I love trashy television.
I love those Investigation Discovery shows about wives who murder their husbands and the TLC shows about how sex sent someone to the emergency room. Don’t get me started on HGTV and all of their shows about flipping houses.
However, I’m still a television connoisseur. I watch all the hottest new dramas and critique their scripts, directing, and levels of production. It’s what I want to do for a living, so I make it my job to learn from the best.
That doesn’t mean I can’t love the worst.
In all my critiquing and binge watching, I’ve noticed something that all shows have in common. They all use sharp and catchy hooks that reel you in and keep you interested.
They all have great teasers.
If you don’t know what a teaser is, it’s a short mini-act at the beginning of a show that sets up the episode and catches the viewer’s attention. It’s essentially the television version of clickbait. And guess what? We’ve all fallen victim to it.
I guarantee that every single one of your favorite shows have teasers, or cold opens (the comedy term) that get you excited about the next hour. If you’re watching CSI Miami, their teasers usually contain a heinous crime followed by a clever line from Lieutenant Horatio Caine as he puts on his sunglasses and stares out into the distance. You know, like this:
If you’re watching a show on Investigation Discovery, the teaser will include snippets of all the shocking twists in the episode without actually revealing anything, lots of edgy shots of the actors cast to play the subjects of the story, and a warning: “Beware. Extreme passion can lead to shocking consequences.” Without explicitly saying it, the narrator is telling the viewer, “stick around, you’ll never believe what happens next!”
And we do stick around.
We stick around for seven hours of Scorned, and when we’ve had enough of that, we flip to HGTV and watch another three hours of Love It Or List It, because we have to know what they’ll choose!
It’s an addiction. An addiction we can’t escape because the writers just know how to hook us.
No matter what you’re writing or how great you think it is to begin with, you need a hook. For some people, it’s something that they always include. For others, not so much. The hook is what will get readers to stay, to click through, and to become more than just a passerby. I’ve seen some pieces of writing without hooks that are just blah. There is no excitement about the content!
If you talk to a television writer about their craft, they’re always excited about the episode they’re writing or the future of their series. Hell, I could write 5,000 words about all the ideas I have for television shows. When you’re excited, other people get excited, even if it’s about something totally boring, like which brands of toilet paper will save a company more money down the line.
This excitement will help you write a kickass hook that draws people into your blog, article, PowerPoint, etc. and makes them listen to what you have to say.
While working to get your reader excited, you should still make your hooks reflect your tone, style, and brand. At CYC, our articles are always informative and sprinkled with a little humor and personality. So, when we write our “teaser”, we don’t try to be overly serious or wacky. I’ve noticed that, much like television writers, we have a formula.
The openings of our articles share our personal points of view, then we transition into the meat of the post, and tie them together at the end. You can see that with my teaser, I talked all about television and my own personal vices. If I started the article with “ways to write a hook”, it would have betrayed our brand.
Try examining all of your favorite shows. Every single one of them has a formula for their teaser––one that matches the show’s tone. Even if they switch it up every episode, that is a formula. And while it may sound bad to have a formula for your writing, if you find one that works, use it. It will make the process a whole lot easier.
You may be thinking, “Erika, it sounds like you’re just telling us to write clickbait articles.”
First of all, what’s wrong with a little clickbait? As long as the articles don’t lie to their readers about what they’re reading, I see no problem with getting people hyped about content.
No one is asking you to lie to your readers. Just don’t be afraid to get a little trashy every once in awhile. Of course, there is a little finesse to writing teasers and hooks, but until you find that special formula, go with the cheap tricks.
In my teaser for this article, I used pop culture references, gifs, and the often-overused leading question. Some may say those lack finesse, but I say it’s what people relate to.
Heed my warning, though: if you’re always writing titles that say “You won’t believe” or “You’ll never guess,” you’re doing something wrong. Those cheesy titles are just as much of a sellout as BuzzFeed.
So how do you implement these teasers into your own writing? First, you must get into the mindset that your writing is worth reading. Like I said, “get excited.” Then and only then will you be able to write a good hook that captures the reader’s attention.
Your hook should interest you as much as it interests the reader. If it’s not drawing you in, chances are it’s not gonna draw anyone else in.
The hook doesn’t always have to get straight to the point either. Make it related and relatable. I talked about my love of trashy television, then segued into what trashy television has taught me about writing. If you’re writing about the virtues of virtual assistants, tell a story about the time your VA did something totally wacky or something totally cool. Get where I’m going here?
Make your article more than just information. Tell a story, write a narrative, pull no punches and impress the reader. If you do that right, they’ll stick around for the rest of what you have to say.
If you need help writing your hook, might I suggest a little Murder U? Or Fear Thy Neighbor? You may not get any writing done, but you might come up for air having learned something.
Because if Investigation Discovery can teach us anything (besides the fact that everyone’s a murderer), it’s that being a tease gets people’s attention, and keeps it.
Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and is currently working on her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for a literary journal, and an editor for an academic journal. In her free time, Erika enjoys writing short stories and screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.