how to hook readers
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
When we're writing stories, we want our readers to be hooked! Us writers are evil beings and we want our readers to stay up all night, losing sleep, because they have to read that next chapter and find out what happens next!
But how do we hook our readers? Someone asked me this recently, so here are my top 6 tips for hooking readers (and keeping them hooked!).
1. Have an interesting concept
What is your story about? The first way that you’ll want to hook your reader is by having an interesting concept!
I like to start with a question. What if a girl signed away her soul to the Devil by not reading the T&C of a free Wi-Fi service? (Devils Inc.). What if a girl could create storms and hurricanes and fire with her stories? (A Circus of Ink). What if Cupid went to high school? (Cupid’s Match).
Your idea doesn’t have to be completely new and unique. In fact, using well-loved tropes in your story is a great way to hook readers because they’re well-loved for a reason (tell me that a book includes ‘enemies to lovers’ or a ‘forbidden romance’ and I’m there for it!). But you’ll want to put a unique spin on it to make it feel fresh for the reader.
In a lot of ways, my paranormal romance Cupid’s Match reads like a teen vampire romance story – but it’s about cupids and mythology instead of vampires, it has bows and magic arrows instead of fangs, and there’s a supernatural dating agency keeping everything in order!
2. Make your reader care about your characters
One of the best ways to keep a reader hooked is to make them care about your characters. If they care about your characters, they want to know what happens to them!
The best way to do this? Give each of your characters a motivation - something that is driving them forward through the book. When we know what is driving a character, their actions start to make sense and they become more relatable to us – even if they are unlikeable and/or the villain!
This keeps us turning the pages to find out what happens next, because if we know what they want, we want to find out if they manage to achieve it!
3. Don’t tell your readers everything straight away (i.e. don’t info dump!)
When we have a cool idea for a story, or a world, or a particular character, sometimes we’re tempted to tell the reader all about it straight away! But not only can info dumps be boring for a reader, drip feeding this information throughout the story is an effective way to keep your readers hooked. It keeps them curious about the world and the characters. Let your readers organically discover things, and let them wonder about things!
4. Ask and answer questions throughout
Your story is made of questions. There’s the BIG question – is your main character going to triumph in her quest? But there are going to be tonnes of other questions too – some big, some smaller.
Who is that character? What is that place? Why is it important? Will these two people get together? What secret is this character hiding? Etc.
Your bigger questions, and their answers, will be spaced out throughout the book – with your biggest question (whether the main character will triumph over the conflict) being answered at the end. But you should be asking and answering smaller questions all the way through your book so the reader is compelled to read on to discover more.
5. Follow your conflict
The main conflict is essentially what your main character has to do, what is going to get in their way, and what will happen if they don’t overcome it. All stories have a conflict. The conflict is basically the backbone of your entire story. Every scene should have some relation to it. Following your main conflict will help keep the pacing tight, which helps keep your reader hooked!
6. Start the story in an interesting place
You need to hook your reader right at the beginning of your story! If a reader isn’t hooked by your first page, they’re unlikely to read on. It’s no good having a book that gets interesting at chapter five – your reader will probably have put the book down by then! (If your story starts getting good at chapter five, can you start it there instead?)
Think about your inciting incident. What is going to happen that will set your conflict (and your character’s journey towards the end of the book) in motion. You’ll want to start your book close to that moment. You’ll also want to start with something that will tell us something interesting and important about the main character and/or world – and the journey they’re about to embark upon.
At the start of A Circus of Ink, Elle has an interaction with the ink-blooded soldier who is destined to kill her. In Devils Inc., Rachel is followed by an (irritatingly hot) Bad Omen. In Cupid’s Match, Lila goes to the Cupids Matchmaking Service to tell them to stop spamming her. All these moments drop the reader into the story universe, and happen close to the inciting incident that set the story in motion.
I wrote down some tips on how to start a story here.
These are my top tips for keeping readers hooked! Do you have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments!
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LAUREN PALPHREYMAN is a writer based in London. She is the author of Cupid's Match, Devils Inc., and A Circus of Ink. She writes books full of magic and romance, and her serial fiction has accumulated over 70 million views online. Find her on Instagram @LaurenPalphreyman and on Twitter @LEPalphreyman.
In a world where stories are forbidden, Elle has a dangerous power: Creation. That's why tattooed soldier Jay is sent by the gods to kill her. . .
A Dark Fantasy Romance for Adults.
Get your copy of A Circus of Ink here.