If we want to write books fit for the cinema, then we’d do well to find a hook. Rob Eagar, author of Mastering Book Hooks for Authors: How to Capture Reader ATTENTION and Book Sales in 30 Words or Less. says, “A hook is a statement or question designed to generate immediate curiosity and make the reader desire to know more” (21%).
But how does a book hook tie into the cinema?
Eager says, “In Hollywood, a screenwriter’s career is based on how well he or she can pitch a movie script starting with a powerful hook. In addition, whenever you see a movie poster or watch a television commercial, there’s usually one sentence displayed that is designed to grab your attention” (33%).
Hooks matter, too, in getting publishers thrilled about our books. That’s because, with a keen hook, our books can sell like crazy. Some examples of possible book hooks are things like:
What if a lawyer mother has to defend her son against murder?
What if a man discovers his wife is having an affair with his mother?
What if sugar gets banned, deemed an illegal substance?
What if schools get replaced with military camps?
What if a deadly virus shuts down the world’s economy? (Hey, we know the answer to that!)
Now, let’s look into two central types of hooks: nonfiction versus fiction hooks.
First, Nonfiction Hooks.
You can’t top a nonfiction hook!
Eagar said earlier to use hooks for making films. But what if you’re writing nonfiction? Eagar drums up a simple solution: “if you write nonfiction history, education, religion, or self-help, use the screenwriting technique to imagine your book turned into a movie documentary” (36%).
He uses the “What if I told you___?” method for crafting a nonfiction hook suitable for a movie documentary.
Here, the narrator asks, “’What if I told you ____?’ Then, the narrator fills in the blank and completes the question with a provocative statement” (36%).
The “What if I told you___?” method works wonders. A second method, according to Eagar, is to “review your manuscript and make a list of the most controversial or contrarian teaching points. Identify specific parts of your manuscript where you write something that would make people think, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard that before,’ ‘That’s really controversial,’ or ‘I’ve never heard it put that way before.’” (41%).
For instance, a recipe book might feature a black licorice spaghetti and meatball dessert. Or a nonfiction book on unconditional love might have a blurb on women who unwittingly marry mafia kings. These shocking tidbits could weave into your hook.
But there’s another side to hooks—namely, fiction hooks.
Long live fiction hooks!
Eagar outlines a whole new method for making fiction Hooks: “Employ a technique used by many screenwriters to sell their movie ideas. Like most movies, a novel consists of three essential elements: a protagonist that people like, a quest that the protagonist must complete, and dire conflict or an evil villain who is encountered along the way” (42%).
He calls this the 3-Step Screenwriter’s Pitch Process. Let’s look at the three steps:
“[Step] 1. What makes the main character unique? [Step] 2. What type of quest or journey does the main character undertake? [Step] 3. What kind of conflict or villain does the main character encounter during the quest? Answer each question using a short phrase that provides key details. Then, assemble all three phrases together into a single sentence or question. Using this process can help create a winning hook” (45%).
Here are some examples of fiction Hooks using the 3-Step Screenwriter’s Pitch Process:
An intellectually disabled woman. A quest to find equality. Can she overcome all odds and achieve tenure as a professor of law?
An 80-year-old woman. Discovers her beloved husband of 60 years is a serial killer. Can she live her final days in peace?
A martial artist spiritual female. She’s barely surviving a city in a state of war. Will her spirituality pacify her or will her fighter spirit draw blood?
An advanced Tibetan Monk. Forced into a labour camp by the communist regime. Can he live out his days in spiritual bliss, or will fear and bitterness destroy his soul?
Well, we now have the skills to grip readers the minute they read our hooks. Starting with a controversial hook makes our books not just fun to write, but exciting to read.