Hooks, Lines & Sinkers

Hands up if the title to this article made you think that you'd strayed into a fishing feature?

Perhaps you didn't quite go that far, but hopefully you were puzzled or curious enough to wonder what on earth those three angling associated words have to do with writing. The answer of course is nothing at all if you are thinking of metal barbs, yards of tangled nylon and blobs of lead weights.

Think, however, of the good opening lines used to begin most successful short stories, novels and articles then the "hook" in our title takes on a whole new range of meanings and equates very well with the world of creative writing.

What most beginners fail to understand when they first begin writing, and this applies as much to articles as it does to short stories and novels, is that when they submit their work to an editor, competition judge or publisher there is only a brief moment to impress which is why a lot of attention needs to be paid to that first opening sentence.

Hooking your reader with a good beginning isn't a guarantee to success, but it will serve to focus attention and make the judge, publisher or editor take more notice of the rest of the article, story etc. If nothing else, it presses an subconscious alert button in the reader's mind that marks up the writer as a professional who knows his or her craft.

This in turn builds expectation and again focuses attention. As long as the rest of the piece lives up to its early promise, you can be sure that your effort will at the very least receive close inspection and hopefully much more!

So, just how do you come up with a good hook? It would be nice if I could say that there was some magic formula available but unfortunately I haven't found it even if it does exist! Still there are several things that you can do to get things moving.

First of all don't sit staring at your screen trying to think of a good opening line when you have a mind boiling with ideas struggling to spread themselves over the page! All this will do is make you tense up with frustration and dam your creativity.

Instead, start hitting the keys and slap those ideas across the screen! Once you have the basic outline down then you can start the editing process, including the opening sentence. If at this stage you are still stuck, try leaving the work for a few days, there's a good chance you'll come up with something when you're mind is focused on something else and the first flush of enthusiasm has cleared from your brain.

Analogy, such as I've used to the fishing world, often provides a good hook. In the case of this article I used it in the title but hooks are used just as often or more so in the opening sentence. My actual opening "hook" made use of a question, which again is a very good way to start, as questions by their very nature demand a response from the reader, even if it is only to read to the end of the sentence!

I took this a step further by demanding physical action, "hands up", which of course is a ridiculous thing to expect a reader to do when there is no way of knowing whether they have complied or not! It is this stupidity that hopefully grabs attention and carries on from where the title left off. PR writers are well aware of this process and often mis-spell words to create a similar effect .

Quotations and deliberate mis-quotations also make good hooks either from songs, proverbs or other literary works, but also try putting together unusual combinations of words.

For instance, you wouldn't think that brussel sprouts could possibly have any effect on good or evil and I'm sure they haven't! One of my son's however has different ideas and his annual grumble during our recent Christmas meal gave me a marvellous opening line, or hook, for what will be a festive article taking a close look at this, in my opinion, much maligned vegetable!

What was it? Oh yes, when faced with a heap of those shiny green gems he muttered murderously, "If it wasn't for brussel sprouts there'd be no evil in the world ..." now is that a hook or what?

Which brings me on to another point. Hooks, I've found seem to have a power in their own right and often serve as a catalyst to the story or article itself which is why you should be on the alert for when they occur.

The brussel sprout incident is a prime example. Writing in any shape or form was the furthest thing from my mind, but the startled looks and laughter from the rest of the family were enough to confirm what I'd immediately thought, here was a hook begging for exploitation and with a enough power of its own to begin generating several lines of thought.

Being aware of hooks and the power they have on the reader is something every writer has to get to grips with if they want to achieve success so it is a good idea to train yourself to both generate hooks and be on the alert for them by listening to what other people say.

Having a small notebook handy makes a lot of sense, but reading what other people have done before you will also pay dividends. Try this quiz of opening lines to famous novels. It's not easy, but don't worry about your score, the real benefit of the quiz is seeing what worked for the author.

  • The scent of slaughter, some believe, can linger in a place for years.

  • When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday ...

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ...

  • Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

  • The stranger came early in February one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow ...

  • "The marvellous thing is that it's painless," he said. "That's how you know when it starts."

  • Last night I dreamed of Mandalay ...

  • A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide rushing to meet it ...

  • Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-house for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.

  • "Tom!"

    Well, what did you think? Some were definitely intriguing but others in my opinion left a lot to be desired which just goes to show that the proof of the pudding is in the eat... er reading so don't fall into the trap of thinking that the beginning is the be all and end all!

    Oh and before you ask, I haven't forgotten the lines and sinkers either, call those plots and twist endings and to find out more sign up for the WriteLink Short Story Writing Workshop, it's free! www.writebytes.co.uk

    ANSWERS:

  • The Loop by Nicholas Evans

  • The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein

  • The Bible

  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

  • The Invisible Man by H G Wells

  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

  • Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier

  • The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

    About The Author

    Sue Kendrick is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in the English Midlands. She writes regularl news items for her regional newspaper, has had many articles published in special interest magazines and won prizes in several short story contests. She is now the editor and publisher of www.writelink.co.uk one of the UK's premier writing websites and monthly newsletter. She has written several ebooks including READ ALL ABOUT IT! The WriteLink to Newspaper Writing www.writelink.dabsolco.uk/Newspaper_Book/newspaper_book.html and Poetry For Profit, four reports on how to make money from writing poetry. www.writelink.dabsol.co.uk/Poetry_for_profit/poetry_for_profit.html

    Sue's personal website can be seen here: - Sue@writelink.co.uk

  • How To Write Direct Mail That Really, Really Works!

    So, you have something you want to sell. It may be a product, a service,... Read More

    How To Find Freelance Copywriting Jobs

    Your goal is to land a few nice, secure freelance copywriting jobs, but how do... Read More

    Its the Headline, Stupid! - Writing Powerful Headlines

    "It's the headline, stupid," is the sign that hangs over my computer screen. It reminds... Read More

    11 Reasons Not to Hire a Freelance Copywriter (and Why Theyre All Poor Excuses)

    Think you can take the Copywriting Challenge on your own? Allow me to convince you... Read More

    A Copywriters Rant: Either You Get it, Or You Dont

    Today I am having a rant inside of my own head. Woo hoo, the copywriter... Read More

    Boost Your B to B Marketing Copy: 3 Major Copywriting Blunders and How to Correct Them

    When you're writing or evaluating copy for a B to B marketing (also referred... Read More

    3 Steps To Better Sales Copywriting

    Whether you're wet-behind-the-ears or a seasoned copywriter, your craft will benefit by remembering one thing:You're... Read More

    Are You Making These Press Release Mistakes?

    You've done it. Gotten that press release written. Now you're ready to send it out... Read More

    Getting Paid for Your Articles

    If you've been writing web articles to help promote your business, you may also wonder... Read More

    Quotations as Expressions in Life

    Quotations are expressions, usually in the spoken form or in literature, which... Read More

    What a Ghostwriter Can Do for You

    Do you ever have brilliant ideas for articles, books or a website,... Read More

    Power Keys To Writing Power-Packed Marketing Copy

    In order to maximize your sales efforts and fully seize your greatest profit potential, these... Read More

    Step One for Copywriters: Understand WHAT to Say

    Find a passage of poorly written copy, and chances are you will have found a... Read More

    Traffics Nice... But Whos Driving?

    In the competitive marketplace of the new millennium, the demand for specialized products or services... Read More

    Why Your Advertising Copy is not the Most Important Part of Your Ad

    If you own a shop in the middle of the desert, and nobody walks past...... Read More

    42 Deadly Ad Copy Sins That Ive Made

    I have read thousands of ad copies online and offline over my lifetime. I have... Read More

    Promote Your Business and Get Paid for Doing It!

    How can you gain credibility and exposure for you and your business, reach a motivated... Read More

    Six Reasons You Don?t Need a Technical Writer (and Why They?re Dead Wrong!)

    I know, I know. Times are tough. You have to make due with the staff... Read More

    Writing Effective Sales Copy

    Whether you run a home-based business or Microsoft, one thing is always true: products do... Read More

    Long Copy vs. Short Copy? If You?re Still Debating This, You?re Missing The Point!

    I've seen this ongoing debate debate jump up again recently in several Blogs and message... Read More

    How to Write Profitable Ads

    Regardless of how you look at it, the most important aspect ofany successful business is... Read More

    Yale University Researchers Reveal The 12 Most Powerful Words In The Human Language...

    In this article, I am going to reveal a dozen words, which could change your... Read More

    The Second Most Important Element of Your Ad... after the Headline

    Hi {FIRSTNAME Friend},Next time you're flicking through your local newspaper, take a good hard look... Read More

    How To Write Headlines That Grab Your Prospects Attention

    It doesn't matter if you're writing an article, a newspaper or magazine ad, a web... Read More

    Who is Your Customer?

    When you want to sell something?anything? you need to first know who is going to... Read More

    Can 97% of Netpreneurs be Wrong?

    Why Some People's Ads Almost Always Make MoneyDiscover the Master Copywriter's Little-Known Secret of Locking... Read More

    Accelerate Your Freelance Copywriting Master Business Plan!

    Ever wish for your own copywriting business?Ever wish you could become one of those internet... Read More

    Some Copy Tips From An Old Hand

    I have been in the ad game for a long, long time. I have trained... Read More

    How Not to Write a Press Release

    Several years ago, when I was working for an agency, I was fired from an... Read More

    Grammatical Mistakes DONT Sell

    When you receive a sales letter with typos or grammar mistakes in it, do you... Read More

    Tomorrow?s Clich?s Today

    I went to Google and entered a couple of different search terms.The first was, to... Read More

    Web Writing - Dont Lose Your Visitors Attention!

    Did you know that your writing can have a huge impact on how successful your... Read More

    How To Find Editing Services Online

    Quality is what you need. What you don't have is time. You need to find... Read More

    Writing For Sex Markets

    Many professional freelancers will go their entire career without ever once writing a story about... Read More

    Sowing the Seeds of Opportunity: How to Multiply Your Freelance (Writing) Work

    You can turn your $200 fee to write a press release into $2,000 to carry... Read More

    10 Tips for Writing Effective Web Copy

    On the Internet programmers and designers rule, not the writer. Yet words drive targeted traffic... Read More

    Be Contagious... Spread The Word!

    "Melissa" invaded our computers in late 1999, then "I Love You" in 2000. A year... Read More

    How To Really Connect With Your Customer In Your Copywriting

    One of the least talked-about areas in copywriting education is voice. This is probably because... Read More

    Writing Online In Two Syllables or Less

    About once a month I fly off somewhere to give a one-day workshop on writing... Read More

    How Ghost Writing Articles And Booklets Can Earn You Big Money!

    Do you want to make $5000, $10,000 or more every month as a freelancer? Does... Read More

    Your USP is Useless

    One of the keys to writing good marketing copy is to differentiate your product... Read More

    Copywriting: Secrets of a Freelancer

    Lately, I've been getting emails from other copywriters who ask me questions like "What's your... Read More

    11 Things You MUST Know Before Hiring a Copywriter!

    If you're considering hiring copywriting help for your next brochure, Web site, or marketing... Read More

    Professional Writing: Six Great Reasons to Hire a Writer

    Most people can write. Some can even write well. But only a few individuals can... Read More

    Is Your Content Provider Selling You Ripped Content?

    Ripped content: well the term itself is self explanatory. Content that has been copied from... Read More

    3 Steps to Great Copy

    Nothing irritates me more than being told that there are '3 Secrets' to great copy.... Read More

    Top 7 Things To Do Before You Hire A Copywriter

    Now that you've decided to hire a copywriter, how do you go about finding one?... Read More

    A Copywriting Lesson from Dr. Seuss

    Looking for inspiration for your next marketing communication? Try the children's ... Read More

    Hooks, Lines & Sinkers

    Hands up if the title to this article made you think that you'd strayed into... Read More

    Ghostwriting: Your Questions Answered

    Many people feel they have a story to tell or an experience to share. But... Read More