Friday, May 8, 2020

How to Create a Strong Narrative Hook

Spring is a time for creation, of coming alive again. And so it is for authors. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. In Ann Garvin’s article “10 Ways to Hook Your Reader” published in the WRITER’S DIGEST newsletter, she lists the following “10 elements to keep a story rolling:

1.                           Begin at a pivotal moment
2.                           Add an unusual situation
3.                           Add an intriguing character
4.                           Conflict
5.                           Add an antagonist
6.                           Change emotion
7.                           Irony and surprise
8.                           Make People Wonder
9.                           Dread Factor
10.                     Keep narrative voice compelling”

Each element is explained by her in detail. Garvin’s key point is that just hooking the reader won’t keep him/her reading unless you offer more. The article is well worth reading.

Here are some additional suggestions for creating initial interest:

1.  You don't want to start the story with your character doing ordinary, boring everyday things like waking up and having breakfast. Unless something important to the story or something amazing is about to happen in these instances, do not start your story with them. You'll only bore the reader. Ask yourself. What type of beginning would keep you reading on? One of my favorite romantic suspense writers, Jayne Ann Krentz, always begins with an exciting action scene. The heroine is immediately in jeopardy.

It’s been suggested we start “in medias res”. Leave out the dull stuff and start with an intriguing narrative hook which requires  provocative dialogue or action scenes. This might mean tossing out several original beginning chapters.

2. Avoid Backstory and Info Dumping at the beginning. Let readers learn about your characters at their own pace. You should treat backstory like it's a spice. Sprinkle it gradually as the story goes along. This will keep readers turning the pages to find out more about the main characters’ backgrounds. A taste of mystery fascinates readers in any genre.

3.  Establishing an interesting setting can also be gradually developed. However, too much description can be deadening. Description is needed when it moves the story or is important to a particular scene. In a fast-paced scene, description can have a negative effect if it’s irrelevant to what’s happening that moment.

4. Bad or wooden dialogue hurts any time in a story. You must have exciting, realistic dialogue throughout but it’s crucial if you want readers to get past the beginning.

5.  Don’t force introductions of your characters at the beginning of your story. Introduce characters as they are needed and when they are doing something important. Introduce your characters gradually unless the very beginning calls for all characters.

6. Telling and not showing can kill any book no matter how good the plot is. Readers want to "see" what's going on, not have the author point it out to them. Avoid long passages of narrative. Use dialogue and make readers interested at first glance.

7. Avoid using flashbacks or dreams to begin the story. Neither one works well in hooking readers. Get into the action right away.

Anything you would like to add or remove from this list is welcome for discussion.


  1. All good advice, Jacqueline. And a good refresher course.

    1. Paul,

      You could write this as well as I can. So thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment.

  2. Great advice as always Jacqueline!
    It's no wonder you're such a prolific author.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Good luck and God's blessings

    1. Thank you, Pam. I know this blog holds no surprises for a pro like you. But I appreciate you reading and commenting.

  3. What I've come across with some new (unpublished) writers is if they use a foreign word or phrase, they want to give the translation immediately following the word(s). For me, that stops the story. I'm now aware of the writer not the story. I'd rather have to guess what's meant (maybe look it up later) or have the writer work in an explanation as part of the narrative or dialogue that follows.

    1. Maris,

      Your point is well-taken. It does stop the flow.

  4. Lots of good reminders, Jacqueline -- thanks for sharing!

  5. Great ideas, Jacqueline ! I like the idea most especially about Spring being the most creative time of year. No wonder I feel the urge to write.

  6. Thanks, Spring symbolizes rebirth. Perhaps it will help us all write fine original work.

  7. Great advice, from Ann Garvin and from you! Finding the perfect opening hook is one of the most important, yet most elusive, tasks we face. But when we find it, how exhilarating!

    1. So true. I write and rewrite my beginnings many times trying to decide what will work best.

  8. Hi Anne. I really like this topic. Great advice. (Nice to meet you via Black Opal, btw.)