3 techniques to create killer hooks for your stories
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The interest in this tweet blew me away...
One way to become a better storyteller:
Take your two favorite authors. I recommend one non-fiction and one fiction.
Copy, word for word, their best work. Do it by hand.
I chose Paul Kalanithi and Neil Gaiman.
It’s the single exercise that improved my writing the most.
— Nathan Baugh 🗺️ (@nathanbaugh27)
Jan 5, 2023
In my experience, there are two ways to get good at storytelling:
- Study the greats (what this newsletter is for)
- Practice, practice, practice
I do a lot of practice through StoryWork.
And so many of you liked, commented, and sent me DMs about the practice I decided to turn it into a guided course for you.
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Our short consideration spans mean hooks are more important than ever. Today, we'll go through 3 techniques you can use to craft great hooks.
People don't have short attention spans:
• They finish 3 hour Joe Rogan episodes.
• They binge 14 hour shows.
They have short *consideration spans:* they must be hooked quickly.
Point: Don't fear making great, in-depth content. But, ensure your first minute is incredible.
— Julian Shapiro (@Julian)
Dec 5, 2020
We have thousands of things begging for our attention each day. Nobody wants to waste their time. That means your story's hook will be the difference between an engaged audience or no audience at all.
One little caveat I’ve come to notice. The timeframe people give you to hook them depends on the medium. Let me explain:
- TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn: The user is scrolling, looking for something that catches their eye. You get about one second to make them either read your post or watch your video. Otherwise, they keep on scrolling.
- YouTube and podcasts: The user has specifically searched for something and found your content because of it. You have more time. Maybe a few minutes.
- Books and movies: The user expects to spend hours with you. Maybe the first 10 minutes of a movie and the first few chapters of a book.
While the medium determines how long you get to hook someone, the techniques you see are consistent across books, podcasts, videos, and social.
3 techniques to craft a killer hook
1. In medias res
In literary terms, this fancy Latin word means starting in the middle of the action. This does two things:
- Lets you create forward momentum with physical action.
- Lets you create questions in your audience’s mind.
Storytellers often struggle to jump straight into the action. That means leaving out important context. How will your audience react?
It actually engages your audience. They lean forward, taking in what’s going on but more importantly trying to figure out what’s happened up until that point. Starting with action creates open loops.
Lesson: Backstory can wait. Yes, some is necessary. But it can come later in the story. Opening with action creates instant momentum.
2. Jenga storytelling
Mr. Beast is the most popular YouTuber in the world. He uses “Jenga” storytelling in every video.
It’s named after the game Jenga because players often pull a piece from the very bottom of the tower and place it on top to start the game. In storytelling, it means taking the end of the story and placing it right at the beginning.
Beast tells his audience exactly how the video ends in the first 30 seconds.
This tactic makes the audience wonder how they get to the end. It creates a sense of mystery, a need to fill in the gap in the story.
Lesson: Use your opening to create a gap in your story that your audience wants filled.
3. Create an emotional connection
Here’s the opening paragraph from a book that’s sold over 500,000 copies:
Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.
The book? The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most famous horror novels. But something funny happens here – there’s nothing even remotely terrifying about this paragraph.
You find yourself envisioning Ullman in your mind and, in a weird way, connecting to him. Instead of using action, King connects you emotionally to the most important person in the story – his main character.
Lesson: If you emotionally connect your audience to your main character, they have no choice but to pay attention.
Bonus: Follow through
Your hook will be judged on one thing – whether the rest of your story lives up to the promise the hook made. If you raised questions, those better get answered. If you alluded to plot lines, those better get closed.
Great hook + great content = happy audience
Great hook + eh content = click bait
In summary: All of these techniques to hook your audience have one thing in common – they’re designed to create open loops in your audience’s mind. Those loops come in two forms:
- Questions: Your hook should raise questions that the rest of your story will answer.
- Slippery slopes: You get your audience so invested in the action or the characters that they can’t help but to keep paying attention to your story.
The goal of each sentence is to make your audience want to read, see, or hear the next one.
- Newsletter: The Future Party – on entertainment and culture.
- Podcast: Founders Podcast – how Steve Jobs went from reckless upstart to visionary leader.
- Book: Dune – re-reading this classic for the first time. The best world building maybe ever.
- Essay: The Enchanted Notebook – how to write the future into existence.
- Find of the week: The final draft screenplay from The Dark Knight.