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What Is a Narrative Hook?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A narrative hook is something in a story that captures the attention of the audience and make them interested in finding out what will happen next. This is often found at the beginning of a story, and serves to initially “hook” the audience and get them to continue reading or viewing a story. There are a number of different ways this can be done, though starting a story in media res or “in the middle of the action” is among the most well known methods. A narrative hook can also occur during the body of a story, to ensure a reader is intrigued and engaged when events may otherwise be slowing.

The purpose of a narrative hook is for a storyteller to effectively capture the attention of his or her audience. In this sense, “narrative” simply means a story that is being told, and “hook” refers to the idea of an object that grabs something and pulls it along. A storyteller typically wants to use a narrative hook to grab his or her audience and then not let them go. Almost every story begins with some type of hook, which serves to capture the initial attention of an audience and make them invest additional time in the story.

One way in which a storyteller can create a narrative hook is through a technique for starting a story in the middle of the action, known by the Latin term in media res. This means that a storyteller does not typically begin with a character’s birth, but instead starts in the midst of action. The audience typically sees this type of beginning and they immediately start to ask themselves questions about what is happening.

The movie Star Wars, for example, begins with a space battle as one large ship pursues another, blasting at it with lasers. This immediately grabs the attention of the audience and makes them want to know what events led to this moment. Due to the questions that arise in an audience seeing this type of narrative hook, however, it is important for a storyteller to explain a great deal of information afterward to avoid confusion.

A narrative hook may also be used within the body of a story, to maintain the inertia of a story or otherwise push events forward. Some events and details may need to be told by a storyteller, but can ultimately slow down the flow of a tale and potentially result in the audience growing bored. Use of a narrative hook within these details and events ensures that the audience’s attention is maintained throughout the tale. This is especially important for longer works in which the conclusion might not be reached for some time.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Dec 07, 2014

@browncoat - Novels for adults do still need to have a decent narrative hook at the beginning though and this is something that a lot of aspiring authors seem to have trouble with. They want to start a story with a long buildup because that's how they are planning to continue it. But you almost always need the beginning to start in media res as it suggests in the article.

If you start with the character waking up and pottering around the house for a while that's a lot of wasted space that could be used for action and dialog. You have to trust that your readers will be able to catch on quickly and that you will be able to make things clear to them, because they won't want to stick around for someone brushing their hair and having a shower at the beginning of the book. Unless it's a book about hygiene.

By browncoat — On Dec 06, 2014

@MrsPramm - I don't think the problem is using a narrative hook in general, so much as it is using one without a good payoff. If your protagonist is always rescued without effort, or if they always discover their danger isn't that dangerous after all and it was only the author trying to make you think they were in danger, then you are quickly going to stop trusting the author.

I think this gets left over from childhood, where you do want books to have a narrative hook at the end of each chapter so that the kid will want to come back to it. But a children's book often has a different kind of story structure in general and so you can put in hooks like that without compromising the story as a whole. So many exciting things are happening that it's just a matter of spacing them properly. With a book for older readers you are going to want the narrative to be deeper and richer and that doesn't leave as much room for hooking someone in, because a hook by its nature is usually a revelation of some kind.

By MrsPramm — On Dec 06, 2014

I absolutely hate it when books do this at the end of every chapter. I mean, I know that you want a book to be compelling and you want to be encouraged to keep reading it, but it starts to feel forced if your protagonist is left hanging by her fingernails every few pages. If the overall story isn't compelling enough to ensure that someone is going to come back to finish the book, then little crises like that are just going to be annoying.

Also, sometimes I do actually have to put a book down for a while and it's much harder to do that comfortably when you've been left on a cliffhanger. I understand the need for a narrative hook, I just don't think it needs to be used over and over again.

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