How to write a hook: a lesson from film adaptations

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I love the 2005 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, but I hate the 2002 film adaptation of the same author’s The Time Machine. Here’s why – and here’s how it will help you write a hook and sell your book.

The War of the Worlds is modernized. The characters are warped. There’s more personal drama than there was in the book. And Tom Cruise is in it. So why do I still like it? Because the central point of the story remains intact: Martians invade Earth, no human weapon can stop them, but ultimately they are defeated by disease – which they long ago eliminated from their own planet.

In The Time Machine, they also changed characters and added personal drama, but that wasn’t what bothered me. Once the Time Traveler gets stranded in the future, the story should get back on track. But it doesn’t, because the two futuristic peoples, the Eloi and the Morlocks, are all wrong. The Eloi are smart, strong, tribal people, who fight the Morlocks as best they can. No doubt the screenwriters thought this was much more interesting than the weak, stupid people that the Eloi were in the book. They almost get the Morlocks right – frightening creatures who live underground, know a lot about machinery, and regularly kidnap Eloi – except that the Morlocks occasionally come out in daylight.

These changes collectively ruin Wells’ original concept. In the book, *SPOILER ALERT* the Time Traveler discovers the Eloi and the Morlocks are both evolved from humans. The Eloi were the upper class – rich and lazy. They paid the lower classes to work for them, and over generations gradually became stupid and weak. The Morlocks were the working class. They spent long hours cooped up in dark factories, growing allergic to the sunlight. But the work kept them sharp, and when other meat sources ran out, they began killing and eating the weak upper class. The masters became the food of the servants.

This was a fascinating and thought-provoking concept – a warning to both classes. Not so with the movie. The Time Traveler just ends up hooking up with the Eloi girl, who is a sort of Xena Warrior Princess, instead of the airheaded child she ought to be. The screenwriters cut the heart out of Wells’ story and replaced it with a cliché.

Is there a moral to this rant? Of course! It’s important to be able to recognize the core of the story, the plot twist or character detail that turns a dime-a-dozen time travel or alien invasion story into something unique and brilliant.

What unique feature is at the heart of your story? Can you describe it in one sentence? That sentence is called a “hook” – your number one tool for selling your book to literary agents, publishers and readers alike. Also known as an elevator pitch, the hook beomes your query letter – which is your foot in the door for getting published.

 Just think twice before you sell the movie rights.

More resources:

More about writing a hook

Hook examples

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. hmm, u know i will say this,i liked the time machine. Until i read the book that is. The movie would have been great, if it were a stand alone film. But it had to meet the same level of awesoime the book had. it didnt, i would say sadly but its not. It just shows that some adaptations are good, others are bad. I( hated eragon, but loved lord of the rings.

    • I agree, it would have been cool as a stand alone movie. A genius who invents a time machine to prevent his fiancee from getting killed – all that made a good story. I just wish they hadn’t hijacked Wells’ name, title, etc.

      I actually saw the Eragon movie before I read the book, but I could tell they had cut a lot out of the story. It seemed rushed. They at least could have stretched it to 2 hours instead of a measly 90 minutes. I liked the book better, but I’m still on the fence about it. There are a few things Paolini does that drive me nuts…and more in Eldest. I really should read Brisingr.

      As to Lord of the Rings – it’s been over a year since I’ve watched the movies, and I’m probably going to shrivel up and die soon because of it. I just can’t WAIT for the Hobbit movie(s) to come out.

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