Hook Presentation for 8-15-2020

Hook presentation: A hook is most often described as “the line or lines written to lure a reader or listener in and make them want to learn more. It’s an introduction that’s meant to grab hold of people’s attention.” But a hook is more than that. A hook for a book is just like that for a fish or a con man. It lures you in, catches you and keeps you. Generally, you want to start with the trigger that sets the story in motion.

Think about movie trailers and “scenes from next week” on TV series (if anyone still watches network TV like I do). They let you see that a favorite character is in trouble, and give you a hint what it might be, just two or three nibbles at the bait.

Your first hook is your title. When books are presented spine outward on a shelf, the title (or your author name) is all people see. You need a title that makes people say, “Oh, I wonder what that’s about.” Hunt for Red October. Call of the Wild. East of Eden. Gone with the Wind. The Agony and the Ecstasy. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Clancy was a master at titles, but then, his author name was all it took to sell a book. What titles have grabbed you instantly?

The second hook, if they pull the book off the shelf or are shopping online, is your cover. Usually, your publisher will design your cover, with suggestions from you. The cover should hint something about the book, make the reader want to open the cover.

The third hook is your description, the blurb that accompanies your book either on the back cover or in the description online. If you answer all the reader’s questions about what happens, they have no need to buy your book. But if you tantalize with hints of mysteries to be found inside, they will have to look…

Most people look at the first line or two. This is the traditional idea of a hook. If you can’t land ‘em at the first hit, you ain’t gonna reel ‘em in.

One of the best, first line of Year One by Nora Roberts: When Ross McLeod pulled the trigger and brought down the pheasant, he had no way of knowing he’d killed himself. And billions of others.  Wow! First sentence hooked and landed me.

And most everyone knows this one: Call me Ishmael. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick 

And this one:  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Here’s one that makes me wonder “What’s next?”  It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. Paul Auster, City of Glass 

They shoot the white girl first. Toni Morrison, Paradise 

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. 

It was the day my grandmother exploded. Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road Wow!

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women. Charles Johnson, Middle Passage 

From my book, The Judas Seat: From the Starlight Restaurant revolving atop the International Hotel, Chung Hee Yu gazed out over the twinkling lights of Beijing. He sipped his freshly brewed cup of white tea, delighting in the delicate flavor, as the city swirled around him. He smiled as the waiter picked up his plate. Even in his indulgences, he exercised restraint. For the last dinner he would enjoy as a free man, he chose a finely-marbled Wagyusteak, but only a five-ounce, medium, with steamed vegetables. Why is he enjoying a last meal as a free man?

What are some of your favorite first lines?

If your first line doesn’t already set the hook like Nora Roberts (she has lots of experience fishing for readers), they may flip a few more pages. Chapter beginnings are another place to get them to reach for the bait, make them want to read at least that chapter before deciding. Not a full meal, but a taste of what is to come.

From my book, What the River Knows: Eyes still pink from the crying she had done in the shower, Charlotte elected to skip the colored contacts she wore sometimes to turn her eyes turquoise or amethyst or emerald. She would just go with her natural color tonight. Makes you wonder, what is the natural color and why is that important?

From my book More Than a Point of Honor: The first round shattered the window. Glass fragments still hung in the air when the next bullets hit Elaine in the side of the head, the throat, the chest, stapling her against the seat. OMG, what is happening?

From my book More Than a Point of Honor: “Damn girl must be up to something,” Adler prepared to throw his shoulder against the bathroom door, when he saw movement through the kitchen window. Terra bolted for the forest. “Bitch!” He tore the screen door from the frame going after her. Nice guy, eh?

You also want to keep them reading if they bite on a chapter. End that chapter with something that compels them to turn the next page. Just one more chapter… This is also a great place to drop that hook as a bit of foreshadowing, a clue an adept reader might catch, or might only realize when they read “The End.”

From my book, What the River Knows: Was this some joke fate was playing on her? Finally, she found a man who fit all the requirements she had laid out long ago, and he was The-Cop-Who-Knew-Too-Much. Maybe he was just flirting with her, maybe wanted to take her home. She stopped her run into fantasy land. If he was just flirting with her, he would not have said that name. What name? Why did he know too much? What did he know?

From my book More Than a Point of Honor: Yet as much as he wanted to deny it, the possibility was very real that Terra was Adler’s finest and most dangerous weapon. When his instinct failed him, it failed him miserably. If it was wrong this time, it would probably be his last mistake. Now that doesn’t sound like the kind of mistake you want your hero to make, does it?

From my book What the River Knows: And yet, even in death, her mother had cared for her. Charlotte hadn’t realized how large an insurance policy that her mother had maintained payments on throughout her last days. In death, Mom gave her the gift of transformation. What kind of transformation?

From my book The Judas Seat: She knew, too, that afterward, while she dozed in total relaxation, he would stare into the dark and think, as he had the night they heard of Adler’s release. As he lay on his back, one arm around her, the other tucked under his head, she nestled close, her leg over his, her fingers resting on his chest, and wondered how long it would be before his conscience took him to Korea. Foreshadowing.

And you can (and should) also embed hooks within the story.

From my book, What the River Knows: Two more hours and she could slip off these shoes in her car on the way home. Right now, if she took them off, she might not get them on again. The other girls wore sneakers, but Charlotte enjoyed the looks she got from both men and women in her short skirts and high heels. She leaned her head against the wall. The pain in her feet was worth it, just as the other pain had been worth it. What other pain?

From my book The Judas Seat, Richard (Paul’s son and Terra’s husband) has been kidnapped from peace talks with no results from searching. Then there is this scene:

The phone rang. “I’ll get it,” Terra announced. After all, she was standing and closest to the house.

“Let me.” Paul leaped to his feet and beat her to the door, belying his age. She hung back, knowing he wanted to be the one to intercept news, to try to cushion the blow if it was bad. Carrie stood and put her arms around Terra. Neither spoke; they simply moved into the kitchen to watch as Paul picked up the receiver.

“Oh, God!” His knees buckled, and Carrie trembled. He thrust the phone toward Terra.

Swallowing hard, her gaze on Paul as he turned to take Carrie in his arms, she put the receiver to her ear. “Yes?” Who do you think was on the other end of the line? You hope, but I draw the tension out as long as possible.

From my book, What the River Knows: Not only did she recognize him from the cemetery, there was something familiar about his face that made her suspect she had known him from her old life. And that was just as frightening as today. How could she have known him in her old life? What was her old life?

What are some scenes in favorite books that left you hanging almost too long, but are unforgettable?

You can also use a hook at the end of a book to lure the reader into buying the next book. Some authors give you the first bits of the next book at the end of the one you just wished would go on longer. Other ending lines resonate in your life.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

George Orwell, 1984: The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; already it was impossible to say which was which.

A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner: But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

 In my Richard Matthews series, the epilogue to one book is the prologue to the next. At the end of More Than a Point of Honor, Chung Hee Yu, South Korean Cabinet Minister for Reunification is on a train bound for North Korea. When he arrives at the first station inside the border, he goes to the office of the station master.

He stepped toward the desk, where the station master glanced from his passport to his face and back to the passport.

“You are Chung Hee Yu, South Korean cabinet minister?”

“I am.”

“Why are you here?”

Chung Hee met the man’s gaze. “I wish to defect.” Would that make you want to get that next book to find out what happens?

What has tantalized you into waiting impatiently for an author’s next book?

More:

Beginning lines:

Last Song of Standing Bear: Standing Bear was lying down. 

Love’s Crossroads: Kris Evans heard the electricity throbbing to the automatic doors a heartbeat before they opened behind her. In that heightened state of consciousness brought on by pumping adrenaline, she made a mental note to ask maintenance to adjust the Emergency Room doors to open more quickly, all the while counting her patient’s shallow respirations. Eight per minute. Damn. Despite the fully inflated Military Anti-shock Trousers, they were losing him.

Chapter or scene beginnings:

River: Something jarred his sleep. The phone. The phone had done it. It rang again, insistent. He grabbed the back of the couch to raise himself, and the newspaper he had been reading slid from his chest to the floor. The phone jangled once more. “All right, I’m coming,” he growled as he stood. Where was the damn thing anyway? He slipped on the papers he was supposed to be sorting through. Rica would have his ass if he didn’t get this stuff put away or pitched by the time she got home. He had promised and, he eyed the clock by the front door, he had two hours until four. Finally, he found the phone beneath the lid of the pizza box. More stuff to take care of. “Yeah?”

“Aylward?” The voice of Sergeant Mullens punched into his ear. “Get down here, pronto!”

All drowsiness snapped out of Scott Aylward; something had tightened the cadence of Mullens’ usual slow drawl. “What’s up?” He glanced at the scanner on his desk. Damn, he’d forgotten to turn it on. After all, Rica kept telling him that days off should be days off.

“Just get your ass in. We’ll brief you when everybody gets here.”

“Everybody?”

River: Scott struggled his way out of sleep. He couldn’t seem to break the hold it had on him, and he repeatedly came to consciousness and then drifted back into a deep sleep. Finally, he rose enough out of slumber to realize that his arms felt heavy. He tried to move them, thinking they had fallen asleep with the rest of him, and felt resistance. Fighting to raise his arms, he forced his eyes open. At first, he couldn’t make sense of what he saw. Strange surroundings, himself naked in a strange bed. Turning his head to confirm what he felt, he saw that his wrists were tied to the posts of a bed he had never seen before. Sleep tried to pull him back into its depths, but a rapidly rising surge of adrenaline blocked the pull.

Honor: Terra reached the roadway on the strength of her indignation. Not until she stood at the gate of Adler’s estate, peering down the first one direction then the other, did the reality of what she had done sink in. “That was a dumb stunt, Terra road.” No headlights appeared from either direction. “Not only are you so far from home that you don’t know how far, you’re on an apparently untraveled road, you have no money to pay a cab or even make a phone call, and now—” She turned her face to meet the fog condensing into separate drops. “It’s starting to rain.”

Honor: Thirty yards from the cabin, Terra heard tires on the sand driveway. Richard was home! She sprinted toward the cabin as the rain stopped. Sunlight burst out as she hit the back porch. She threw open the back door and raced through the house as the front door opened. “Richard!” She ran toward the man who stood in the dark living room. He held open his arms for her.

“I didn’t realize you’d be so happy to see me.”

The voice struck Terra like a club between the eyes. She grabbed the back of the couch to stop herself. “Adler!”

Honor: “Damn girl must be up to something,” Adler prepared to throw his shoulder against the bathroom door, when he saw movement through the kitchen window. Terra bolted for the forest. “Bitch!” He tore the screen door from the frame going after her.

Judas: Harris burst into Delmonico’s quarters. “Ray, I hear gunfire!”

Delmonico, slipping on his shoes as he went, followed Harris back into the hall. Above them, he heard running feet, lots of them. Harris pounded on Edwards’ door. Edwards opened it at the second rap. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Harris said. “But it doesn’t sound good.”

They reached the balcony at the same time. Below them, the beach swarmed with security personnel, rifles at the ready. The other three Marines who assisted with security in the chambers had joined them. The throng parted and Delmonico saw a man down on the beach. He reached for his cell phone. “Gentlemen,” he said, punching in the numbers for a secure line to the Kitty Hawk. “We are definitely in an ‘oh, shit’ situation.”

River: These past few months, she had been working nearly every shift Harvey asked for, saving her money, though she had no idea what for. Devlyn would never do the major remodel they had talked about. Charlotte would never pack her bags and run. Or would she?

Judas: PAUL HAD ALL BUT turned his study over to the security men who set up their equipment there. It was the room of the house he used the least anyway. In fact, he seldom entered the room at all unless he wanted to read without any distractions, or to simply sit back and reflect on the life he had led, surrounded by the mementos he collected, mostly books. Now with Terra in the house, it seemed so boring to just sit. He was passing by the room on his way to the garden when one of the security men called to him.

“Mr. Matthews, could we see you a moment?”

“Certainly.” Paul turned into the room. A table held a bank of monitors that covered the grounds. His own security system provided an adequate second line of defense. Microphones had also been strategically placed near entry points to the property. It was an impressive display of technology. “Is there a problem?”

The most senior of the security men nodded. “You should probably sit down, sir.”

That warning chilled him to the core. Those words usually preceded bad news, such as when they got the word that Elaine was dead and Richard not expected to survive just over four years ago. He dropped into the chair behind his desk. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know exactly how to say this, sir—” The security man stood in front of Paul’s desk. “Except to just say it. Your son has been kidnapped.”

Chapter endings:

River: Charlotte Daniels had something to hide; Scott was sure of it. But what? Drug use? Dealing? A record she didn’t want her boss to find out about?

River: In the moment their eyes stayed locked, Charlotte felt a shock run all the way down to the tips of her heels. She knew this woman. 

River: “Go back a long time.” With effort, Charlotte forced her voice to resume the pitch she had worked for the past eight years to lose. “The last time we saw each other was the week after our junior year in high school, Mags.”

Mouth open in shock, Delia stared at her for a full minute. Then tears began to well from those enormous eyes. “Oh, my God!” She leaned forward to fold Charlotte in a hug.

River: These past few months, she had been working nearly every shift Harvey asked for, saving her money, though she had no idea what for. Devlyn would never do the major remodel they had talked about. Charlotte would never pack her bags and run. Or would she?

Judas: PAUL HAD ALL BUT turned his study over to the security men who set up their equipment there. It was the room of the house he used the least anyway. In fact, he seldom entered the room at all unless he wanted to read without any distractions, or to simply sit back and reflect on the life he had led, surrounded by the mementos he collected, mostly books. Now with Terra in the house, it seemed so boring to just sit. He was passing by the room on his way to the garden when one of the security men called to him.

“Mr. Matthews, could we see you a moment?”

“Certainly.” Paul turned into the room. A table held a bank of monitors that covered the grounds. His own security system provided an adequate second line of defense. Microphones had also been strategically placed near entry points to the property. It was an impressive display of technology. “Is there a problem?”

The most senior of the security men nodded. “You should probably sit down, sir.”

That warning chilled him to the core. Those words usually preceded bad news, such as when they got the word that Elaine was dead and Richard not expected to survive just over four years ago. He dropped into the chair behind his desk. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know exactly how to say this, sir—” The security man stood in front of Paul’s desk. “Except to just say it. Your son has been kidnapped.”

River: He tried desperately to center on Rica, on the plans they had made, on the children they had talked about having from almost their first date. Yet the effort of staying focused on her felt as difficult as holding onto a life preserver in a choppy sea. If he let his guard down for even an instant, he lost his grip on the life preserver. If he let it get too far away, he might never be able to grasp it again.

River She glanced at the ladies room door as she passed it. She smiled, even as a tear tried to work its way out of her left eye. No fateful collision tonight; never again. She breathed deeply to compose herself. Two more hours, and then she would be on her way home to Devlyn. Her freedom to be herself had ended with Delia’s death.

River: If only she had declined Harvey’s offer. Then she would never have met Devlyn, would still have her own cozy apartment to go home to in peace and privacy. But then again, she would not have run into Margaret again, to pick up that old friendship where it had been cut off so many years before.

She closed her eyes and started to tremble again. If she hadn’t met Devlyn and run into Margaret, Mags might still be alive.

River: Time, Scott thought. That was what everyone wanted, but no one could buy.

River: Scott tried to force his mind onto police work as he ran, hoping it would drown out the self-accusations he kept hearing. He didn’t recall any of the kinds of vehicles in the parking lot being on any stolen or watch lists. Still, something he had seen there nagged at him. There was something he needed to remember from that parking lot. He shook his head. Maybe the beers had been too much. He needed to watch that they didn’t become a habit.

Honor: She scanned the bookshelves, searching for some insight into the man who stocked them. Classics to technical journals to bestsellers, in four or more languages she could recognize. Matthews had wide-ranging tastes. On the shelves beside the antique desk, she found something of interest. She plucked a book from the shelf, intending only to glance at it, but began to read instead.

Honor: Though what had happened between them made logic difficult, it had happened. He must accept it and go on. And keep it from happening again until he was sure of her and what he felt. If she was Adler’s flunky, letting his guard down around her could be fatal. If she was not, letting her go would be foolish.

Honor: Phillips was right; no one could have survived the crash. But what if Davis left the chopper before it exploded? Brazil had been awfully kind to ex-Nazis wanting to begin new lives. Had it been equally kind to a Marine with a winning smile and plenty of money? More importantly, had Matthews, alone, been able to succeed where CIA, with all its resources, had failed? Had Matthews found a dead man who would talk?

Adler poured another brandy.

Honor: When the door closed, Adler poured himself a brandy. He glanced at the clock as he did so. Ten a.m. It had been years since he’d had a drink so early. Raising the glass to his lips, he gulped, feeling only the fire of the alcohol pouring over his tongue, not caring about the vintage or the subtleties of its flavor, only about its effect. His hands shook as he splashed more brandy into the glass. Damn, the last time he shook like this was when an operation went sour and nearly left him holding the bag. Fast, desperate moves then turned the guilt on someone else and saved his own ass. He poured once more.

Honor: Finally acknowledging how he felt about her scared him, when he thought about the task facing him at the airport. When the crucial moment came, could he put his plan into motion? Or would he quail at the risks and fold?

Honor: “Bitch!” He threw down the axe, then smacked her cheek with the back of his hand. The blow knocked her to the ground, stunned. He grabbed her shoulder and jerked her to her feet.

Honor: He set off in the direction she had run when she escaped him. At every step, she pulled back or twisted away from him. She scuffed the forest floor, leaving a clear trail. No matter; he wanted Matthews to follow.

Honor: Then she was on the ground with Adler on top of her. His left hand was at her throat and, in his right hand, he held the knife.

Honor: Terra spun to run, but Adler leaped toward her. He took her to the ground, then immediately yanked her up with his hand gripping her throat. She felt something hard against her right temple. Glancing sideways, she could just barely see a small semi-automatic pistol, aimed at her brain. She looked toward Richard as he sprang to his feet, blood dripping from his forehead.

“Playtime’s over,” Adler growled. “Now I want what I came for.”

Honor: Horrified, Richard saw Adler’s finger tightening on the trigger of the little gun. Time slipped into the same slow motion as when he watched the bullets rip into Elaine’s body and the life ebb from her. He saw Terra bend forward and her right elbow smash backward into Adler’s abdomen just as he heard the gun go off and saw the muzzle flash beside her head. He lunged forward as she crumpled to the ground, and Adler staggered back.

Judas: He held her and didn’t want to tell her that her woman’s intuition was correct. “I’ll be fine, secure meeting location and a full contingent of U.S. Marines.” When she didn’t say anything, but just looked up at him with eyes full of tears, he knew she was thinking that there had been a full contingent of Marines there the day Elaine had died.

Judas: “Yes, sir.” Delmonico put the last of the folders in his case. “High security for you from now until the crisis is ended.”

Richard turned toward the house. He had noticed Terra and his mother watching as he got up to pace from time to time. He waved Delmonico to his side. “Does that include my family?”

“Affirmative, sir.” Delmonico followed his gaze. “Until the crisis is over.”

Richard took a deep breath. The assurance did nothing to ease the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Once again, a storm was gathering, and he feared it would break right over his loved ones.

Judas: “Unfortunately, no.” Chung Hee shook his head. “Sometimes the lies must be peeled away like an onion. Sometimes peeling an onion brings tears.” He turned back to the south, and picked up his walking pace. “We should go inside; it’s getting dark.”

Following Chung Hee, Richard sensed the man was the onion he would have to peel, while Chung Hee would do the same to him. Motive by motive, layer by layer, until they stood eye to eye and heart to heart. Richard shivered as he wondered what either man would find at the core.

Judas: Finally, he turned back toward the ocean, trying to find the message Chung Hee hinted it carried. He saw nothing, just an inexorable slide in over the sand, and out over the same sand. It gradually smoothed away the footprints he had made and rolled a seashell further out to sea with every wave. Suddenly, the message clicked in his mind, but still left him uneasy. How much time did he have to wash over each delegate to find the fissures in their positions? Would a nuclear bulldozer ride roughshod over the beach of negotiations and render the dance of the waves pointless?

Judas: Richard started rolling toward the wounded soldier, hoping to secure his weapon and return fire. Suddenly, he felt a sharp sting in his shoulder. He had time to note the fluffy end of a dart before he lost the ability to move. A vivid image of Terra’s face looking up at him from a moonlit beach swam before his eyes. Then his world went black and silent.          

Judas: Richard stared into the barrel of the nine-millimeter, judging the distance from the muzzle to his forehead, calculating how fast he could move, guessing how quickly Adler could squeeze the trigger, how much time he would have before the bullet rocketed from the barrel. He thought about Terra, his child, his parents, and wondered if, when the moment came to act, he truly cared enough about the other people in the room, about the success of the peace mission, to risk his life for their welfare. A verse echoed in his mind. “Greater love hath no man, than he lay down his life for his friends.” He stopped, breathing deeply, trying to make Adler think he was obeying, as he settled his body into a ready stance.

Judas: “Have you lost your mind, Matthews?” He felt Adler relax beneath his arm. “Pressure of the negotiations getting to you?” A smile began on Adler’s lips. “Maybe you’re scared you’ll lose another baby.” His smile grew. “Or another wife.”

Richard increased the pressure of his arm on Adler’s chest. “Shut up, you—”

“I found a note, sir,” the Marine stood up from the towel bin.

“What does it say?” Richard watched as the color paled in Adler’s cheeks.

“It just says, ‘hit confirmed,’ sir.”

Judas: She saw him sweep his jacket back from his gun, and glanced again toward the approaching vehicle. The vehicle slowed down near the driveway. She stepped out of the wind by the fence posts as the car slammed to a stop almost in front of them.

River: One more time, she looked through the oven door instead of opening it and making the cooking take longer. For two cents, or maybe even less, she would pack her things and be gone before Devlyn came home from work. Pack her bags and leave, run to another town and start over once again. Except that she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, no refuge where Devlyn could not find her. And because of what she knew, Devlyn WOULD find her.

Sprinkle little hooks throughout:

River: Charlotte felt something, premonition perhaps, shiver down her spine. For a moment, she had the urge to fake a stomach upset and ask Devlyn to take her home. In retrospect, that would have been best. Instead, desperate to feel protected, she had ignored the whispers in the back of her mind and become entangled deeper and deeper into Devlyn’s world.

“And then I quit school and got the job at the airplane factory in Wichita. Made as good a money as my daddy did, kept momma and me right comfortable.” Devlyn’s face scrunched up in what Charlotte learned to recognize as deep thought. “But it don’t seem to go as far any more, so I haven’t been able to make my improvements.” Improvements, Charlotte had also learned, was Devlyn-code for dreams that would never come true, in fact never even be attempted.