All of the following hooks are from published short stories or novels. The first thirty-some are mine. The others are from a few professional writer friends.
My sincere thanks to the writers who allowed me to use excerpts (hooks) from their works. Each of them have many more stories and novels than those I have listed here. I hope you will find their works and purchase them.
Some are calm hooks, those that set a quiet or serene scene and/or mood. They are what I think of as the “once upon a time” variety. I find them useful for more humorous or tongue-in-cheek or satirical stories. They’re also very good for magic realism stories.
Some are more frantic. Those are the ones that are designed to snatch the reader into the middle of the action.
Regardless of the kind of hook you use, it’s always a good idea to include as many of the physical senses as possible.
First I’ll provide a generous sampling of my own better hooks. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. Then I’ll provide the hooks my friends offered for me to use.
From My Private Stash of Hooks
The Clearing (novel)
The night was dark, the air heavy. A foghorn sounded in the bay down below the coastal hills and was driven flat in the pattering rain.
Confessions of a Professional Psychopath (novel)
Of the three wingback chairs in my library, only one is upholstered in human skin. There’s a reason for that.
Body Language (novel)
The dark Louisiana night draped heavily over the swamp, absorbing sounds and collecting scents. It smelled of ancient things and evil things and people and purposes long forgotten.
Comanche Fire (novel)
Jade Talbot spurred his horse into a gallop. He leaned forward in the saddle as he drew his Remington .44 caliber revolver. And the realization washed over him that he was a dead man.
Wes Crowley, Texas Ranger (novel)
A loud knock came on the door of Corporal Wes Crowley’s room at the Amarillo Inn. “Crowley, I know you’re in there. C’mon out.”
Leaving Amarillo (novel)
Wes Crowley leaned forward and poked at an ember that had popped out of the campfire a moment earlier. “Been a long trail this time, boys.”
Longing for Mexico (novel)
Someone tapped lightly on the door to Texas Ranger Otis McFadden’s room in the Amarillo Inn. The door opened slightly. “Mac? I saw the others were back. I heard what happened. You are all right?”
The Marshal of Agua Perlado (novel)
In the Fisherman’s Wharf Cantina on the bay at Agua Perlado, Wes Crowley and Miguel Martinez touched their mugs and quietly concluded a private toast.
The Scent of Acacias (novel)
Wes Crowley reined in and dismounted. He whipped Charley’s reins around the hitching post, and crossed the front porch.
A Little Time (novella)
The Blue Goose Café & Truck Stop looked as if it had been crammed into the roadside cutout in the piney woods just outside Florentine, Alabama.
“The Oldest Debt”
The ambulance screamed into the yard, its siren winding down. The revolving lights drew streaks across the dust cloud that hovered. They traced one after the other across Raphael’s worn, weathered face, up the brick wall and across the windows, and back to streak the dust cloud again.
“Requiem for a Bard”
On a cloudy, dreary day in a very small town in Italy, in a room much larger than it had ever been before, Serafín hunched over his timeworn mahogany desk, laboring over a promised eulogy. His desk chair complained against the stained oak floor. He leaned back, rubbing the stubble on his cheeks.
“Soft as a Breeze”
It’s been twenty-six years since the world imploded and those scratching sounds crept back into my head.
Shortly before 11 p.m. in a drizzly rain, Robert got out of his car. As he walked to the back, the muddy roadside sucking at his boots, he carefully counted his steps. The air was thick and warm despite the drizzle. The odor of rotting trees and sour moss on rocks permeated the air. Seven steps. He unlocked the trunk. The first seven steps of any journey are the hardest.
“Coffee? Perhaps Tea?”
Sometime in the past, Mr. Wilson had misplaced his mind.
“The Cycle of Ramón”
The world had been sad for three days. The sky wept steadily, softly, the water drip, dripping from limbs and leaves of trees and eaves of houses. It trickled into rivulets and streams that whispered their way east, back to the sea.
The baby lay abandoned in the grass toward the end of the rest area. A pool of dim, filthy light from the streetlamp overhead slashed through the pouring rain and across the child’s left knee. The light was absorbed in the soaked, cheap motel bath towel on which the baby was lying.
The southwest desert on a clear night in December is cold, and the sun disappears quickly.
“The Unfortunate Case of Agatha Bitters”
Agatha Demon Bitters was an angry woman, and not because of her name.
“The Breath Formed”
He was eating. Picking tender shoots of new grass from early November snow.
Mr. Orlando cut a striking figure in his trim suit and his bowler hat. Especially against the bland background that seemed to follow him everywhere he went.
His right foot still on the bar rail, Tommy leaned back and spread his arms for effect. His black hair, slicked back, glistened in the dim light of the bar. His dark grey pinstriped suit fit so well the action barely moved his lapels to the side. “I mean c’mon, Bobby, who gets treated like that, eh? Who?”
When Mrs. Featherberry came to town, she walked directly down the middle of the street, skirts bustling, little sawed-off dust devils forming, swirling and dying in her wake. And for some reason everybody stayed up on the boardwalks.
Mavis Harshbarger was not in a good mood. She bustled into the Riley Drug & Grocery Store in her small-print floral dress and her flat-soled dust-colored house slippers. She resembled a long, broad garden, albeit one built on odd, undulating hills.
“The Maid’s Pulse”
Eugene stood in only his underwear on the far side of the bed, his back against the wall, his hands clasped to his mouth.
“The Unfortunate Life of Thomas Mercer”
The Reverend Thomas Mercer staggered along the road, the palm of his right hand pressed hard against the gash in his abdomen.
“No Better Day”
Late in the day, to one side of a two-rut road, an old man sat alone on a rock.
At 3 a.m. the world is quiet as a grave.
At 3 a.m. dressed only in his boxers and a stained white t-shirt, the former pastor Bob Delaval stood at the bedroom window. A fringe of mostly grey hair ran from one temple around the back of his head to the other temple.
“Sordid and Organized”
In the dim basement, I moved from one stainless steel table to the next. I carried a small orange hose in one hand, a slick stainless steel spatula in the other.
“The Day They Came”
The day they came for us was a real mess. The sky was drizzling, and it had been for days. Like it couldn’t quite make up its mind to just let go and rain. The pit patter patter pit all but drove us nuts as we sat in the Quonset hut and waited.
Through a heavy silver mist, the old church was visible just behind the cemetery to the left. A dilapidated adobe ruin, the buttressed walls remained strong, but the roof had caved in. The top of the steeple was no more than fifteen feet off the ground, sitting atop what was left of the bell tower, which had set itself down behind the front wall.
From Steven Wedel, horror writer, novels and short fiction
“A Change of Clothes”
It was just after 10:30 p.m. and the clothes were coming to life.
“Digging Up the Past”
Levi pitched the shovel aside and stood up. He reached behind him with his right arm, his only arm, and held his back as he stretched to relieve the cramping.
The basement door opened slowly, silently, on well-oiled hinges. A long-fingered pale hand reached through into the darkness. There came the sharp click of a switch and electric light exploded into the cellar. The seven naked people below lay unmoving on their cold steel tables.
Sam Davidson awoke with a start, thrown out of a sweaty sleep into the oily blackness of the night that had filled his bedroom. His heart was pounding and the blood rushed in his ears. His sweat-soaked pajamas clung to his body. The need was back. Insistent, demanding. He had to obey.
The girl stood out like a ballerina in a morgue.
from Don Johnson, novelist
A Texas Elegy (novel)
Sometimes a man’s expectations come down to very little at the end. A few minutes’ relief from the pain. A few words of comfort from someone he trusts. The thought that, for a little while at least, he’ll be fondly remembered by someone.
from Alison Holt, novelist
Credo’s Hope (novel)
Blood smeared the mattress where Bibi O’Dell had fallen after she’d been shot. Given her occupation, hooker, and her drug of choice, meth, I wasn’t surprised when she told me to go stuff myself after I asked who’d pulled the trigger.
Credo’s Legacy (novel)
I sat across from a man who had a white smile painted on his face. White and red circles surrounded charcoal grey eyes that misted over as he vehemently denied kidnapping his ex-wife’s latest boyfriend. As he spoke, he fiddled with the curly orange clown wig he held in his lap.
from Dan Baldwin, novelist and ghost writer
“Call me Bitter. I am 117 years old.” These were the first words of any significance the old man had spoken since I crawled into the adobe cavern that was his home.
Sparky and the King (novel)
“Fer Chrissakes, Jack, you’re getting blood on the customers!”
Bock’s Canyon (novel)
“You goin’ up against a .44 with just a pen knife, kid.”
“It’s all I got.”
“It ain’t enough.”
Trapp Canyon (novel)
If a broken clock can be right two times a day, then a mind-numbed brute like Grat O’Brien might occasionally recognize his ass from a hole in the ground.
The old woman started screaming around 10 p.m., screams muted by the duct tape across her withered mouth and tightly twisted around her head.
Professor Ashley “Ash” Hayes had no desire to commit heresy. She had no professional death wish, yet whenever a new trail through the history of Native Americans opened up, she could not help taking the path regardless of the personal danger.
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem… dry bones?” Naw, that’s not it. The man with the red-lined eyes wiped a bit of drool from the corner of his mouth.
Vampire Bimbos On Spring Break (novel)
The vampire had one hell of an aching, hacking, coughing, itching, can’t sleep at night, snot-slinging head cold.”
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I also strongly recommend almost any of the hooks used in any works by Ernest Hemingway or Ray Bradbury.
When you read anyone else’s work and feel yourself pulled into the story, consider the hook.
Does it make you want to find out what happens next? If so, how does it accomplish that?
I hope this gives you some good ideas for your own writing.
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That’s it for this time. Next up, Chapter 6: Writing Setting and Notes on Writing the Scene: Part I
‘Til next time, happy writing!
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