Alphabet Challenge Day 8
Day 8 of my alphabet blogging challenge
The letter is H
and the word is HOOK
In case you’re worrying that my blog has strayed from reading and writing to something more pugilistic, I’m not talking about a right hook but a narrative hook!
In today’s crowded, frenetic world, it’s hard to gain people’s attention in any sphere, let alone fiction. Readers have got millions of things to do, and if a writer can’t persuade them quickly that the book/story has got something that makes it worthwhile for them to read on, then they will soon move onto their list of other-more-interesting-things-to-do.
The literary technique for grabbing readers is known as a narrative hook. Interest your readers, intrigue them, puzzle them, delight them – what and how you do it doesn’t really matter – but you have to give readers something that says to them you won’t regret investing your time in this book.
A common method for hooking a reader is to ask a question. This can be either explicit or implicit, but it needs to come near the beginning, if not the first sentence then at least the first paragraph. The reader will then continue reading in order to learn the answer to the question.
It might be a huge question such as ‘can this virus be stopped from wiping out humanity?’ which could take the whole book to answer. Or it might be a smaller question, such as ‘will the character give in to the temptation to eat the slice of chocolate’. This might be answered fairly quickly, but can lead to other and bigger questions ‘why is he/she trying to resist?’ ‘Will he/she succeed in dealing with the marital problems caused by over-eating?’ ‘What is he/she hiding from by indulging their appetite?’
The question hook done well is successful and effective. Reel us in (here, I’m counting myself as a reader) and we’ll search for an answer. It doesn’t matter if the answer takes a long time to come. In the most successful writing, that initial question isn’t answered until the end of the book/story. But when it does come, it must satisfy the reader emotionally, psychologically and intellectually.
In other words, the answer to the question has a lot of work to do.
Sometimes the quality of the writing might be the hook – it might seduce a reader, so that he/she will read on without an obvious hook. This also applies to an interesting character or unusual setting. But through some means, that hook needs to be there.
Here are a few openings to see the ‘hooks’ and analyse how effective they are:
‘No one had seen her naked until her death.’ The Birth of Venus Sarah Dunant
‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.’ The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
‘It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ 1984 George Orwell
‘There should be a scar.’ Unravelling Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn
‘Each year there was an outbreak of fever at the House of Orphans.’ House of Orphans Helen Dunmore
‘For a temporary shorthand-typist to be present at the discovery of a corpse on the first day of a new assignment, if not unique, is sufficiently rare to prevent its being regarded as an occupational hazard.’ Original Sin PD James
What do you think? Which hooks work and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.