Everything you need to know about writing a query 2

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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.

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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23 Comments

  1. You are absolutely fantastic, do you know that? I for one can say that this information that you are taking time from your life to share with us may be the one thing that will aid us in possibly actually getting an agent. It is people like yourself, who choose, out of the goodness of their hearts, to reach out and share their knowledge, that often makes me feel that there may be hope for this world after all.

    May heaven bless you with an eternity of inspiration, a bright future in all that you endeavor, and always and forever, a lifetime of love.

    marantha

  2. Wow! So helpful. Now to practice it. 😛

  3. post script…by the way, i added a new post this morning, it is called “fate”. i would be honored if you could give me your opinion of it when you have time. it is a verse, but it is also a story.

    marantha

  4. Yes, thank you for sharing your expertise with us. You make it look like fun to craft a hook.

  5. Oooofff!
    That’s the sound I make when I think that I will have to write these too, one day. They are so overlooked and underrated, but they can make or break your entire writing effort.
    I think you are most wise to practice. I should be doing the same.
    You have managed to succinctly pique my interest in your examples above to want to read the books mentioned. For me your most intriguing hook was The Book Thief.

  6. Now I need to look at my query again. It will be the death of me. How much do you charge? lol.. just kidding. 🙂

    • I know exactly how you feel. And synopses are even worse than queries (I still loathe mine). I’d be happy to take a look at your query, although, as I said earlier, you’ll KNOW when you’ve written The One, so I’m not sure how much help I’ll be. : )

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