So I just wondered, what is it about getting people hooked to a story? What does it? Naturally, there’s a lot of different things that can do it. Which is where we run into the nebulous wordinteresting.
Interesting is the participle form ofto interest, and the basic noun form isan interest. We are, quite literally, appealing to what people want to see. That’s what happens not only with entertainment, but with human interaction in general: we give people what they want to see. But what we’re supposed to do then isuse that hook to tell people what we want to end up telling them.
That part where we have something we ultimately need to say? That’s what critics look for (besides technical skill).
I am sure you’ve seen a speech like this before, an in particular I’m thinking of an actual sermon style, where for twenty minutes the guy tells a long funny story. Great! He’s got us hooked! This is the best sermon ever! And then hestops with the funny and goes on to talk about God, often at the same time that he drops his smile and becomes deathly serious, and you roll your eyes and go, “Man,here comes the moral.”
What happened? Did he not hook you well enough to deliver his message? You were laughing not ten seconds ago!
Well that’s the big issue here:you’re not supposed to stop hooking. A lot of people seem to think that the ‘hook’ to the show is asingle point by which we are lifted up into the world of the author all of the sudden, as though he only need to flip a switch and his whole audience suddenly gains a serene and surreal expression as they become lost in their own heads, with the author planting whatever suggestions he desires.
That’s not it at all. Even when you’re talking about a ‘hook’ for a TV show or a single episode of one, you are talking about thepremise. The premise is what makes the whole plot interesting to the audience. You could actually have a plot where the character loses his shoelaces. And you can follow all the right tools and formulas to get to your ending, and it would be perfectly sound, and possibly even be dramatic! To shoelace makers. The plot itself is not the same as the hook. The funny story the sermon guy told is not the same as the message he’s trying to shoehorn in at the end. They’re not supposed to be completely divorced from each other, ever.
So what sort of things make for a hook? Well . . . what makes you feel good? Honestly, that’s all that there is to it.
‘Good’ of course being the broadest definition possible. We like laughing at jokes. We like seeing buildings blow up. We like wondering at the sleight-of-hand of a magician. We like being scared as long as we’re surrounded by people in the theater and it’s not TOO close to bedtime. We like seeing our ideals built up. We like seeing our enemies’ realities being torn down. We like to see the underdog defeat all odds. We like seeing the small victories that render the larger defeats meaningless. We like to be challenged in all these things.
We like being taken to another place. Escapism is always a big hook, especially for Fantasy and Science-Fiction readers. It’s not that we believe that ever facet of these worlds is an alternate reality, inconsistencies and all. We just want to be fooled, like seeing a magician perform. Sometimes, it’s just not as good when we know how he does it. Sometimes we like seeing him do it regardless.
Being able to construct a story that involved more than one of these things is always the initial challenge. Once we see our hero or villain, he has to mesh with our hook. If it’s humorous story, he will be involved with all the funny things that happen. Naturally, if you’re following the rule of conservation, you can’t really have a humorous story where the hero is there and he’s not involved in the funny thing.
But if you suddenly take out all the funny stuff and make it all serious, you lose your reader! Most of the time. Sometimes, you will have another hook that works and brings your story to a much different level. Sometimes you need to bring the audience out of their reverie before you dive back down again. Take a little time to breathe. We like variety, too.
Isn’t that the problem with the stand-up preacher? Well, some of the people think that his second hook is just fine. These are all the people who meet him afterwards and tell him what a good job he did, reenforcing his method of delivery. And the people who are there for the funny, they might well tolerate the boring part.
The honest truth is,the deep recesses of the human psyche are boring to most people. We don’t talk about the same books that the academic professors talk about, because while the ‘best’ literature may be the philisophically densest, it’s most often dull. The spectacle is to flavor it. You get your people who aren’t academics telling us that they read these stories for their deepness, and yes, that is one kind of hook. That is the kind of hook that tells most other people you don’t find storytelling to be a desirable experience.
Naturally, some hooks WILL exclude audiences, to the point that they will get into vicious arguments over what kind of spectacle is better. I already jabbed at ‘literary’ works and the readers of such, because my associations with such works are NOT pleasurable or exciting orinteresting, no matter what any of them think about the same. I only make the jab because the people of that group are known to call anyone who likes a hook other than dry philosophy Philistines or similar. What I’m saying is that it’s possible to integrate everything and make deep issues palatable to a different sect of readers, and that people from all demographics of readers can get something deep, and notjust the readers of ‘literary’ works. (Besides, considering that ‘literary’ in itself is a genre, I sort of doubt that ALL the books that have ever fallen under than header were as profound as they claimed to be, or that even a larger percentage of such are worth reading any more than any genre book)
You design your setting for your audience, and the audience that does not like that setting will not like your hook. But for the audience you do grab, you give them everything they want, and you use it not as ‘the hook’ but as the allegory. You’re trying to convince people of this audience that the deep recesses of the human psyche are worth contemplating.
And nobody is going to get it perfect, certainly. But that doesn’t stop anyone from trying to be the best at making the hook and the meaning mesh. You don’t have to dive from humor to being completely somber. The bookCatch-22 balanced it well; it was balanced extremely well. The humor was what kept us pinned, but the humor was all about the hypocrisy, and when it started exploring the more serious ramifications of these problems, we were still following along, because the book assumed that, were we the most jaded people on the planet, we would still be laughing at the cringe-worthy scenes, which continued to poke at the foibles of hypocrisy long after it stopped being funny for the rest of us.
So yes, hook and theme can go hand in hand. How do you do it? That’s the tricky part. The hook you use always depends on the audience you’re reaching, and you’re always going to have more than one ‘hook’ no matter what you declare yours to be. Start looking for the deeper ramifications of what you’re doing. That’s why science fiction writers and readers want to keep digging past the surface of their premise: it doesn’t getreally good until you’re using the hook tosay something.
(Of course, this doesn’t have to apply to everything. Sometimes we just want something light and fluffy, don’t we?)