A narrative hook (or just hook) is a literary technique in the opening of a story that "hooks" the reader's attention so that they will keep on reading. The "opening" may consist of several paragraphs for a short story, or several pages for a novel, but ideally it is the opening sentence in the book.
Opening a novel with startling, dramatic action or an ominous description can function as a narrative hook. Ovid's Fasti employs narrative hooks in the openings of each book, including a description of a bloody ghost and an ominous exchange between the characters Callisto and Diana.
A narrative hook can also take the form of a short, often shocking passage discussing an important event in the life of one of the work's characters. The device establishes character voice and introduces a theme of the work. In Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue, the opening sentence recounts the first time the protagonist endured abuse from her husband, which is the core theme of the novel. Opening lines that introduce an important event without providing specifics, such as "And then, after six years, she saw him again." from Katherine Mansfield's A Dill Pickle, pique the reader's curiosity and encourage the reader to discover the answers later in the work.
The in medias res technique, where the relating of a story begins at the midpoint, rather than at the beginning, can also be used as a narrative hook. Toni Morrison's Beloved begins in medias res and transitions to a description of the house that serves as the novel's setting, disrupting the reader's expectations of a typical narrative structure.
A thematic statement, as with the opening line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."), can also serve to hook the reader's attention.
- Myers, Jack; Wukasch, Don Charles (2009). Dictionary of poetic terms (New ed.). Denton, Tex.: University of North Texas Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-1-57441-166-9. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- Lyon, Elizabeth (2008). Manuscript makeover: revision techniques no fiction writer can afford to ignore. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-399-53395-2. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- Murgatroyd, Paul (2005). Mythical and Legendary Narrative in Ovid's Fasti. Brill. p. 220-224. ISBN 9789047407225.
- Turco, Lewis (1999). The Book of Literary Terms: The Genres of Fiction, Drama, Nonfiction, Literary Criticism, and Scholarship. UPNE. p. 41. ISBN 9780874519556.
- Clifford, Tim (1 January 2013). The Middle School Writing Toolkit: Differentiated Instruction Across the Content Areas. Maupin House Publishing, Inc. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-929895-75-8. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- Mitchell, Angelyn (2002). The Freedom to Remember: Narrative, Slavery, and Gender in Contemporary Black Women's Fiction. Rutgers. p. 90. ISBN 9780813530697.
- Singleton, John (2001). The Creative Writing Workbook. Macmillan International Higher Education. p. 240. ISBN 9780333985229.