Is a HOOK compulsory? Or how to create it in such a case?

Hi there,

I already had discussion about the importance of having a hook in other threads with some of you, including I. J. Parker, Eric Christopherson, Brian Hoffman, etc.

I'd be happy to get your input and advice on a specific case. Imagine a text about an "obvisouly normal guy" who will turn himself into a serial killer along the storyline. The story can be thus described as a thriller and/or crime & mystery story, right?

I'm wondering how you would create a hook for such a story? I mean, right from the first page, or even the first line?

The true nature of the story itself means that the reader will enter a 'normal world', witnessing the life of an 'average guy'... who - with time - will turn himself into a serila killer. But the reader should not understand this from the start. He will be provided with clues along the story line and attend the LIVE transformation of the guy, only to understand at the end of the story why that guy underwent that transformation.

With such specs, how would you raise the stakes right from the first page of the book? How would you create a REALISTIC hook that would not appear as... a hook... I mean a fake device used by the author to catch the readers' attention?

Or should we consider such a story as not requiring a strong hook from line 1? Well, I'm sure you got my point.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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I think your idea has potential. Yet it would likely take a great deal of skill with characterization to work.

I also wonder what the "through line" is. What does the character want that moves him to act from page to page?

Perhaps his through line would be that he does indeed wish to become a serial killer. In which case, that's something that could be revealed as early as the end of the first chapter, it seems to me.

As for an initial hook, your hook would be the character himself, and in the first paragraph you could reveal his unusual thoughts. "He wondered what she would look like with her intestines in her mouth" or what have you. :)

Jeez, Eric.  That guy is NOT normal even if he hasn't actually disemboweled anyone.


The most common device is to have a prologue, say where the main character is arrested in mid-action, and then double back to start his career from the beginning.

Or you could have the trial scene with a witness describing what he/she found, and then shift from defendant to the same guy before it all went bad.

I'm assuming the guy only appears normal at the start (and perhaps acts normall too), but isn't in reality, in his thoughts and interests. I don't think a book in which a guy is normal and then develops into a serial killer is realistic. If you research serial killers, they are born psychopaths or else are created psychopaths with very warped childhoods.

"I'm assuming the guy only appears normal at the start (and perhaps acts normall too), but isn't in reality, in his thoughts and interests."

That's my idea indeed.

What happens sometime is that people "pop a lid" or "blow a fuse": do those 2 expressions make sense in English? That way, a normal person can make things they would never really had been programmed to beforehand, such as killing other people, vandalizing stores, etc.

OK.  That works, Eric.


As for vandalism, that's psychologically a very different thing.  That tends to be a juvenile acting-out in a group or else a matter of revenge.

For that matter, people who fantasize about such violence are really only held back by the thinnest of conventions.  It doesn't take much to get them started because the fantasizing takes over. They are mentally ill.  And that suggests it may be difficult to carry on a "normal" life.  Most likely they are loners who are fairly safe in their surroundings.  Note the kid who killed the children:  his mother protected him.

Eric, I like your ideas.

I.J., I'm not sure I understand everything you said (sorry, but English is not my mother tongue). What do you exactly mean by:

- "arrested in mid-action"

- "the trail scene"?

- "shift from defendant to..."?

I guess some concrete examples could help me grasp your words, like the ones provided by Eric.


My point of view is that such a story is more character-based thant plot-based: do we agree on that? Still, I need to find a way to get a strong HOOK from the first line and pages (his is one thin you guys helped me keep in mind, always!), as well as STAKES!

In other, non crime fiction genres, there is no issue entenring the story slower, while discovering the live of an evocative character. But I am trying here to see how you can add REALISTIC hooks to an obviously normal guy living an obviously normal life. I mean, the interesting point is to have this obviously NORMALITY turn into ABNORMALITY. But it takes a bit of time. So, what's is there so interesting as a hook in the life of just the average guy? I guess you need to rely on some sort of extreme behaviors or unusual personality aspects in the hero so as to generate empathy in the readers' eye. Still, that's not what I call a hook. ;-)





You plan to create empathy for a serial killer?  Sorry.  That isn't something I can deal with.


Your English is very good.  As to your questions:  in midaction would imply his getting caught as he is killing his last victim.

trial scene would be in the courtroom after his arrest. If you start the novel with this, then you can shift in the next chapter "from the defendant" in the courtroom to the how it all started, i.e. the "normal guy.

A hook is in my opinion very important, as the last thing you want to do is lose your readers on page one or two.  With the scenario you have described I'd write a dramatic end scene and use it as a short opening or prologue.  Date it in the present, then for chapter one take the reader back in time, a year, a month, 8hrs, or whatever period the story takes to unfold.  Of course you'd need to be careful not to reveal too much information about the person or people involve in the opening if you didn't want the reader to have this information from the start of the book.  It's an approach that's used quite often.  Good luck, sounds like an interesting storyline.

These stories are done a lot.  Watch Criminal Minds.  And they have become normal fare for other TV shows and B-rate thrillers.

HERE is a link to the profile of serial killers.  It might help.  The hook comes from childhood behavior: hurting cats or dogs, setting fires, and bedwetting are common precursers.

The hook isn't the big problem.  It is making this topic interesting and original.  Maybe another person's point of view.  Growing up with this type of person?

For help on developing a hook, check out the book, Write Away, by Elizabeth George, which provides 8 or 9 types of hooks you could employ.


The idea of a serial killer being the protaonist, as has been mentioned by others, is not new. (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Dexter, Lawrence Block's hit man, Keller).  So it is possible.  It's all in the writing.  Good luck.




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