PART TWO: Hook Examples
As promised, here are some hook examples I wrote based on four of my favorite books. I made them as short as possible – one or two sentences – because expanding from there is the easy part.
Death himself narrates the story of a foster child in Nazi Germany who steals books from bonfires.
For The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Actually, she only stole a book from a bonfire once, but you don’t need to be exact in the hook. Take some poetic license. The expanded version could talk about the Jewish fist fighter hiding in the basement, but it is still perfectly intriguing without.
A servant searching for a quiet lifestyle is relieved when he lands a position under a man whose boring habits have not changed in decades – but is shocked to find himself dragged on a wild adventure when his master makes an offhand wager that he can travel around the world in only eighty days.
For Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. This one is a little longer, but still fairly simple. I leave out the fact that this master is also being pursued by a detective who thinks he robbed the Bank of England. There’s enough charm just in the first twenty pages to arouse curiosity.
A bookbinder who can make stories come alive by reading them aloud is pursued by the villain from a fantasy novel.
For Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. This story is much more complicated than Book Thief or 80 Days, but it still boils down to one sentence nicely – so long as I leave out what the villain is after, that the bookbinder’s wife disappeared into the same book the villain sprang out of, and that the main character really isn’t the bookbinder at all, but his daughter. None of that is important in the hook.
Charles Darnay is accused of crimes against the Republic when he returns to revolutionary France to save a friend from the guillotine. An alcoholic genius in love with Darnay’s wife may be the only person who can save him from a death sentence.
For A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I would be remiss if I didn’t pick at least one truly complicated story, just to prove it could be done. This one actually went to two sentences, and required a name! We can leave out how Darnay’s father-in-law was rescued from the Bastille, how Darnay escaped death once already when he was accused of being a French spy, how Darnay came to know said alcoholic genius, why the genius is the only one who can save him, and whether or not he succeeds or even tries.
Overall, notice that I tend to use descriptors instead of character names, and I keep the wording simple and fluff-free. No gimmicks. Just story.
Now you’ve got the hook part down – here’s what else you’ll need in a query letter.