3 techniques to create killer hooks for your stories
1. Tell a short story
The intro of Atomic Habits kicks off with:
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:
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.
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.