally ambivalent English woman who owns a bar in a red light district in Thailand.

Once sentence over two lines.  I think it is punchy and unique. Any thoughts?

The chapter hook should come as early as possible in the novel, on the first line, if possible.

Because your ability to convince the reader to keep reading is dependent on your hook, it must be present as early as possible in your first scene. In fact, if you can get it into your first line, so much the better. However, the hook must be organic. K M Weiland describes seven opening hooks and gives examples. There is the puzzle hook, the action, the character, the scenic, the philosophical, the object, and the dialogue.  On another site, I found examples of foreshadowing, which I like a lot.

My opening in my novel Dead Man Floating is either a puzzle or an action. I thought at first it was the inciting incident, the one which plunges my character from their normal world. It isn’t but it is a step towards it, and part of the domino effect. My inciting incident comes later.

Original Opening

Brina gazed at the figure lying in the alley. Her legs splayed, her short skirt rucked. A girl, because none of the Ketoi wore clothes so plain. She lay face down, but as Brina drew nearer, familiarity strengthened her unease. With a stuttering heartbeat, she lurched to her knees as she recognised, JuJu, one of her bar girls. (The reader should want to know what is happening).

     To control the rising anger Brina concentrated on the task, and laid two fingers against the side of the girl’s neck and detected a faint pulse. The surge of relief disappeared in a frown at what looked to be small, circular burn marks on the side of JuJu’s neck. With the sudden vision of cigarettes stubbed out on the girl’s flesh, the contents of Brina’s stomach rose to the back of her throat.

After some deep thinking, I came up with a different opening

Possible New Opening

Brina was bored. She wished something exciting would happen. Nothing ever did. (Foreshadowing – a hint something i going to change. The reader will want to know what it is.)

With a hangover the size of Thailand, she rested her head against the wall of the bar. She had spent her evening at the Karaoke bar, drinking, and then sleeping on her friend’s couch before tottering to her own bar as the sun pushed the moon out of the way. Her co-owner, Anee, and Mama San pottered around the bar while she hunched in a corner gazing through half-closed eyes at the parade of Western men going to their hotel or apartment, leaving the girl they bought last night to make her own way to the bar she worked.  After ten years the faces looked the same, and nothing changed. (Foreshadowing again)

      In the dormitory above, the thump of feet, and rapid Thai from the girls starting their day had her reaching for the Tylenol.
     Brina closed her eyes and rubbed a hand over her forehead. When a hand pulled at her arm, she jerked and hit her head.
     A barefoot boy, one leg shorter than the other, gabbled at her in rapid Thai.
     “Anee, what’s he saying?”


Brina gazed at JuJu, face down in the alley behind the Paradise Beach Hotel, her legs splayed, her short skirt rucked, and vowed to tackle the man responsible, to make him  pay. The hotel staff surrounding them, and the bar girls knew every Western man in Hua Hin. Knew their name, status, age, and income, before they introduced themselves. It should be easy to find him. (Subtle irony and foreshadowing).

Perhaps I am over-egging the pudding but at this point, the expectation from the first sentence has been met. Something has happened to shake Brina from her boredom, although it is not what she might have expected. By the last sentence the reader thinks ‘Uh oh’, and they know it won’t be easy and wants to carry on reading for the answers to the questions raised.

What happened to JuJu?
Who hurt her?
Will Brina find the man and make him pay?
How will she make him pay?
Why is an Englishwoman running a bar with prostitutes?

What do you think? Which works better? I will go with the second one but your opinions are welcome.

Below is a selection of links with one, two, six, seven tips to hook your readers.


Published inWriting


  1. Some good hooks here, I think. Love the Thai setting, and the feisty female character.

    Lots of good information here, and some useful demos. Good luck with the submission process, I’m looking forward to reading about further stages in the process.

    • Lynda Kirby Lynda Kirby

      Reverted to my original opening after deciding it is not the inciting incident. Phew!

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