Story Hooks

3 techniques to create killer hooks for your stories

1. Tell a short story

The intro of Atomic Habits kicks off with:

On the final day of my sophomore year of high school, I was hit in the face with a baseball bat. As my classmate took a full swing, the bat slipped out of his hands and came flying toward me before striking me directly between the eyes. I have no memory of the moment of impact.

Anything about habits? Nope. Not a word.

In fact, James Clear goes on for another four pages before the word ‘habits’ appears for the first time.

By then he’s got you. You’ve read how he was an average ball player with above-average determination. How he went to college for baseball still determined to be great.

And oh, by the way, that college “was the place where I would discover the surprising power of small habits for the first time.”

Point: Tell a personal short story that ties to your main topic, but only tie them together toward the end of the short story.

2. “Jenga” Storytelling

Pulp Fiction is the 13th most successful indie movie ever. It earned north of $500M, revived John Travolta’s career, and turned director Quentin Tarantino into a superstar.

It uses what I call “Jenga” storytelling to hook you right from the start.

Instead of going chronologically, Tarantino puts the diner scene first even though it shouldn’t come until way later.

But he knows that’s the scene to pull people in. It makes the audience wonder, “how in the world did those two people get themselves into that situation?”

Nobody’s leaving after watching that scene.

This tactic makes your audience wonder how you get to that part in the story. It creates a sense of mystery, a need to fill in the gap.

Point: Use your opening to create a gap in your story that your audience wants filled. If that means starting with a later scene, do it.

3. Make ‘em care

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 King does something funny here — there’s nothing even remotely terrifying about this paragraph.

Instead, he takes the time to endear a man named Ullman to you. King tells you about Ullman’s flaws, his quirks, and even his comforting outfit.

In one short paragraph, King makes you care about the man. Thus, you keep reading.

Point: Make your audience care about a character and they have no choice but to pay attention.

An important reminder

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, they better get answered. If you alluded to plot lines, they better get closed. If you introduced characters, they better matter.


  • Great hook + great content = happy audience

  • Great hook + eh content = clickbait

The goal of each sentence is to make your audience want the next one.

– Nathan

Want to go deeper on storytelling?

1. If you want a practical way to improve your storywriting in less than 25 minutes daily, check out StoryWork (200+ students).

2. Grab time with me for a 1:1 session on newsletters, storytelling, audience building, or anything else.