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?)


Discussion (20) ¬

  1. IronCrux0

    -blinks-

    Well, I read all the way through. I do really actually find the ‘art’ of speaking or presenting anything a finely tuned skill. That’s a lot of thought put into something simple though. If you can just find a way to relate to your audience and express something in an easy to understand and maybe even entertaining, it’s going to be interesting. Very well written though ^^.

    • IronCrux0

      I typed too slow for my brain…. >.>

      *I do really actually find the ‘art’ of speaking or presenting anything extremely interesting and it can be developed into a finely tuned skill.*

      >>Note to self<< Finish one thought before moving on to another ^//^

  2. Luu

    I believe the collective response to this post is

    “tl;dr”

  3. Buckdida

    A long post, Rick, but a wonderful tip for aspiring writers…

    Thanks, Rick. I’ll be sure to keep this one in mind when writing…

    • Rick Griffin

      I tend to write reeeeal long whenever I’m writing about writing. I wonder why I can’t ‘just write’ like that.

      • GameCobra

        Depends on how indepth you wanna be =P

        if you wrote this much, you must want a big meaning,right? not just wall of text >.>

        But to add to your long comment:

        Hook and Theme i believe are indeed two important parts in writing. The Theme is the heart of writing, but the Hook is needed to have a bite.

        i’m sure though alot of people will take the hook and probably use the Hook as a Theme when they think the original theme isn’t doing what they think it should, and thus the hook becomes to the viewers the theme.

  4. Ebly

    i’m going to come out right here and say
    i f***ing HATED catch-22

    • Teh Brawler

      DON’T RUIN IT FOR ME!!!!!! I have to read it this year in English.

      • Ebly

        it’s not what happened in the book that i hate about it
        it’s the book itself.
        i had a whole rant written out here about how it’s written, then realised that it was pointless and deleted it in favour of this :’D

        • Rick Griffin

          Well yeah, I can easily see how Heller’s prose could be considered outright annoying, which is probably why none of this later books were considered nearly as good

          • Ebly

            Honestly, I can see why people would like it, too. It just really got to me after a while.

  5. damfinogal

    Good post. Though I will add that, for me, a big hook is falling in love. I love to fall in love with characters (and their worlds). Once I have, I can remain hooked to stuff when plots become drier, heavier, more philosophical, more boring, if I’m interested in how the characters react, and if it’s written/drawn/acted well.

    I’ve always taken issue with “intellectuals” and such being derogatory about “populist” entertainment. TV is not simply a “boob tube”. Genre fiction is not all generic formulaic fluff. Comics are not all just flighty one-liners and busty/built people in tight clothes. And if some of them are these things, it doesn’t mean that that is ALL they are.

    I believe that there is no clear “high”/ “low” or “literary”/”non-literary” division. All classifications can have good work and bad work, depth or shallowness, etc.

    It’s all about what you, as the interpreter, make of it. You won’t find a “literary” work deep if you aren’t looking for the depths. Likewise, you won’t find “lesser” works simplistic or shallow if you’re thinking about it, digging deeper, analyzing, philosophizing, etc. (just as the “literary” works expect you to do when reading them). I think that those who write off genre or populist works as “lesser” are proving a lack within themselves, not the work they dismiss.

    A perfect example of this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show is easily dismissed by many people for it’s genre, it’s flippant and sometimes cheesy dialog, it’s use of “monsters”, it’s high school & college setting. But the show itself, as cheesy and flippant as the episodes might seem, are actually fantastic allegories. The show also got rather intense and deep by the later seasons, but it was almost always packaged in a fun, palatable way (humor is key!)–and when it wasn’t, wow, what an impact.

    I’m not saying that everything has depth. There is quite a lot of truly terrible and mindless crap out there. But I don’t think it can be so easily decided because these “great minds” have discussed how smart they are and the things they like are and have decided that these here are “great works” and everything else is therefore somehow lesser.

    I guess that was all to pretty much say “I agree.”

    • Rick Griffin

      Well I think in addition to that, the fact that there is a ‘literary’ genre assumes that in order to actually be high-minded in your work you need to write in this genre. In actuality, the formula this genre perpetuates is just TO piggyback on past authors who made ‘great works’ (Hemingway, Joyce, Woolfe, etc), often those before ‘literary’ became a genre itself. On top of that, they attempt to outpace each other (but not outpace faster than the academics can catch up!) concerning modern philosophic thought, or postmodernism, and there’s all those who try and stick with it and all those who try and find the ‘new’ paradigm. Meanwhile, any of us who think postmodernism is akin to neo-sophism are rejected outright, because that’s thinking too far ahead. You need to think with the rest of the literary community in order to be considered a great thinker.

      • Dissension

        Once again proving the theory that the true test of a man’s intelligence is how much he agrees with you. xD

        • GameCobra

          Getting the community to agree with your logic is part of the fun of writing though, wouldn’t you say? =P

  6. Thomas

    Yeah, getting people hooked (from my perspective at least) its all about similarities between the storyline and the reader, factioning in what the viewer likes to see in a comic/story/novel/show, and making it interesting, as well as touching to the reader. Cliffhangers are one way to get people hooked, but most people tend to get annoyed by them. AS well as romance, especially of the dramatic type, dramatic irony can also be used. Not only do the similarities make a difference, its really all about how the viewer ‘views” the comic. Lets say you made a comic that consisted of nothing but your favorite band, the only people likely to read that comic, would be fans of the band just like you. Thinking with the rest of the community is great, but it tends to get boring after a while, what people really want to see is something “new” something that has never been printed,made,or watched before. For example, take the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, they thought WAY outside of the box, they developed new ideas of pro-democratic laws, and bills (except for Hobbes, he wanted an absolute monarchy) and those laws really got people hooked, because alot of the people in Poverty at the time AGREED with what they were suggesting. in summary, i think that it is; The people who think like you, and share similar intrests with what they are viewing, that gets them hooked.

  7. Draco_2k

    Marvelous. Figured that your recent theme shift wasn’t just a stroke of luck – I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed all the shifts in the comic so far. Bravo.

    Although I’ll reserve a hope that you won’t use it to actually “say” anything: preaching a real-life moral through an imaginary world completely under your control if self-indulgent at best and deceitful at worst.

    • Rick Griffin

      It’s only self-indulgent if it’s tacked-on and uses strawman opponents instead of actually exploring an issue from multiple sides, and using the ‘other’ aspect of the world to instigate it. Having a character stand up and say ‘This is right because I say it’s right’ and then have the morality of the world hinge on that specific point is not only OBVIOUSLY an author tract, but it opens up the point to contention in the fanbase, and you risk making your story about a point of view or specific rule rather than a topic. We can get away with some of these kinds of things because of our culture, or the culture of humans in general, or even within a specific demographic or fandom (especially if that fandom is the only one who will read your story) but it’s still often a matter of self-indulgence if we don’t at least wonder WHY we think this way, or why others think a different way.

  8. Kiyo Pi

    I like drama, relationship / friendship / confusing bothness of it all, falling in love and getting hurt. So far so good! =)

  9. Gamegeneral

    HOW HAS NOBODY MENTIONED BLUES TRAVELER?!?!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjukZs6R6LI
    I’m sorry, but that is the first thing that I thought of when you started mentioning Hooks.
    That and a certain movie involving robin williams.

    All in all, it’s just like fishing. Mastery of the hook will take you far. Jerk too hard and you yank it right out of their mouths, and sometimes leave lasting damage, making them very unwilling to bite again. Just gotta play with it a bit and let them go for it on their own.