Last week I blogged about the Hook vs Plot Twist Conundrum and realized it would be a good exercise to take some books off my shelf and read the jackets to learn more about what makes a good hook. After perusing my collection of YA and MG novels, I decided all good hooks had these four components:
- compelling question
- twist on the expected
- personal connection
It was difficult narrowing down which novels to use as examples (so many good ones!), but I’ve got four for you (seems to be the featured number of this post). Here are my choices:
DRINK, SLAY, LOVE by Sarah Beth Durst
When it comes to hooks, usually one of the four components stands out. For this book it’s “twist on the expected.” I love vampire stories, but was sick of all the lame love triangle vampires born of the Twilight craze. So when I read the blurb and found out this book was about a vampire who gets stabbed by a unicorn and develops a conscience, my reaction was: “What a crazy original twist. I HAVE TO READ THIS!”
But to prove my point, it has all the other components of a good hook too:
Conflict: External conflict includes her family, who will kill her if she fails them, and fitting in at high school where she can’t let the other students find out she’s a vampire. Internal conflict is our vampire heroine struggling with her new conscience and unfamiliar compassion for the humans she is supposed to feast on.
Compelling Question: A hook must make the reader ask a question that won’t be answered until the end. In this story it is: “Will Pearl serve up her new friends or save them?”
Personal Connection: This is the most subjective of the components, but I see it as “what makes this protagonist human.” Even though Pearl is not a human, the reader can make a connection with her because she has a very relatable dilemma – choosing between her friends and her family.
HOLES by Louis Sachar
The component that stands out is “compelling question.” Readers will pick up this book to find out what nefarious thing the warden is searching for in all those holes.
Personal Connection: This is done with just one word – “unjustly.” Yes, the hero has been unjustly punished. What kid can’t identify with that?
Conflict: It’s not explicitly described, but the reader can imagine that since the hero is not an actual delinquent (because of the “unjust” nature of his sentence), that there will be lots of conflict between him and the rougher boys at this camp. And of course, conflict with the antagonist, the warden.
Twist on the expected: This is not your typical boys detention center or summer camp.
I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga
This jacket blurb is so short, but brilliantly packs in everything. For me, the component that stood out the most was “personal connection.” I immediately put myself in Jazz’s shoes and went, “What if my parent was a serial killer?! What would that be like?” I had to know.
Conflict: Just from three sentences, I can deduce there’s a helluva lot of conflict between Jazz and his serial killer dad (even though dad is in prison), Jazz and the police (why else would he feel he needs to prove that murder doesn’t run in the family), and Jazz and the small town (there’s nowhere to hide in a small town and there must be tons of tension from everyone knowing Jazz is the son of a serial killer).
Twist on the expected: Stories are often told from the POV of the person investigating the murder, or the person committing the crime, or a potential victim. But never had I read a book where a convicted serial killer’s kid is telling the story. What a great concept!
Compelling Question: Of course, since this is a murder mystery – who is the killer?
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie
The dominant component of this book blurb is “conflict.” Here is a character straddling two worlds and balancing people on both sides who are not happy with his choices in life. This hero is living conflict!
Personal Connection: Not fitting in. Most everyone can relate to that.
Twist on the expected: This is the one thing that I’m not sure we get from the book jacket. I found this inside the book, about halfway through, so kudos to whoever wrote this jacket blurb for not giving it away! Though I suppose this novel can get away with not having this component in the jacket since it won the National Book Award!
Compelling Question: Since this is a coming-of-age story, the question is tied to the protagonist’s personal growth and is basically, “Will he succeed and how?”
To tie in to last week’s post, all of these hooks appear in Act I. In DRINK, SLAY, LOVE, Pearl is stabbed by the unicorn on page 9. In HOLES the reader learns about digging holes on page 1. All the information in the I HUNT KILLERS book jacket is revealed from pages 1 to 12. It takes a little longer in PART-TIME INDIAN – it’s page 45 is when Junior decides to enrol in the white kids’ school, but that is still well within Act I.
What attracts you to a story? Can you spot these four components in the blurbs of your favorite novels?
6 thoughts on “4 Components of a Good Hook”
Was excited to see HOLES in your collection. I read it for the first time last year with my Grade 6’s. They loved it. Keep up the great work.
Thanks, Josh! They’re lucky to have a teacher like you who selects awesome books!
I’ve read I HUNT KILLERS, and that jacket blurb inspired me to invest in it. Now I want to read HOLES as well. 🙂
Awesome! It’s younger than KILLERS (HOLES in MG not YA), but definitely a great story!
Really good advice. Made me check my own blurb!
Excellent! I love making writing craft checklists for everything – synopses, blurbs, queries. Makes the revising faster. 🙂