Monday, August 6, 2012

Do Violence to Your Reader, Part I: Hook ‘Em on the Way In! by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

I love running across new tools, don't you? Hey fellow writers, Annette here. This summer Jill Elizabeth Nelson published the most useful book on deep point of view that I've ever read. I've used it in my own writing, told my clients about it, and recommended it over and over. She's here for the month of August to share a series on point of view with us. Enjoy!

Part I: Hook ‘Em on the Way In!
by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Imagine a fish eyeing a tasty morsel dangling on the end of your fishing line. If you jig that treat just right . . . it strikes! Now the fish is on the hook, and you can reel it in, taking the creature exactly where you want it to go. A hook in a story works much the same way. With every individual scene and chapter, a writer must present a tasty morsel in such a way that the reader is compelled to follow your story wherever you want to take them. A dull hook will lose a potential reader within a paragraph or two, or even a line or two.

Readers who seek primarily to feed their intellect or to gain information will pick up a work of non-fiction. Readers who buy novels are hungry primarily for an emotionally resonant experience that satisfies them at gut level. This emotionally resonant experience hinges on maintaining and escalating tension moment-by-moment throughout the story, but especially in the opening lines of each and every chapter and scene.

Here is an opening hook that does NOT work. (Don’t worry. It’s not from anyone’s published book.) Why does this hook not work? Ask yourself if this opening contains any element that communicates tension or emotion.

Hayley Jones walked off the plane and onto the tarmac of the small airport.

Certainly, the sentence conveys vital information—the name of the character, what the character is doing and where; however, information minus emotion equals stagnation. There is no hint of a story here to intrigue us to read on!

Here is an opening that works in one simple line. (Again, not from a published book.) Why does it work? (Hint: is there any word choice that evokes emotion or tension?)

Aimee huddled in the corner of the room.

This line contains all of the informational elements from the line that didn’t work—the character’s name, what the character is doing and where—but it also captures that all-important element of tension, as well as suggesting the emotion of fear. Someone huddled in the corner of a room cannot be in a good situation, and the reader will crave to know more. There are a gazillion different directions a writer can take the story from here, but the reader is hooked and will avidly follow where the story leads.

Here is your assignment:

Pick up one of your favorite novels and find at least one scene or chapter opening that hooks you and evaluate why the hook works. Remember our keys to effective hooks—tension and emotion.


Award-winning author and writing teacher, Jill Elizabeth Nelson, writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith. Jill is a popular speaker for conferences, writers groups, library associations, and civic and church groups. She delights to bring the “Ah-ah! Moment” to her students as they make new skills their own. Her handbook for writers, Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, is now available at Amazon (see links below). 

Connect with Jill:

(print version)      (eBook version)


  1. Thanks for visiting, Jill. I'm still recommending your oh-so-useful book to fellow writers. I imagine I will be for a long time to come. Looking forward to the rest of your series!

  2. I've found the book very helpful, too, and am also recommending it. :-D

  3. Thanks, Dawn and Annette. I so appreciate your kind words and support. Thanks for hosting me, Annette!

    1. Our pleasure, Jill! Thanks for visiting with this great series!


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