Hooks, Lines & Sinkers
Hands up if the title to this article made you think that you’d strayed into a fishing feature?
Perhaps you didn’t quite go that far, but hopefully you were puzzled or curious enough to wonder what on earth those three angling associated words have to do with writing. The answer of course is nothing at all if you are thinking of metal barbs, yards of tangled nylon and blobs of lead weights.
Think, however, of the good opening lines used to begin most successful short stories, novels and articles then the “hook” in our title takes on a whole new range of meanings and equates very well with the world of creative writing.
What most beginners fail to understand when they first begin writing, and this applies as much to articles as it does to short stories and novels, is that when they submit their work to an editor, competition judge or publisher there is only a brief moment to impress which is why a lot of attention needs to be paid to that first opening sentence.
Hooking your reader with a good beginning isn’t a guarantee to success, but it will serve to focus attention and make the judge, publisher or editor take more notice of the rest of the article, story etc. If nothing else, it presses an subconscious alert button in the reader’s mind that marks up the writer as a professional who knows his or her craft.
This in turn builds expectation and again focuses attention. As long as the rest of the piece lives up to its early promise, you can be sure that your effort will at the very least receive close inspection and hopefully much more!
So, just how do you come up with a good hook? It would be nice if I could say that there was some magic formula available but unfortunately I haven’t found it even if it does exist! Still there are several things that you can do to get things moving.
First of all don’t sit staring at your screen trying to think of a good opening line when you have a mind boiling with ideas struggling to spread themselves over the page! All this will do is make you tense up with frustration and dam your creativity.
Instead, start hitting the keys and slap those ideas across the screen! Once you have the basic outline down then you can start the editing process, including the opening sentence. If at this stage you are still stuck, try leaving the work for a few days, there’s a good chance you’ll come up with something when you’re mind is focused on something else and the first flush of enthusiasm has cleared from your brain.
Analogy, such as I’ve used to the fishing world, often provides a good hook. In the case of this article I used it in the title but hooks are used just as often hook&loop or more so in the opening sentence. My actual opening “hook” made use of a question, which again is a very good way to start, as questions by their very nature demand a response from the reader, even if it is only to read to the end of the sentence!
I took this a step further by demanding physical action, “hands up”, which of course is a ridiculous thing to expect a reader to do when there is no way of knowing whether they have complied or not! It is this stupidity that hopefully grabs attention and carries on from where the title left off. PR writers are well aware of this process and often mis-spell words to create a similar effect.
Quotations and deliberate mis-quotations also make good hooks either from songs, proverbs or other literary works, but also try putting together unusual combinations of words.
For instance, you wouldn’t think that brussel sprouts could possibly have any effect on good or evil and I’m sure they haven’t! One of my son’s however has different ideas and his annual grumble during our recent Christmas meal gave me a marvellous opening line, or hook, for what will be a festive article taking a close look at this, in my opinion, much maligned vegetable!