They are an average couple. They are sitting together in a dinner, face-to-face. They just finished a meal, and the guy is having his last cup of joe, while he talks to her. They love each other, they demonstrate it, and the other feels the same. After a caliente kiss, they declare their love to each other. So, both stand-up in the chairs and guy starts to yell with a gun in hand “Everybody be cool this is a robbery”. And she, get up from the sofa with also wielding a gun “If any of you bitch move I’m gonna execute every motherfucker last one out yo”.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, this is a hook.
One of my favourites actually.
Pulp Fiction in its very first minutes shows exactly why it is worthy to stop, pay attention, and listen to the story Tarantino has to tell.
In a world of content, the art of writing becomes not just an asset, but an obligation. Brands, companies, and ideas are out there trying to have your attention, while you are trying to have theirs. If we don’t write to us, but to the public, to have a public seems to be the main factor here. And the story hook was created for that.
Every time we have the first contact with another person, animal, idea, or object we activate a primordial part of our brain connected to evolutionary status. Our basics laws, such as survivor and safety, are basic instincts that occur in our subconscious before we can determine it. So if we decide to ignore a text because it’s not something that “deserves attention” we will probably decide it in the first 20 seconds.
The 20-sec law
This is the time you have to present something interesting. I know, it is a ridiculously short amount of time and it is impossible to develop a story enough to make sense and be attractive in this short period. That is why the hook is not exactly the story.
In this short period, we need to have a “WOW” from the audience. Not because your whole story is amazing, but because you used a side story -- way shorter than the main one -- that has the wow-element. Anything that gives a real emotion can work. But it needs to be presented at the very beginning of the text.
When it’s ok. But How?
This whole concept can be kinda confusing for some people. Because even knowing that the hook should be part of the story, it also can be just a side story not exactly connected. These qualities make it hard to develop both at the same time: text and hook. So don’t do it. Build one at a time. I suggest you start with the body text, and in the end, you create a delightful beginning. Having the framework in front of you eases the construction of the lacking essay parts.
That is an effective “recipe” for many writers.
The emotive hook
The type of hook you will write depends on the type of writing you are doing (obviously…). However, I believe that anything that can connect your audience to some emotion can be a great hook. Make them laugh, be scared, curious or even surprise (like your Pulp Fiction opening scene up here). Any sensation will activate that part of the brain we talk before, and it will make the text worth attention.
If your writing is more technical, or educational, you can also have some authority demonstrated in your text. So starts it with a quote or a statistic data can be a good way to start. It shows the relevance of what you are up to say.
Bits of Advice
Pieces of advice can also be a great hook. They can connect the person to some inner knowledge. Or it can make the audience remind of some in past. Maybe a parent giving the same advice, or a book they had read. Again, the emotional element presented here can help you to build a connection with the readers. If the advice given here is personal, it is even better. You can have the opportunity to show yourself a bit, so the audience has an image to relate with.
The power of the contradiction
Contradictory statements are great to create curiosity. And sometimes confusion. And that’s not bad. Statements that can have more than one meaning. Or facts that should tell one story, but tell another one, make us try to understand what is wrong with that. So we get engaging with it.
Surprising and interesting facts do the same. Make us wondering and show us the multiple possibilities where the story can happen. It makes us connected with the theme and the storyteller. The more they are unusual, the more they are captivating.
If your story is more like a narrative, or it tells a story with characters and places (it doesn’t matter if they are real or not) a good way to start is setting the scene. Design the places and faces to your audience. Bring them to the story you are telling at the point they can feel inside a plan and they can look around and understand how things are happening. When you describe good enough, and briefly enough at the same time, the reader feels the story and starts to play an important role. This is the most indicated way to build a hook if you are telling a long story because the level of engagement here is superior to the others presented before.
The end is as important as the beginning. So if you are putting the effort having the audience with you through all the way, you need to offer something worthy at the end. It can be another hook that closes the thinking line. It can be a hook that starts a new story arc. It also can be a piece of important information. The hooks are used at the beginning of the story arc, but inside the same story, you can have multiple arcs. They usually are connected one to another. The arc shows how a story progresses and develops itself, gaining body and importance during the rising action. Then it reaches its climax, and decrease with the falling action.
If you already watched a 24-hours episode it is really clear to see. Jack Bouer jumps from one arc to another every time that the story gets complicated, so the problem is solved and another one appears just around the corner. When you finish an arc and start the next, it is important to put there a new hook. Long narratives have multiple hooks during the time.
A hook is how you grab the attention back to what you are saying. That is why when the text (movie, theatre play, commercial, video, or any other way to tell a story…) is used to entertainment, or in unformal ambients, it usually needs more hooks. Because, if this audience does not need the text -- they are doing it just for fun or without a real compromise --, once they start to play attention in something else, the text is not a priority anymore and the interest goes to zero. You know when you are watching Big Bang Theory, Friends, or any other sitcom like that, and every 30 seconds (20 actually) there is a joke with laughs in the background? That’s is the hook saying: “don’t stop to watch me! See??? I can be worthy.”
You don’t need to have hooks like that every 20 seconds, but it is important to know that you can. If you want. So, which gonna be your next hook up?