“The only vampire I ever met was in Natchez, Mississippi.” That’s the opening line of a story* I’ve told hundreds of times both to entertain and teach. It’s simple. But it’s a hook I crafted through many drafts and rounds of audience feedback. Why’s it great? And what can you do with your own hooks to make them better?

Think Brevity

Honestly, at 10 words, my hook is on the long end of opening lines. Aim for the 3- to 8-word range. Imagine a billboard or a banner. Frame it like a headline or subhead. We speak in short sentences all the time in real life, but we forget that fact when we have to write, present or perform. We get all friggin’ freaked and want to front-load what we say...dump it all out in a continuous stream.    

Make Great Word Choices  

Your field is small, which forces you to focus. With no more than 10 words, each one counts. Here’s why I chose the ones I did.

Place Matters

I give my hook an extra barb by dropping in a location. This marker takes the audience to a place in their minds. Natchez, Mississippi works on another level as well because it’s “foreign,” even for hardcore Southerners. It’s still relatively unknown and mysterious. It piques curiosity. With a solid foundation of place, I can then begin peppering in more details for what the audience pictures in its imagination.

Highlight Singularity

The word only flashes like an orange cone saying, “This is going to be a singular experience.” How many “onlys” do you have in your day? Your life? You (and 99.9% of everyone else) have the same daily routine: breakfast, commute, meeting, meeting,  lunch, meeting, stolen moment, meeting, commute, dinner, streaming-shows-until-you-fall-asleep.

But by qualifying this story with only, I’m setting the audience up for something unique that will swim against their expected current.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

And, of course, my neutron bomb is one powerful word: Vampire. What?!? WTF??? Seriously?!? I’m immediately catching my audience’s attention. And I strategically place the word ‘vampire’ early—three words into the sentence. Anyone sitting there half-listening gets their head rattled with the quickness.

Okay, to recap: “The only” (singular experience) “vampire” (wha???) “I ever met was in Natchez, Mississippi” (an intriguing place). All in 10 words or less.

The audience is hooked and ready to hear my story.

What hooks seem to bring you back?

photo illo by James Wheeler

*Here’s the Natchez vampire story in written form, but to be shamelessly honest, it’s so much more fun when I tell it in person.