How to Find A Story Hook with Tess Woods

Today I've called on author, Tess Woods who is celebrating the launch of her newest novel, Beautiful Messy Love today (CONGRATULATIONS, TESS!), to share some of her advice on how to find a compelling hook for your story. 

Over to you, Tess!

‘What’s the hook?’

These were the first words my publisher asked me when I pitched her my last story.

‘What do you mean? I just told you my idea and shared with you this BRILLIANT new story I have bubbling in my head. That’s the hook! The hook is the staggeringly amazing plot I came up with.’

That’s what I thought in my head. What I replied was, ‘The hook, yeah, the hook. Riiiiight…’ while buying myself some thinking time.

In my mind, I didn’t need a hook. I had come up with what I thought was a fantastic new storyline. Surely that alone was more than enough to convince my publisher to jump on it. Nope. Not the case.

She patiently waited to hear THE HOOK. Grrrr.

So what exactly is a hook?

A hook is what will capture the imagination of your readers, what will make them want to keep reading it until the end because they have to know what happens. And the hook is also what you use to sell your book. It’s the angle that will pique people’s interest in your story.

If you have trouble coming up with the hook for your story, ask yourself:

What’s the question that your story asks with the answer found in its final pages?

Both of my books have the hook questions as the taglines on the front covers. In Love at First Flight, the hook is, ‘What if you met the love of your life and he wasn’t your husband?’ and in Beautiful Messy Love the hook is, ‘What happens when love and loyalty collide?’

Can you see the difference between a hook and a paragraph long plot summary?

You don’t hook readers with a summary, you hook them with a concept, a burning question they must have answered or they’ll go completely mad.

You hook readers with one short line.

People will often read the entire back blurb of a book, but it’s that one well pitched line that hooks them. Usually the hook line is either the very first or very last line of a back cover blurb.

So how do you come up with a good hook for your story? Here are some of my brainstormed ideas:

1.     What is it about your story that makes it different to other stories in the same genre? ‘For example ‘It’s a Cinderella story but it’s dystopian and only the one who marries the prince gets to live.’ That’s your hook!

2.     If you had to sum up your story in one short sentence what would you say?

3.     What was it about your story that made you think, ‘OMG, yes! This is the story I have to write!’ That’s the same thing that will make readers think, ‘OMG, yes! This is the story I have to read!’

4.     Take inspiration from the hooks for your favourite books and movies. For example, ‘Teenagers from enemy families fall in love and would rather die than give up on their love.’ Or this, ‘If an innocent black man was accused of raping a white girl in the era of segregation in the US, could a white lawyer save him?’

Immediately you know what those stories are, right? And essentially those two lines are the reasons those tales have been so widely loved over time. So try and put your book in a concise sentence that would make it immediately recognisable to anyone who had read it.

If you’re pitching your story to an agent or publisher, start with the hook. Sure, tell them more about the story, but first hook them in with your one fabulous sentence or question so that they’re then prepared to sit through five minutes of you telling them why yours is the best story ever.

So what did I tell my publisher in the end was the hook of my latest book, Love and Other Battles? ‘A three generation love story where the link is war. And dope. War and dope.’

Are you hooked? She was!

Tess Woods is a physiotherapist who lives in Perth, Australia, with one husband, two children, one dog and one cat who rules over them all. Her debut novel, Love at First Flight, received acclaim from readers around the world and won Book of the Year in the AusRom Today Reader’s Choice Award. When she isn’t working or being a personal assistant to her kids, Tess enjoys reading and all kinds of grannyish pleasures like knitting, baking, drinking tea and tending to the veggie patch. She’s also moderately obsessed with the TV series Nashville and taking Buzzfeed quizzes. Tess loves connecting with her readers on Facebook and you can also contact her at www.tess@tesswoods.com.au