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Hook your readers and reel ’em in

Novelists today have to understand the culture our potential readers inhabit if we are to draw them into our fictional world. The average reader is being pulled in all directions by their smart phones, internet, Facebook, Twitter, computer games, and numerous other distractions.

That’s why it’s so important to be sure our novels begin with a compelling hook, preferably in the first page or two. Any later than that and we risk losing our over-stimulated audience.

Here are some characteristics of a good hook that I’ve gleaned from my research and tried to incorporate into the prologue of my novel, *Dangerous Turf.

The petite, blonde girl brushed the colt’s mane until it gleamed like black satin. Very few jockeys bothered to get to know their mounts until just before their races, but the girl tried anything to even the odds that were always against female jockeys.

The colt’s liquid brown eyes gazed out of his stall to the normally busy backstretch area. But at this hour, most of the trainers, grooms and riders were over at the track watching the afternoon’s races. It was unusually quiet. The colt’s ears pricked up at the sound of approaching footsteps. The stall door opened and the man slipped in.

The girl turned. “Oh, hi,” she said. She continued brushing the colt’s mane. It was the last thing she would ever say. They found her body several hours later, the trembling horse standing over her, the whites of his eyes showing. But the man was gone by then, moving on to another track in another state.

A good hook arouses curiosity about who, what, where, when and how. My prologue sets the who (the killer), the what (murdered a female jockey), the where (the backstretch of a racetrack), and the how (by seeming innocuous). My editor at Black Opal said, “Wow. What a great hook. If I picked this up in a bookstore and read this page, I would buy it on the spot because I couldn’t stand not to know what happens.”

An effective hook includes the problem, conflict, threat or change. Is there a problem or conflict in this prologue? You bet. Someone murdered a female jockey at a track somewhere. Now he’s at another track in another state. That’s definitely a threat, particularly since chapter one opens at another racetrack.

The hook plunges the reader into the middle of the situation without submerging him/her in backstory or description. The reader doesn’t yet know who “the man” is, who he killed, where he came from, where he’s going, or why he feels compelled to kill. But there is enough here to make the reader want to know more. All the questions will be answered as the book goes along. It’s not necessary to tell the readers now. It’s only necessary to create story questions in their minds. That’s what keeps them reading.

These are just three characteristics of good openings that will draw readers into the world you have created. Imagine your opening as the hook at the end of a fishing line that you are casting into the waters inhabited by hungry readers. These characteristics are the bait on your hook. Make sure the bait is yummy!

*Dangerous Turf, copyright 2016 by D.M. O’Byrne. Published by Black Opal Books. All rights reserved.

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