A narrative hook appears at the beginning of a piece of literature and is used to “hook” or capture the reader’s attention.
This literary device is meant to ensure that the reader continues past the first couple of words or pages and is interested enough to keep reading. Without a hook, it’s easier for readers to put down a book, short story, or poem and move on to something else. It should also be noted that hooks can also appear at the beginning of passages, such as at the start of a new chapter or stanza.
A hook might include something exciting, but there is no defined structure for what a hook has to be. It could include an interesting or mysterious conversation, a group of strange or endearing characters, a strong thematic opening line, or anything else that sets the mood in such a way that the reader wants to keep reading.
Explore the Narrative Hook
Definition and Explanation of the Narrative Hook
Hooks are ways of capturing the reader’s attention. They usually include something exciting, suspenseful, scary, or surprising. If a novel starts off differently than one imagined it would then a reader is more likely to continue into the next pages.
A hook might consist of one or two sentences or it might be longer, lasting for a page or two. One of the most common ways to create a hook is to bring the reader into the middle of the story in which the action is the most intense. Often, this means the writer will then transition into passages that outline what happened before the “hook” brought the reader into the text.
Examples of Hooks in Literature
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare was a master of crafting interesting and engaging hooks at the beginning of his plays. One of the best comes from the famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet. The story of the two households and the fate of the two main characters is depicted in the first lines of the piece. What comes next is all the exposition, rising, and falling action the surrounds the death of Juliet’s cousin (the climax of the story). The first lines of the play read:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
These lines foreshadow the events to come, somewhat spoiling the drama of finding out for oneself what’s going to happen at the end of the play. When read for the first time, these lines also come across as a prophecy of sorts, one that Romeo and Juliet are doomed to fall victim to.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s best-known work, he employs an interesting and harder-to-define hook at the beginning of the novel. The first lines read:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
These lines introduce the reader to the broader themes of the piece. After these lines, one is aware of what kind of novel this is going to be and what the main character, and perhaps others, are going to learn by the end.
The Stranger follows Meursault, a troubled French-Algerian man who is emotional detached from his surroundings. Meursault begins the novel learning of his mother’s death, a hook that alludes to the rest of the novel and his lack of interest in his life. The lines read:
Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.
The fact that the speaker doesn’t remember whether his mother died “today” or “yesterday” is a striking way to introduce someone. It’s hard to like the character when this is the first image one has of him.
1984, George Orwell’s classic novel, has a striking hook as its first line. The book begins with:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
With this first line, Orwell sets the reader back a step by suggesting that they’re entering a world that is quite different, although not entirely different, from their own. In this place, clocks run to thirteen. But, the fact that they still exist and still “strike” informs the reader the knowledge that not everything has changed.
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
“The Most Dangerous Game” has an interesting hook that occurs when Zaroff, the Russian who owns the island, informs Rainsford that he’s going to hunt him. The passage reads:
“Tonight,” said the general, “we will hunt–you and I.”
Rainsford shook his head. “No, general,” he said. “I will not hunt.”
Up until this point, the story has been focused on exposition. It’s with this hook that readers are thrust into the main point of the story.
Why Do Writers Use a Hook?
Hooks are one of the most important literary choices a writer makes at the beginning of a novel, short story, play or other written work of literature. They are incredibly important for ensuring that readers are interested and invested in what’s going to come next. By crafting an interesting hook, the writer is letting the reader know what kind of story they’re about to engage with. It might be horrifying, romantically enticing, mysterious, or have any other thematic slant.
It’s also important to note that one hook at the beginning of the novel is often not enough to carry the reader through. If the action dies off somewhat, it might important for a writer to use another hook, in theory saying “there’s more action on the way, don’t stop reading now.”
Related Literary Devices
- Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment the plot is concluded.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Falling Action: occurs near the end of the story, following the climax and before the resolution.