Narrative hook

Narrative hook

A narrative hook (or hook) is a literary technique in the opening of a story that "hooks" the reader's attention so that he or she will keep on reading. The "opening" may consist of several paragraphs for a short story, or several pages for a novel, but ideally it is the opening sentence.[1] [2]

One of the most common forms is dramatic action, which engages the reader into wondering what the consequences of the action will be. This particular form has been recommended from the earliest days, stemming from Aristotle, and the widely used term in medias res stems from the Roman Empire. However, action is not, in itself, a hook, without the reader's wondering what will happen next, or what caused the actions to occur. Overly dramatic openings may leave the reader indifferent because the characters acting or being acted on are non-entities; even murder of a faceless character may not engage interest.

The use of action as the hook, and the advice to so use it, is so widespread as to sometimes lead to the use of the term to mean an action opening, but other things can be used for narrative hooks, such mysterious settings, or engaging characters, or even a thematic statement, as with Jane Austen's 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."

When a story does not lend itself to a good hook when it is laid out linearly, the writer may tell the story out of order to engage the reader's interest. The story may begin with a dramatic moment and, once the reader is curious, flashback to the history necessary to understand it. Or it may be told as a story-within-a-story, with the narrator in the frame story telling the story to answer the curiosity of his listeners, or by warning them that the story began in an ordinary seeming way, but they must follow it to understand latter actions. A famous early example of this technique was used in the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, in which the frame story consists of Sheherazade telling stories to King Shahriyar; she must keep him 'hooked' to each of the stories, in order to prevent him from executing her the next morning.

Narrative hooks often play an important role in suspense thrillers and mystery fiction, particularly in murder mysteries. This also dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights, in which a tale, "The Three Apples", begins with the discovery of a young woman's dead body, thus keeping the reader interested in "whodunit".[3][4]

See also


  1. ^ Myers, Jack; Wukasch, Don Charles (2003). Dictionary of poetic terms (New ed. ed.). Denton, Tex.: University of North Texas Press. p. 244. ISBN 9781574411669. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Lyon, Elizabeth (2008). Manuscript makeover: revision techniques no fiction writer can afford to ignore. Penguin. ISBN 9780399533952. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  3. ^ Pinault, David (1992), Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights, Brill Publishers, pp. 86–97, ISBN 9004095306 
  4. ^ Marzolph, Ulrich (2006), The Arabian Nights Reader, Wayne State University Press, pp. 240–2, ISBN 0814332595 


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