Write a 500-word argumentative essay, applying the

theories of “The Hook,” by K.M.
Weiland to a novel’s beginning.

This essay is to evaluate how well you form and argue a

note ; I need a saprate outline too

The Hook

By: K.M. Weiland

Readers are like fish. Smart fish. Fish who know authors are out to get them, reel them

in, and capture them for the rest of their seagoing lives. But, like any self-respecting fish,

readers aren’t caught easily. They aren’t about to surrender themselves to the lure of your story

unless you’ve presented them with an irresistible hook.

Our discussion of story structure very naturally begins at the beginning—and the

beginning of any good story is its hook. Unless you hook readers into your story from the very

first chapter, they won’t swim in deep enough to experience the rest of your rousing adventure,

no matter how excellent it is.

The hook comes in many forms, but stripped down to its lowest common denominator,

the hook is nothing more or less than a question. If we can pique our readers’ curiosity, we’ve

got ‘em. Simple as that.

The beginning of every story should present character, setting, and conflict. But, in

themselves, none of these represent a hook. We’ve created a hook only when we’ve convinced

readers to ask the general question, “What’s going to happen?” because we’ve also convinced

them to ask a more specific question, such as “What scary reptilian monster killed the worker?”

(Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton) or “How does a city hunt?” (Mortal Engines by Philip


Your opening question might be explicit: perhaps you open with the character wondering

something, which will hopefully make readers wonder the same thing. But more often, the

question is implicit, as it is, for example, in Elizabeth Gaskell’s short story “Lizzie Leigh,” which

opens with a dying man’s last words to his wife. All he says is, “I forgive her, Anne! May God

forgive me.” Readers have no idea whom the man is forgiving, or why he might need to beg

God’s forgiveness in turn. The very fact that we don’t know what he’s talking about makes us

want to read on to find the answers.

The important thing to remember about presenting this opening question is that it cannot

be vague. Readers have to understand enough about the situation to mentally form a specific

question. What the heck is going on here? Does not qualify as a good opening question.

It’s not necessary for the question to remain unanswered all the way to the end of the

story. It’s perfectly all right to answer the question in the very next paragraph, so long as you

introduce another question, and another and another, to give readers a reason to keep turning

those pages in search of answers.


Beginnings are the sales pitch for your entire story. Doesn’t matter how slam-bang your

finish is, doesn’t matter how fresh your dialogue is, doesn’t matter if your characters are so real

they tap dance their way off the pages. If you beginning doesn’t fulfill all its requirements,

readers won’t get far enough to discover your story’s hidden merits.

Although no surefire pattern exists for the perfect opening, most good beginnings share

the following traits:

● They don’t open before the beginning. Mystery author William G. Tapley points out,

“Starting before the beginning…means loading up your readers with background

information they have no reason to care about.” Don’t dump your backstory into your

reader’s lap right away, no matter how vital it is to the plot. How many of us want to hear

someone’s life story the moment after we meet him?

● They open with characters, preferably the protagonist. Even the most plot-driven

tales inevitably boil down to characters. The personalities that inhabit your stories are

what will connect with readers. If you fail to connect them with the characters right off the

bat, you can cram all the action you want into your opening, but the intensity and the

drama will still fall flat.

● They open with conflict. No conflict, no story. Conflict doesn’t always mean nuclear

warheads going off, but it does demand your characters be at odds with someone or

something right from the get-go. Conflict keeps the pages turning, and turning pages are

nowhere more important than in the beginning.

● They open with movement. Openings need more than action, they need motion.

Motion gives readers a sense of progression and, when necessary, urgency. Whenever

possible, open with a scene that allows your characters to keep moving, even if they’re

just checking the fridge.

● They establish the setting. Modern authors are often shy of opening with description,

but a quick, incisive intro of the setting serves not only to ground readers in the

physicality of the story, but also to hook their interest and set the stage. Opening lines

“that hook you immediately into the hero’s dilemma almost always follow the hook with a

bit os stage setting,” and vice versa.

● They orient readers with an “establishing” shot. Anchoring readers can often be

done best by taking a cue from the movies and opening with an “establishing” shot. If

done skillfully, you can present the setting and the characters’ positions within it in as

little as a sentence or two.

● They set the tone. Because your opening chapter sets the tone for your entire story,

you need to give readers accurate presuppositions about the type of tale they’re going to

be reading. Your beginning needs to set the stage for the denouement–without, of

course, giving it away.

If you can nail all these points in your opening chapter, your readers will keep the pages

turning into the wee hours of the morning.



Because your ability to convince the reader to keep reading is dependent on your hook,

it must be present as early as possible in your first scene. In fact, if you can get it into your first

line, so much the better. However, the hook must be organic. Teasing readers with a killer

opening line (“Mimi was dying again”) only to reveal all is not as seems (turns out Mimi is an

actress performing her 187th death scene) not only negates the power of your hook, it also

betrays readers’ trust. And readers don’t like to be betrayed. Not one little bit.

The opening line of your book is your first (and, if you don’t take advantage of it, last)

opportunity to grab your readers’ attention and give them a reason to read your story. That’s a

gargantuan job for a single sentence. But if we analyze opening lines, we discover a number of

interesting things. One of the most surprising discoveries is that very few opening lines are


Say what?

Before you start quoting the likes of “Call me Ishmael” and “Happy families are all alike,”

take a moment to think about the last few books you read and loved. Can you remember the

opening lines? The very fact that these unremembered lines convinced us to keep reading until

we loved the books means they did their jobs to sparkly perfection. I looked up the first lines of

five of my favorite reads from the last year:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child

sleeping beside him. (The Road by Cormac McCarthy)

It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts. (The

Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss)

They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. (My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du


On the night he had appointed his last among the living, Dr. Ben Givens did not dream, for his

sleep was restless and visited by phantoms who guarded the portal to the world of dreams by speaking

relentlessly of this world. (East of the Mountains by David Guterson)

What makes these lines work? What about them makes us want to read on? Let’s break

them down into five parts.

1. Inherent Question. To begin with, they all end with an invisible question mark. Why is

the other side of the bed cold? Why are these characters sleeping outside in bad

weather? How can silence be divided into three separate parts? Whom did they hang in


the old days—and why don’t they hang them anymore? And why and how has Ben

Givens appointed the time of his death? You can’t just tell readers what’s going on in

your story; you have to give them enough information to make them ask the

questions—so you can then answer them.

2. Character. Most of these opening lines give us a character (and the rest introduce

their characters in the sentences that follow). The first line is the first opportunity readers

have to meet and become interested in your main character. Guterson ramps this

principle to the max by naming his character, which allows readers that many more

degrees of connection.

3. Setting. Most of these lines also offer a sense of setting. In particular, McCarthy, du

Maurier, and Rothfuss use their settings to impart a deep sense of foreboding and to set

the tone of the book. The opening line doesn’t have to stand alone. It is supported by

and leads into the scaffolding of all the sentences and paragraphs that follow.

4. Sweeping Declaration. Only one of our example books (du Maurier’s) opens with a

declaration. Some authors feel this is another technique that’s fallen by the wayside,

along with the omniscient narrators of Melville and Tolstoy. But the declaration is still

alive and well, no matter what point of view you’re operating from. The trick is using the

declaration to make readers ask that all-important inherent question. “The sky is blue” or

“a stitch in time saves nine” are the kind of yawn-infested declarations that lead

nowhere. But if you dig a little deeper—something along the lines of William Gibson’s

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”—you find

not only a bit of poetry, but also a sense of tone and the question of why? that makes

readers want to keep going.

5. Tone. Finally, in every one of our examples readers can find the introduction of tone.

Your first line is your “hello.” Don’t waste it. Set the tone of your story right from the start.

Is your book funny, snarky, wistful, sad, or poetic? Make sure we find that core element

in your opening line. Don’t hand them a joke at the beginning if your story is a lyrical

tragedy. Opening lines offer authors their first and best opportunity to make a statement

about their stories. Play around until you find something that perfectly introduces your

story’s character, plot, setting, theme, and voice. Your opening line may be as short as

Suzanne Collins’s. It may be longer than David Guterson’s. It may be flashy, or it may be

straightforward. Whatever the case, it needs to be an appropriate starting line for the

grand adventure that is your story.


Examples from film and literature

Now that we’ve got a basic idea of what a hook is and where it belongs, let’s consider a few

examples. I’ve selected two movies and two books (two classics and two recent), which we’ll

use as examples throughout this series, so you can follow the story arc as presented in popular

and successful media. Let’s take a look at how the professionals hook us so successfully we

never realize we’ve swallowed the worm.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813): Austen begins by masterfully hooking us with her

famous opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of

a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The subtle irony gives us a sense of conflict from the

very first and lets us know that neither the wife in search of the fortune nor the man in search of

the wife will find their goals so easily. Austen deepens the pull of her hook in her opening

paragraph by further highlighting the juxtaposition of her opening statement with the realities of

her plot, and then deepens it still further in the entirety of the opening scene, which introduces

readers to the Bennet family in such a way that we not only grow interested in the characters,

but also realize both the thrust of the plot and the difficulties of the conflict.

It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra (1947): Capra opens with a successful framing

device that hooks the reader with a sneak peek of the climax. The movie opens at the height of

the main character’s troubles and immediately has us wondering why George Bailey is in such a

fix that the whole town is praying for him. Next thing we know, we’re staring at an unlikely trio of

angels, manifested as blinking constellations. The presentation not only fascinates us with its

unexpectedness, it also succinctly expresses the coming conflict and stakes and engages the

reader with a number of specific need-to-know questions.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1977): The opening line to Card’s acclaimed science-fiction

novel is packed with hooking questions: “‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through

his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.’” Just like that,

Card’s got us wondering how the speaker is watching and listening through someone’s else’s

mind, who is the one, what is the one supposed to do, and why are they settling for a “one” who

is less than perfect? He then successfully builds his killer opening into a scene that introduces

his unlikely hero, six-year-old Ender Wiggin, just as his life is about to change forever.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World directed by Peter Weir (2004): As a brilliant

adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s beloved Aubrey/Maturin series, this movie is unusual in a

number of areas, not least in its non-formulaic tone and plot. Nevertheless, it follows the

requirements of structure to a T, beginning with its stark opening, showing the morning ritual

aboard the man of war HMS Surprise. Aside from arousing our natural curiosity about the

unique setting, the hook doesn’t appear until a minute or so into the film when one of the sailors

spots what might be an enemy ship. The film never slows to explain the situation to the reader.

It carries them through a few tense moments of uncertainty and indecision, then, almost without

warning, plunges them into the midst of a horrific sea battle. Viewers are hooked almost before

they see the hook coming.


Takeaway value

So what can we learn from these masterful hooks?

1. Hooks should be inherent to the plot.

2. Hooks don’t always involve action, but they always set it up.

3. Hooks never waste time.

4. Hooks almost always pull double or triple duty in introducing character, conflict, and plot—and

even setting and theme.

Our hook is our first chance to impress readers, and like it or not, first impressions are usually

make or break territory. Plan your hook carefully and wow readers so thoroughly they won’t everforget the moment your story first grabbed them.