Hooks versus themes: What are they and why do I need them?
Hooks and themes are easy to confuse since the definitions for either sound similar. But once you have made the distinction, you will see how they add an important layer to your storytelling.
The hook is the aspect of the book that captures the reader’s attention. It is the reason a reader will choose your story over another. It creates a question that reader needs to answer. A hook makes the reader turn the page.
Hooks can often be described using the “What if” question
example: What if we could watch emotions controlling people’s actions? (Inside Out)
Janice Hardy has a comprehensive article defining hooks. She separates them into five categories:
- Protagonist hook: something about the character is extraordinary Sherlock Holmes, The Red Queen, Deadpool
- Core Conflict: something has gone wrong in society and people are dealing with the consequences. The Walking Dead, Battlestar Galactica, almost anything dystopian
- Theme: overall story deals with a social issue. Often literary, but not always. 13 Reasons Why, Precious
- Setting: Something about the setting is extraordinary. Harry Potter, Star Trek
- Concept: Twist on an old idea. Disney Descendents, Lunar Chronicles, Once Upon a Time
The theme is a broad topic that your book explores. It will weave through your entire story and tie it together. Themes are often part of a character arc. They can include emotions like fear, loneliness, and love, or they can be social issues like racism, sexism, social constraints, and rights of individuals.
Stories can have multiple themes. Some authors will dedicate one to a specific character. Others will keep the theme universal. Either is correct.
Moana: rediscovery of her cultural heritage
Frozen: Sisterly love
The Great Gatsby: Materialism, Corruption of society
Once Upon a Time: The easy solution isn’t always the best
Throughout the story, the characters will experience the truth of the theme. Elsa learns that the love between two sisters is true love. The residents of Storybrooke are constantly reminded that “Magic comes at a price.”
Theme versus Hook: some final examples
Once Upon a Time:
Hook: What if fairy tale characters were transported to modern New England?
Theme: The easy solution isn’t always the best.
Hook: What if there was an entire magical society living hidden in our world?
Theme: The power of friendship
The Walking Dead:
Hook: What if good people found themselves in a zombie apocalypse?
Theme: the moral price of survival
Hooks and themes don’t have to be confusing
The difference between theme and hook can be confusing. Often they overlap clouding the waters further. But by taking the time to identify your story’s theme and hook, you will have the extra elements that will make your story the one everyone will want to read.
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