Five hooks

I once watched a programme (I think it was Secrets of the Pop Song) that talked about writing hits. One quote from that has really stuck with me, and it said that one of Abba’s writers believed that a really good song needed five hooks.

Since then I’ve listened to very popular music with this in mind.

Dancing Queen has the chorus, the ‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life’ bit, the ‘la, la, la,’ bit it starts with, catchy verses and ‘See that girl, watch that scene, digging the dancing queen’.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together has ‘You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me’, the little musical riff at the very start, the chorus, the verses, ‘Oooh, oooh, oooh, we called it off again last night’ and ‘this time, I’m telling you, I’m telling you’ (that’s six).

Gold Digger (apparently the only massive hit in a minor key) has ‘She take my money…’, ‘I ain’t sayin’ she a Gold Digger, but she ain’t messin’ with no broke niggas’, ‘get down girl, go ‘head , get down’, the verses, and the staccato horn/keyboard bit behind ‘to a Benz out of a Datsun’.

Someone Like You has the piano intro, the verses, the chorus, ‘I hate to turn up out of the blue…’ (the bridge) and ‘Nothing compares, no worries or cares…’ (the middle eight).

And Bohemian Rhapsody has them coming out of its ears.

I thought that was interesting because we just think of a song as being catchy without even realising why, or what’s behind that. Also, I think many of us come up with one hook on projects that will never become great unless they have more than that. For example, I once worked on a campaign with Paul Belford where he was making the visual side different for each execution but always with the same line. At some point I think he suggested that for the campaign to be great it would need a different line each time. For whatever reason we left it with the single line and sure enough, it could have been better.

I also have occasional conversations with people where they have a great idea for a plot and don’t know what to do from there, or they want to know if there is a demand for initial ideas without the development that makes them into scripts or books. I’d say that a book requires hundreds of hooks, from the first idea to every page that develops it. A song is only five minutes long but a film is two hours and a book often lasts a week or so, and that entire time needs to be filled with enough hooks to keep the viewer or reader gripped.

I can explain this in the context of the novel I’m currently writing. The story involves a man who goes back in time and lives his life again with the thoughts he has as a thirty-eight-year-old. The idea is interesting, but I’ve now explored it so much (110,000 words) that I’ve found many more hooks that go beyond that initial concept. In fact, I’d say that the sentence that describes the book is one of the least good ideas in it. It feels familiar and people talk about that kind of thing all the time, but in looking for the new hooks I’ve discovered what that story really needs to be about and effectively I restarted the plot at the 70,000 word mark. It might turn out great; it might not, but I’m now thinking up hooks that have almost made me forget the initial one.

Does your work have all the hooks it needs? If not, what are you going to do about it?