How to Develop a Hook Sentence

The Hows and Wherefores of Hook Sentences
by Deborah Owen

You and your readers are engaged in a game. Your duty is to keep them guessing. Their duty is to outguess you, properly decipher the clues, and predict the ending. Needless to say, you’d better win this contest if you want to keep your readers.

How long do you take to develop a hook sentence? Would you believe – it should take hours, days, or even weeks?

When I first started writing, I never gave the opening line a thought. I just sat down and wrote whatever came to mind. Of course, I didn’t sell anything – and that should have been a clue! So here’s what I learned.

1. It’s futile to worry about the opening line when you first write a story. Save that for later when you edit. For now, scribble something out and come back to it when it’s cold. About 95% of the time, you can ditch the first two or three paragraphs and actually begin on the third or fourth one anyway. Any details that you wanted to keep in those first few paragraphs can be worked in further down.

2. Your opening line should set the tone for the entire story. Is it a romance story? Then you might want to open in the middle of a love scene. (That could be very interesting.) Is it a horror story? You may want to start in the middle of a murder. Is it non-fiction drama? Start in the center of the drama. Whatever your genre, design that first line to fit your story.

3. It has to be snappy. Something that will reach out and grab the reader by the throat. You might want to use heavy alliteration. You might want to scare the daylights out of your reader and send them scampering for covers. You might want to stir their emotions. That first line must grab your readers and pull them in.

This is called “setting the hook.” Sounds like fishing, huh? In a way, it is. You’re fishing for readers and trying to keep them from trading your story for another.

Would you rather read a beginning that says, “Dad had to kill chickens that day so I ran away and cried.” Or “Dad entered the house with bloodshot eyes, carrying a bloody axe. I scrambled for the back door, screaming.”

This is misrepresenting a scene, but it works, and seasoned writers use this method all the time.

Here’s another hook sentence I used recently: “Both shuddered as the madman smashed bottles and cursed downstairs.” Now… who could stop reading before they found out what was going on?

Play on your readers’ curiosity, and use all the excitement you can muster to hold their attention.

For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at

The Secret of Weaving Themes, Arcs, and Resolutions

Themes, Arcs, and Resolutions
by Deborah Owen, CEO Creative Writing Institute

Creative writing calls for all the talent you can muster. If you wonder what it takes to become a writer, think about whether you can write a decent informal letter. If so, you can learn to write. Writing is a learned skill. We have yet to see a baby born with a pen in its hand.


What is a theme? It is the one thing you want the reader to remember when they have finished reading. The theme is the undercurrent from the beginning to the end, but is never spoken outright. Gone With the Wind is a story of manipulation. Moby Dick centers on revenge. Pinocchio is a story of morals. The Ten Commandments is about choices and judgment. What is your story’s theme?

Every sentence must point to it. If you’re writing imagery or scenery, weave it into the theme. For example, if you’re writing a romance story and your opening scene has snow and Christmas lights, the scene should build to something that connects with romance. You could, for instance, use it to introduce a character or a situation that will tie into the deeper story.

But beware. If the snowfall adds nothing to the atmosphere, delete it. If you have a dog in the story and its purpose is to show a person’s loving kindness, (part of characterization), that’s fine, but if the pooch has no purpose for being there, delete it.

Build your story to a climax and let it unfold in a cataclysm. The dialogue must create the right mood. Some of the dialogue may seemingly relate to something else, but in the scheme of things, it should point to characterization, setting, or plot.

Using the romance theme, let’s suppose you have a scene where two neighbors are gossiping over the back fence. How could the gossiping scene relate to romance?

• It could introduce a new character
• It could build the characterization of an existing personality
• It could shift the scene to a closer part of the theme
• It could show “discovery” (something the reader doesn’t know)
• It could “foreshadow” an event (a precursor to the event)

What is Arcing?

Arcing is the rise and fall of the story. As you weave the theme, natural questions will emerge and you must answer them. Questions are little trails that lead to an unnamed destination. They wind upward, increase the reader’s interest, and elevate emotions to a fever pitch. The climax scene (sometimes called the plot scene) should fall between the half and two-thirds mark. This is the highest pitch of emotions, the turning point where you solve problems and show that good overcomes evil. The first part of a story is “flat.” The middle arcs (elevates to a high point). The conclusion resolves to a flat line again.

What is a Resolution?

Note that the end of the story ties up all the loose ends and stops at a higher plane than where the story began. That’s because the reader becomes one with the characters, and becomes involved in their motivation and desires.

Intertwine one piece of the puzzle with another until all the pieces mesh together to form the whole picture. This is called weaving. A writer is an artist that paints words on paper and waits for someone to open the cover and discover the picture within. As with all paintings, develop each picture methodically and with purpose.

Resolve the story by answering every question you have raised. Tie it up in a neat little bundle and in the end, the reader won’t have questions.

Please take a moment to “like” us and make a comment. Thanks! Find more great tips in The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at, the only school that assigns a personal tutor to every student.

How to Write Tight

Cutting Verbiage
By L. Edward Carroll
Tutor at Creative Writing Institute

What’s wrong with simplicity? When you read a typical contract, business memo, or phone bill, that might be your first question. Those who construct such documents have their reasons for making them all but impossible to read but creative writers that want their readers to understand their message must simplify. It’s difficult to write easily read material.

Begin by deleting every word that isn’t absolutely essential. Look at multi-syllable words and replace them with shorter ones that convey the same meaning. According to William Zinsser’s, On Writing Well (p 7):

“Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.”

Writing is a process. No one writes perfect sentences from scratch. While writing your first draft, don’t be concerned with sentence construction, punctuation, proper grammar, and spelling. Get your thoughts down as fast as you can and don’t look back. After you’ve finished, get down to the business of editing and polishing.

Think conciseness. Get to the point quickly. Rewrite your sentences and see how many words you can save. For example, an excerpt from Quick Access (reference for writers) by Lynn Quitman Troyka (p 79) says:

“As a matter of fact, the television station which was situated in the local area had won a great many awards as a result of its having been involved in the coverage of all kinds of controversial issues.”

Why didn’t they just say – The local television station won many awards for its coverage of controversial issues.

Learn to spot empty words and phrases and eradicate them. Don’t use more than three prepositional phrases per sentence, and no more than two in consecutive order. Place “he said” and “she said” tags at the end of the sentence. Delete as many forms of the verb “is” as possible. On your last edit, replace the verbs with the jazziest verbs you can dream up. Balance long sentences by following them with two very short sentences. Get to the point! Get rid of the excess baggage and all that remains will be meat.

For more great writing tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at and follow me here:

Twitter: deborahowen
Creative Writing Institute fanpage:

How to Write Good Transition Sentences

What are Transition Sentences?

by Deborah Owen

Transition sentences carry the reader’s thoughts from one scene to another, or from one topic to another. The trick is to shift gears smoothly by using both the past and future topic close together. By the time you read this article, you’ll have a good understanding of the art.

Think of transition sentences as a bridge that goes from one place to another. If the bridge is too short or not properly constructed, it can be a jarring experience.

Just remember that ‘warty characters’ are memorable because ‘warts’ assist the reader in identifying characters.

Huh? Are you wondering what happened to the discussion on transition sentences? Now you know what that “jarred” feeling is like, as there was no transition sentence. Warts (character flaws) don’t relate to transition sentences at all, but we can make them relate by connecting the two topics.

How to Build a Transition Sentence

Transitions usually root in the first line of a new paragraph, but on occasion, you’ll find them in the last line. If you can find a common denominator, you can make a smooth transition, like this: (repeat)

Think of transition sentences as a bridge that goes from one place to another. If the bridge is too short or not properly constructed, it can be a jarring experience. [Setting up for the transition.] There are many bridges in writing.

For instance, ‘warty characters’ (characters that have physical, emotional, or psychological flaws), act as a bridge to help the reader separate characters. Imagery is another bridge, as it translates to the five senses. Likewise, transition sentences are a bridge that escort the reader from a previous topic or scene to a new one.

See? You can connect virtually anything if you find a common denominator. Reread the last two paragraphs and find the three transitions, which may be a single word, a phrase, or one or more sentences. (Find answers at the bottom.) Transition sentences are a powerful way to redirect your reader’s mind!

You can skip decades with one good transition sentence:

Sarah clutched her father’s pocket watch to her buxom and listened to the strained tune. She smiled, thinking of the days when he tried to hypnotize her until she went cross-eyed. Now, thirty years later, fond memories brought a surge of tears.

The transition phrase was, “Now, thirty years later…. “ There is no need to follow your character through opening and closing every door, eating a full meal, or taking a long trip to a destination. Cut the trivia and keep the meat by inserting a transition sentence. One of the most famous is, “Meanwhile, back in the jungle… “

Other good transition words and phrases are: besides, in addition to, instead of, specifically, to sum up, although, beyond, close, for instance, again, moreover, accordingly, as a result, during, to illustrate, finally, on the contrary, to compare, consequently, subsequently, if, then, meanwhile, but, nevertheless, therefore, otherwise, so, formerly.

Your assignment: read a newspaper or magazine and find the transition words for every paragraph. When you can recognize transition phrases, words, and sentences, you’ll be able to use them effectively in your own writing. Remember the secret: a transition sentence must use part of the topic it left and part of the topic it is approaching.

1. Think of
2. For instance
3. Likewise

For more great writing tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at (a 501c3 nonprofit charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing courses).

Tips for CV Writing

Three Things You Need to Know to Write a Resume
by Hugh Wilson, Volunteer Staff, Creative Writing Institute

What is its purpose?
What to include?
What to leave out?

The Purpose

You write a resume to get a job, right? Wrong. You write a resume to get an interview. Nobody gets a job on the strength of a resume alone.

Prospective employers want to know more than whether you have the qualifications, skills and experience for the post to be filled. They want to know what sort of person you are, how well you will fit in with the company image, fellow employees and customers.

They can only judge that in a face-to-face meeting. Therefore, your resume should be geared to arousing interest in you as a person, and not only your ability to do the job.

What to Include

Don’t forget your name, address, telephone number and email. Yes, people have left out those vital details, then wondered why they had no replies. Check and double check the details for accuracy. If your telephone number is one digit off, you won’t get any calls.

Some discrimination laws make date of birth optional. If you think your age might go against you, leave it out and hope what you have to offer will get you an interview.

What to include will depend on the job itself. For instance, if a job involves teamwork and supervising others, the fact that you were captain of your school hockey team may show leadership qualities that work in your favor. If the job involves sitting alone in an office doing spreadsheets, focus on your computer skills, and your ability to work without supervision.

What to Leave Out

Avoid the personal pronoun. Change “I was captain of the school hockey team” to “Captained the school hockey team.” The employer can figure out who you’re talking about.

Leave out anything that doesn’t show you in your best light. A member of one of my writing classes asked me to look at her 18-year-old granddaughter’s CV, (as we call resumes in Britain – Curriculum Vitae – Latin for the course of one’s life). The girl had applied for umpteen jobs and had not a single interview.

I rewrote it and stuck to the facts, but presented them in a more favorable light. For instance, she had listed her exam results by subject, including grades that were far from impressive. I simply put “Five GCSEs, including English and Maths.”

She had attended a drama school for a year and attained a Certificate of Excellence for her performance in “Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat”. No need to add that she had been in the chorus and all of them received one. I played up her computing and word processing skills. Within two weeks she landed a job with a local office supply company.

A resume can be a powerful selling tool. Use it to sell yourself, and land that interview!

For more great writing tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at

Writing Resolutions for 2012

Setting Realistic Writing Resolutions for 2012
by S.A. Gibbins, volunteer staff

Suffice it to say, if you didn’t write anything on January 1 or 2, you have some catching up to do and your writing resolutions aren’t making the grade.

Did you ever wonder where New Year’s resolutions come from? The Babylonians, and we still carry that tradition on today. Resolutions usually indicate an effort to change your life for the better. So how’s that working for you?

The best of intentions tend to wane as the year grinds on, but let’s be real, if you’re already have problems, your resolutions aren’t holding up too well. Any goal or resolution involves determination!

Let’s look at ways to improve this year:

1. Set short goals. Resolve to write five minutes a day, six days a week and make no exceptions! True, you won’t have time to write deep or stir passion, but at least it’s a reachable goal that can lead to bigger things.

2. Concentrate on weak areas with vim and vigor. Rather then adopting the attitude “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” try “it’s never too late to learn.” Whether it’s punctuation, grammar, transition sentences, or structure, you CAN improve this year, but do so methodically.

3. Get serious about writing. Stephen King encourages writers to set aside an hour or two for writing daily. Get up a little early, stay up a little later, or punish yourself when you don’t meet your goal. Whatever it takes.

4. Find your favorite writers and read everything they wrote. Part of it will sink into your sub-conscious and come out your fingers.

Improving calls for great effort and determination. Stick to your resolve and don’t give up. When you fail, start over. You CAN achieve your goal!

If you want to sell your writing, consider taking a course. It’s money well spent!

Reading books is a great way to enhance your writing abilities. Try The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This small book, written in 1918, is as potent now as it was then. It discusses the fundamental rules of composition. On Writing by Stephen King, is another great one.

Chart out your weekly time schedule and see where you can fit writing in. Make it reasonable. It’s better to realistically say you’ll write twice a week for thirty minutes than to think you will live up to writing two hours a day. And as for that writing course we were talking about, check the comparison sheet below. Creative Writing Institute is a 501c3 Nonprofit charity that sponsors cancer patients and it is the only school that gives every student a private tutor:

Creative Writing Institute Dynamic Non-Fiction $200 (Pmnt. plan option)
The Writer’s Bureau Nonfiction Writing course $357 Creative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay $340
Writer’s Digest University Fundamentals of Nonfiction Writing $335
Gotham Writers Workshop Nonfiction 101 $295

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE: Hey! “Like” us before you leave. Thanks!


SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS listed below… by Bob Bruggemann

If you want to win a short story contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules. Many submissions are disqualified because they don’t meet all the requirements. If formatting guidelines have not been given, single space the text and indent the paragraph. If the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will hit the trash pile. If the short story contest calls for G-rated material (which means no swearing, vulgarities, or erotica) and your entry contains just one swear word, it will be discarded.

Welcome to the judging world, where judges go strictly by the rules. Assuming you follow the guidelines, the judges will then look at these four elements:

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique

Let’s look at each one and see what they mean.


Short story contest winners come from second, third, and tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme, such as, “Wedding Day.” What’s the first story idea that comes to mind? Whatever it is, forget it. You can bet everyone else will have thought of it, too. A large percentage of submissions will be so similar that the competition will be fierce.

Make your short story unique and the judges will love you. Come at it from a different point of view. Seek a new angle.


Don’t wrack your brain for an idea. Relax. Get your conscious, critical mind out of the way and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, how, and ‘what if?’ Let your train of thought go where it will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a story that is different.

For example, what if a shy looking woman attended a wedding and sat in the back, all alone? At the reception, she avoided conversation. She partook of the food and drinks and then left. Back in her lonely, one room apartment she scanned the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper to see where her next free food and wine would come from. See? The ‘what if’ question can lead you down original alleys.


In short story contests, you’ll never wrong with the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Sweetie! Don’t try to impress the judges with $3 words. Like any other reader, they want a story that is readable and absorbing.

Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. He/she wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning and what will happen next. Stick to the point.


A short story contest calls for three distinct parts: the beginning, middle, and end. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The beginning introduces the main character and what the short story is about. The middle develops the theme and keeps the reader hooked. The ending must be believable, resolve the problems, and leave the reader satisfied.

Above all, don’t overlook simple formatting rules.

• Make a new paragraph for every new speaker
• Single space your short story and indent paragraphs
• Run the spellchecker!
• Watch your punctuation

And Finally…

If you don’t write an original entry for a short story contest, at least rewrite it to fit. For example, Creative Writing Institute’s contest is G-rated, which means no swearing or vulgar language. We’ve already received entries that contain good stories but the author probably didn’t cull out swear words from a story they had already written so it won’t be eligible. What a shame. Make sure your entry fits the rules.

This is short story contest is especially for beginners and the first thing the writer must learn is that judges go strictly by the book. See the rules here and abide by them: Above all, have fun! First prize wins $$ OR a FREE Writing Course!

Short Story Titles for Contests and Competitions

First Impressions for Short Story Competition
by Hugh Wilson

As a reader, what is the first thing you look at in a short story? The title. Does it appeal to you? Does it arouse your curiosity enough to want to read the opening lines? If the title doesn’t grab you, you’ll look for something more interesting.

Short story contest judges are readers, too. The title is the first indication of your skill and creativity so choose one that will attract the judges – one that will make them want to read it again. The title is important in a short story competition. Here are some pointers:

Make it Short and Fitting

Make it easy to remember, not more than four or five words. It should give the reader a clue about the tone and mood. For instance, it’s obvious that Dial M for Murder is going to be something creepy involving murder and a telephone, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover revolves around another man.

Not too revealing

But a short story title shouldn’t give away too much, especially the ending. For example, Crime Doesn’t Pay tells the reader that the bad guy gets his comeuppance in the end, so why bother to read the story?

Re-cycle existing phrases

Well known literary works can provide memorable titles. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises stem from the Bible.

British author H.E. Bates’, The Darling Buds of May, (a line from a Shakespeare sonnet), evokes inviting images of life in the countryside.

Another method is to twist well-known phrases or sayings such as Live and Let Die, and You Only Live Twice.

• Just names

Some short story titles use names of people or places, so let’s make up a couple. Deborah’s Secret would surely make you rub your hands in anticipation, while Florida Frolics might suggest a lighthearted tale of fun and games on vacation in the Everglades.

Let the Short Story Name Itself

A short story can name itself by extracting dialogue, a memorable line, or a couple of words that capture the mood. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins are such titles.

Research Your Title for Short Story Competition

There is no copyright on titles, but it’s worth a quick search to make sure yours is not identical to a well-known story or one that has recently won a short story contest. If it is, change it slightly.

These are just a few ideas to get your mind thinking of different ways to dream up a short story title.

Study the titles that have won recent contests and, of course, read the stories to see what made them stand out from the rest. You might be the next short story contest winner.

Please click on “Share This” and “Like” below to help us spread the word.

More great writing tips and short story contest rules at Ends October 20, 2011. Hurry! First place wins a $$$ price (or) FREE writing course.


Transition Sentences Make Your Writing Clear and Concise

By guest blogger, Shanna Wegrocki

What are Transition Sentences? Think of them as a bridge that transitions from one slight change of subject to another. They connect the paragraphs seamlessly and make the writing flow more smoothly in the reader’s mind without need of extraneous explanations. Without transition sentences, your work will be choppy and disjointed;

You can use transition sentences:

• Between sections. This type of transition summarizes information for the reader.
• Between paragraphs. This is the most common type, and is usually the first or last sentence of a paragraph.
• Within paragraphs. You can do these with a single word or short phrase.

All three types are equally important. Transitions are the cues that tell the reader how to interpret progressive details on subject matter.

There are Many Styles of Transitions:

Single transitional words are easy to identify. There is a long list, but they fit into distinct categories, such as addition, comparison, concession, contrast, emphasis, example, summary, time sequence, spatial arrangement, cause and effect, purpose, similarity, place, result and repetition.

Single transitional words may also be pronouns, parallelism, or synonyms. With practice, you will find you can use any and all of these devices to smoothly transition from one sentence to another, one paragraph to another, or one subject to another – all the while keeping the coherence of your work in place.

Examples, with the transitions in bold:

• She was a good girl while her mother was around.
• You can go to the movie if you clean your room first.
• “I told Jenny she could go to her friend’s house for the night because she did all her chores.”
• “No, he didn’t say that, and furthermore, he couldn’t have said it because he lost his voice.”
• “She shouldn’t have done that, but by the same token, look what he did to her.”

Do you see how transitions and transition sentences move from one subject to another closely related subject? And that’s the whole point.

Your Assignment: Select something to read and pick out the transition words. Transition sentences will be the first or last sentence of a paragraph – usually the first one.

For more great writing tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter on our site: But hey – before you leave – please bookmark us and leave a comment. You don’t even have to sign in. Thanks!

For further study on this subject, check these out: