What Is A Hook In Writing? How To Capture Attention

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It was a warm sunny day, and I’d been looking forward the entire week to stepping out into my backyard, laying down in my hammock and catching up on some grading I needed to do.

I laid down, cracked a can of Coke Zero, opened up my laptop, and read the first line of my student’s story,

“Once upon a time…”

I immediately wanted to close out of it and pick up another.

Why?

Because the introduction was so cliche and played out that I assumed the rest of the story was going to be much of the same. That feeling is what you want to avoid invoking in your reader anytime you’re writing a piece of copy.

You need to hook their interest immediately if you want them to read the rest of your copy.

Here’s how you can do it.

What Is A Hook In Writing?

The hook is typically the first line of a piece of writing, music, or a movie, but it can extend well into the introduction.

 

What is a hook in writing? Something designed to catch people's attention.

 

A good hook is crucial because it’s how you grab your audience’s attention and convince them to spend time consuming whatever content it is you’ve created. Whether you’ve written a report, a story, a song, a movie, a play, or a speech, you have a short amount of time to get a person’s attention.

People generally lose attention after around eight seconds (less than a goldfish!), so you don’t have much time to get their interest.

To give you a better idea of what a hook is and why they’re important, let’s look at a few examples from famous books and movies.

Example #1: The Departed

Opening Line: "I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” - Frank Costello in The Departed

Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, Frank Costello, is an old-school mob leader know for his ruthless tactics. It’s fitting, then, that the opening line of the movie positions him as someone who gets what he wants when he wants it.

That line evokes certain emotions in me and makes me curious to learn more about Costello’s story.

Example #2: Good Will Hunting

Opening Line: “Oh my god, I got the most f*cked up thing I been meanin’ to tell you.” - Chuckie Sullivan in Good Will Hunting.

There are two things that make this a great hook:

  • I can imagine someone saying something along the same lines to me in real life, which makes it a relatable line.
  • It makes me more curious to know more about what Chuckie is about to tell everyone.

This line grabs you and instantly makes you more curious to get to the next line, which is what hooks are all about.

Example #3: Invisible Man

Opening Line: “I am an invisible man.” - Narrator in Invisible Man.

This hook is beautiful in its simplicity.

In one line, Ralph Ellison evokes several questions that make me want to read more into the book. Is the main character supposed to be a ghost? Are they a superhero?

I didn’t know I was going to be reading a paranormal story.

...or is it a metaphor?

It’s a classic opening line that makes me want to continue on to figure out exactly what the narrator means.

Example #4: I Capture the Castle

Opening Line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” - Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle.

Uh.

What?

Why is this character sitting in the kitchen sink?

By setting such an unusual scene, Dodie Smith immediately captures my attention and makes me want to figure out why this person is writing a story while sitting in the kitchen sink.

Now that’s a hook.

(RELATED: 10 Copywriting Courses That'll Help You Step Up Your Game)

How Do Hooks Apply To Copywriting?

I used examples of hooks from pop culture to show you the power of writing a good hook because there’s a lot to learn from movies, books, and songs in terms and capturing and holding attention.

So, how does this apply to copywriting?

If you think about it, what every author, screenwriter, or singer is doing is selling you on the idea that you should spend your time reading their book, watching their movie, or listening to their song.

Just like you’re selling your product or service.

If you want someone to consume your ad, sales letter, video sales letter, or any other form of sales material, you have to grab their attention just like you would in a story.

Let’s look at a few examples to see what this looks like in copywriting.

Ad #1: Volkswagon

Volkswagon, a German company, was having trouble selling smaller cars to Americans (who typically prefer bigger cars) back in the 1960s.

So, they released this ad.

 

Volkswagen "think small" ad

 

The hook here is, “Think small.”

That’s different than what most Americans had been told to do their entire lives. Americans were supposed to think and dream big because anything was possible.

So, this hook went against the grain, and going against the grain is what catches people’s attention.

Ad #2: Clairol

Back in the 1950s, it wasn’t that common for women to dye their here. Clairol set out to change that with their advertising campaign.

The hook here is, “Does she...or doesn’t she?”

 

Clairol hair dye ad

 

Based on the picture, I’m not sure what the question is referring to, so it makes me curious to learn more about what this person may or may not be doing.

Ad #3: De Beers

Diamond rings haven’t always been a staple of engagements.

De Beers actually created the entire industry back in the 1800s, and they’ve kept it going ever since then.

In fact, they're the ones who created the "two-month salary" rule for engagement rings with ads like this.

 

De Beer 2-month salary engagement ring ad

 

The quote at the top of this ad is the hook, “2 months’ salary showed the future Mrs. Smith what future will be like.”

This one makes me think, “What the heck am I about this spend two months’ salary on??”

Which makes me want to read the rest of the ad and find out what’s going on.

(RELATED: Learn How To Copywrite With Our (Simple) 5-Step Copywriting Formula)

How To Write A Good Hook (With 8 Types Of Hooks)

8 types of hooks in writing: quote, anecdote, question, scene, fact, definition, statistic, thesis

So you know that hooks are important to capturing attention and drawing people into your ad.

But not everyone feels confident in their ability to write.

Luckily, there are a few different structures you can use to approach the way you write your hooks.

Let’s say, for example, that I was writing an article or paper about the importance of looking out for yourself in the business world.

Here are a few ways I could approach that introduction.

Hook #1: Quote

Hook:

“Only the paranoid survive." -Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

Explanation

One of the easiest ways to create an effective hook, particularly for beginners, is to start out your writing with a quote from someone else.

You don’t have to do any thinking other than figuring out which quote fits.

It also helps establish authority for you because someone well-known is supporting whatever your opinion is.

Hook #2: Anecdote

Hook:

I looked at my bank account - $0.

I logged out and logged back in just to make sure there wasn’t a glitch. Sure enough, still a goose egg in my account.

And there was only one explanation for it: theft.

Explanation:

An anecdote is just a short story from your life, and there are a couple of benefits to using them as your hook:

  • They’re entertaining
  • They help people visualize the problem you’re introducing
  • They help people identify with you

Anecdotes take a little bit more skill because they require some storytelling skills.

Hook #3: Question

Hook:

What would you do if you found out your business partner (and best friend) was stealing money from your business?

Explanation:

A question is another easy way to capture people’s attention.

It doesn’t always have to be something thought-provoking - simple questions often work just as well. For example, “Are you in the Denver area?” is a simple question that would capture the interest of anyone reading the ad who’s in the Denver area.

They’ll want to read a little bit more and see what’s in it for them.

Hook #4: Setting A Scene

Hook:

I’d known Brian for 25 years.

We grew up together, went to college together, and built homes and families on the same street together.

Our kids were friends and our wives were friends too.

Until the day I found out he’d stolen $500,000 from me.

Explanation:

Setting the scene is a way to create a mental picture for your audience to help them  think, feel, smell, or taste whatever it is you’re about to describe.

This is another strategy that takes more skill since you need to be comfortable with descriptive writing.

However, it’s immersive when done well.

Hook #5: An Interesting Fact

Hook:

Did you know that most business partnerships end in failure?

Explanation:

The internet is full of interesting facts, so it isn’t difficult to find something relevant to whatever it is you’re writing.

You can even blend it with the question method like I did here.

By stating an interesting fact, you grab people’s attention and leave them wanting to know a little bit more about that fact.

Hook #6: A Definition

Hook:

Business partner: someone who’s supposed to have your back but will ultimately rob you blind the minute you turn your back.

Explanation:

You have a couple of options for this one:

  • Start off with a real definition
  • Start off with a definition you’ve made up

Starting off with a real definition works well, but you can also have fun with it and make up your own definition to fit whatever it is you’re writing.

In this hook, I changed up the definition of a business partner to fit my narrative.

Going that route opens up all kinds of possibilities for you.

Hook #7: An Interesting Statistic

Hook:

Did you know experts estimate around 70% of business partnerships fail?

Explanation:

People love to see numbers because it shows you’ve done your research and that your claim is credible. So, starting off your copy with a relevant statistic lends you credibility while also making your audience feel like they've learned something.

And they’ll probably want to know more about that statistic.

Hook #8: A Thesis Statement

Hook:

After two years of research, my colleagues and I have found that those who trust people less in business tend to succeed more than those who are more trusting.

Explanation:

A thesis statement is the claim that you’re making.

Using a thesis statement to start off your copy can be powerful if you’re claiming something that most people either don’t know to be true or don’t think to be true.

It catches them off guard, and they want to learn more about your claim.

(RELATED: How To Become A Copywriter In 10 Easy Steps)

How To Turn Bad Hooks Into Good Hooks

With the importance of hooks (and how to write them) in mind, let’s look at a few examples of hooks that aren’t so great and how I would fix them to be a bit more interesting.

For this example, let’s say we’re selling tickets to a music festival.

Example #1: Quote

Bad Hook:

“I’ve been going to festivals for 5 years. They’re great.”

Why It’s Bad:

This quote doesn’t have any originality.

Anyone could’ve said this quote, and there’s nothing particularly inspiring about it. Look for something unique that will capture people’s imagination.

Better Hook:

“The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals.” - Siddharth Katragadda

Example #2: Anecdote

Bad Hook:

When I was a kid, my parents always took me to festivals. We’d laugh and eat and play all day. I still remember it to this day.

Why It’s Bad:

This anecdote is lacking in detail.

Yes, the sentiment behind it is great. However, I don’t feel like I can identify with this person beyond that maybe I went to some festivals as a kid too.

What you want to do is help people recall their own memories through the details you provide.

Better Hook:

I remember the festivals my parents would take me to like it was yesterday.

The smell of funnel cakes bubbling in the fryer, the steam drifting off the french fries behind the counter, the scent of warm beer in a cup after sitting in the sun for an hour, and the sweat of people dancing in the fields.

My mom and dad would twist and turn in circles while I did cartwheels and played with the other kids running around.

It was festival season.

Example #3: Question

Bad Hook:

Do you like to have fun?

Why It’s Bad:

Too generic.

Everyone likes to have fun, and there’s nothing in this question that alludes to a festival, summertime, or any of the other happy thoughts that come to mind with festivals.

So, how can you pose a question that makes people think a little bit more or feel something?

Better Hook:

Are you ready to close your laptop for a few days and come to a place where time ceases to exist?

What it comes down to when you’re writing hooks is thinking about whether what you’ve written is going to capture someone’s attention or imagination or if it sounds like everything else people are writing.

The most important thing is to come off as unique.

(RELATED: 5 Killer Resources To Find The Best Copywriting Books)

Now That You Know How To Write A Hook

As I mentioned earlier, the hook is the most important part of your copy.

If you don’t grab people from the beginning of your copy, they’re never going to give the rest of it a chance.

If you’re struggling to come up with a hook, don’t be afraid to grab one of the seven types of hooks I mentioned earlier to use as a template.

It’s the easiest way to get yourself started.

(NOTE: Want even MORE info about how to use copywriting to grow your business? Grab your spot in this FREE course to learn about the tools and strategies you (and your business) have been missing out on.)

Image Sources

Volkswagen

Clairol

De Beers