Learning how to identify and use hooks vs ‘backstory’ in your writing is a practical way to keep your audience reading your work.
The writer should be able to identify hooks within a piece of writing: a hook is a phrase/sentence/paragraph that leaves a question in the reader’s mind: e.g. what will happen next; how did the character get into the current situation?
The writer should be able to identify ‘backstory’= BS, and distinguish it from hooks.
Backstory is information the author thinks the reader should know to understand the current situation. When backstory is provided in a separate paragraph or longer, it may be viewed as ‘info—dumping’ and may lose the reader.
The writer should be able to identify hooks and backstory within their own writing.
Let’s try a short exercise.
1. Print an H after each phrase in the excerpt below that ‘hooks’ the reader to continue the story.
NOTE: There may be some debate on whether a phrase/sentence is a hook.
2. Print a B after any sentence that is only backstory: information without any hook. Background facts.
The following excerpt is the prologue from an unpublished chapter book in the Defenders of Monstrovia series by Mark H. Newhouse. BTW I hate prologues, but this can be helpful in a sequel or offshoot from a series.
DEFENDERS OF MONSTROVIA: KARA THE DEFENDER 1
My brother, Brodie, warned me H what to expect in Monstrovia, but I wasn’t ready for what happened. Nothing could have prepared me for life in this secret sector of the United States where humans are an endangered species. And yes, I am one of the only humans here. H Where is my uncle when I need him?
My brother, Brodie, warned me H what to expect in Monstrovia, H but I still wasn’t ready for what happened. H Nothing could have prepared me H for life in this secret sector HB of the United States B where humans are an endangered species. HB And yes, I am one of the only humans here. HB Where is my uncle when I need him? HB
While there is a lot of information given BS, it is concealed in hooks rather than in info-dumps, as straight facts. The question I always ask is whether a sentence will hook a reader to want to turn to the next page. Hook your reader as early as possible and they will come back for more.
He had a secret way to hook readers. He never shared it before. He wondered if he should risk exposing his secret in his next blog.
Are you hooked? Come back next month to learn the best way to deliver backstory.
Mark H. Newhouse is the proud holder of ten Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards, including Book of the Year, for The Devil’s Bookkeepers series also honored with the Grand Prize Fiction Series Award in the Chanticleer International Book Awards Competition. Teacher of the Year (NYS Reading Association), he help countless writers as a writing group leader and through his Writing Bug columns. Learn more about him and his books at newhousecreativegroup.com.