The Hook, by Dave Smith


The Hook

by Dave Smith

There’s a ton of talk about the hook.

Everyone tells me I have to have a hook to begin my story. Without it, no one will read beyond the first page, or maybe the first paragraph.

I’m petrified! What if I can’t find the perfect hook? My writing is doomed. What actually is the perfect hook? At least the perfect one for my story?

I pondered these questions recently as I was out on the lake fishing. With a hook. Hmmm … is there a correlation here I may be missing? Or is a misnomer lurking?

I did what any self-respecting angler would do: I looked it up in the dictionary. Oh, boy.

Hook: (noun) a bent piece of barbed and baited metal; a curved cutting instrument; a short swinging punch; a golf stroke which unintentionally deviates; (verb) attach or fasten; prostitute; the punching and golfing things again; pushing the ball backward with the foot from a rugby scrum (that was new to me too).

Hook phrases: by hook or by crook; get one’s hooks into; give someone the hook (you’re fired!); hook, line, and sinker; on the hook for.


I’m not sure I want to do any of those things at the beginning of my story, unless of course my story involves the adventures of a rugby player who was married to a boxer who spent too much money on golf and was forced to become a prostitute to pay the mobster who had his hooks into said rugby player.

I hear you scolding me, “But, but, but … Dave, it also means something designed to catch one’s attention.”

Yes it does. My attention would be caught if an author wrote the first paragraph in red, or upside down, or backward, so why worry about the actual words?

Because, I have deduced, hook is not the descriptor for me. It has too many sharp and undesirable meanings, so I prefer the word engage. Some authors use this nomenclature in their how-to books and articles, and I love it. I even like to say it: Engage. I use my French accent; sounds more seductive.

To me, hooking is a slap on the head saying, “Hey! Look at this! Ain’t it awesome?”

Engaging is a hand held out saying, “Come with me and enjoy this journey.”

Therefore, in Dave’s Rulebook, I have replaced rule #1—you need a hook— with: rule #1—you need to engage your reader. Nothing flashy, no fantastic first sentence, just an authorial finger sliding up the reader’s nose and tickling her brain; wooing her curiosity.

“Semantics … just semantics,” some may huff.

Well, isn’t that what writing is all about in the first place? Go ahead, say it: Engage. Use your French accent.

Author’s note: the first name on the authors-who-use-engage list is Jeff Gerke, and I highly recommend his book The First 50 Pages.

(Editor’s note: the link for Jeff Gerke goes to the Udemy class taught by Jeff. The link was not provided by Dave Smith, nor is it intended to be an endorsement by Dave or myself. The Udemy classes have been recommended in the past by our president, Laura Hernandez.)

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One thought on “The Hook, by Dave Smith

  1. Yes, Udemy! Go ahead and check them out! Get on the list and wait for a sale ( I never paid more than $12 for any one class) !

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