Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » No "Hook"

   
Author Topic: No "Hook"
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Here's a topic I want some opinions on: can a short story be effective even if it has no hook? More specifically, I'm referring to the first 13 lines.

There is a particular scenario I had in mind. What if the story does not focus on one main character, but rather on a collection of characters existing in one place? Would it be appropriate to introduce the setting first, to spend approximately the first 200 words on the milieu before introducing any characters? If so, in what way can the first 13 lines still leave an impact without having a direct hook?

I can't think of any particular examples, but feel free to enlighten me. All opinions are welcome.

[ March 03, 2013, 04:43 PM: Message edited by: tesknota ]

Posts: 159 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
genevive42
Member
Member # 8714

 - posted      Profile for genevive42   Email genevive42         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Simply presenting something interesting is a 'hook' in itself. You don't need fancy and dramatic, you just need to give the reader a reason to keep reading. Give them confidence that you know what you're doing and that they're in for a good story.

Though I will say that a page or two of milieu is a lot, especially if this is a short story. If you're set on that, I would make sure you get to what's at stake fairly quick.

Posts: 1928 | Registered: Jul 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I've thought of a better way to phrase this, and I'll revise my opening post. I didn't like the sound of "a page or two" either... Let's instead say 200 or so words.

So would it be fair to say that there are effective "active" and "passive" hooks? If the reader enjoys the setting and finds it immersible in itself, that would count as a more passive hook?

Posts: 159 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, discussions of this kind of question can quickly get bogged down in misunderstandigs about semantics. I agree with Genevive on substance, but I don't think that's what most people mean when they say "hook". I believe what people usually mean is something that will almost compel a reader to read on; something that will grab him by the metaphorical collar and propel him into the story.

I have nothing against this kind of hooking per se, but I think that reader motivation is only half the equation. The other half are the roadblocks you put in front of the reader that bar his entry into the story. One common problem I see is an exciting opening that propels the reader straight into a dense wall of exposition, or dumps him in a trackless thicket of digression. That comes from trying to get the reader into the story by hooking alone, and not carefully managing the cognitive load you're putting on him, or even using a hook as a substitute for clean and robust writing.

So I'd say the first order of business is to make entering the story as effortless as possible, with clear, clean writing and robust pacing. Things need to make *sense* to the reader without a lot of explanation. Once the obstacles to entering the story are removed, you can do whatever you want with the reader, either leading him gently into the story or giving him a swift kick in the pants.

One of the finest novel openings I've ever read is Madeleine L'Engle's *A Wrinkle in Time*. It opens with the famous Bulwer-Lytton cliche opening: "It was a dark and stormy night." To my mind that's almost a declaration of anti-hooking. She doesn't follow it up with Bulwer Lytton's bombast, but with clean, clear, confidently paced prose. It's worth studying.

Posts: 1174 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
rcmann
Member
Member # 9757

 - posted      Profile for rcmann   Email rcmann         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Poul Anderson wrote one of the most intriguing hooks I have ever read in "Operation Chaos". It begins with the words, "Hello out there. If you exist, hello." From that point he goes into exposition that quickly reveals the First Person protagonist inhabits a very different parallel earth, etc. But I couldn't *not* keep reading after those first words.
Posts: 884 | Registered: Feb 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. quotient or principle speaks to how openings may empasize different writing mannerisms. M stands for milieu, I for idea, C for character, and E for event. Our beloved Hatrack benefactor discusses MICE in his two books on writing: Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction. Both are equally applicable to fantasy or any genre as well.

How Card treats milieu as a story emphasis describes the shape and dramatic action of a story influenced by a setting.

Alternatively, plot and voice, or discourse, artful language in the latter case, may also engage an audience's empathy and curiosity, essentially, what a "hook" is. Plot's strength comes from introducing a dramatic complication in an opening thirteen lines. A dramatic complication is either directly stated or implied in an opening, and at its barest fundamentals is a want or problem wanting satisfaction.

An example of an artful discourse opening is the preamble to Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . ." The preamble dosen't establish the setting's time or place, but the setting's situation is in the foreground emphasis.

Ideally, an opening incorporates and introduces milieu, idea, character, event, plot, and voice of a story with a main emphasis. Milieu, for example, in the vernacular, is mostly how cultural circumstances derive from a setting's situation, like for A Tale of Two Cities, the French Revolution.

Posts: 2814 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Denevius
Member
Member # 9682

 - posted      Profile for Denevius   Email Denevius         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Really, all that's important is what you can get away with. If you tried this opening, but most people who read it say it's not interesting, then it doesn't succeed. If you the opposite happens, then it does.

I don't think there's such a thing as a passive or active hook, just what works, and what works for your targeted audience. That's also important, because simply put there will always be a majority of people who don't "get" your writing. But if that minority not only gets, but wants to purchase/praise, the words you write, then everything else is a mute point.

Well, a mute point as long as you're satisfied with the number of those who like your writing. But if you want wider and wider audiences, or if you aren't satisfied with the feedback you're getting, then it's probably you, not everyone else. In which case, whatever style of hook you're going for, again, isn't working, and probably needs to be revised/altered.

Posts: 383 | Registered: Nov 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Pyre Dynasty
Member
Member # 1947

 - posted      Profile for Pyre Dynasty   Email Pyre Dynasty         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
My definition of a hook is a reason to keep reading. So, no, please don't write a story without one of those.

As for starting with straight milieu, try it see if it works. Worst thing that can happen is the story goes in your education pile instead of your success pile. Those Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin is almost all setting.

Posts: 1843 | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
LDWriter2
Member
Member # 9148

 - posted      Profile for LDWriter2   Email LDWriter2         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I believe there is a type of story that does start with setting, literary maybe. "Lord of the Rings" is one. A lot of them are novels but I think it can be done with short stories too. If someone has mentioned that I missed it.

But as one person said if you can get away with it, it works. There are very few hard and fast rules in writing. It depends on how well it's done, if you are well published yet, the editor and what it leads to--the rest of the story. Some editors like different-think of cyberpunk and even more weird sub-genre.

And as another person said a "hook" isn't just made up of one or two types. It is anything that keeps a reader reading.

Posts: 4645 | Registered: Jun 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MAP
Member
Member # 8631

 - posted      Profile for MAP           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I believe that every story has the right place to begin, but finding that spot is a challenge.

For some stories that is a "grab him (the reader) by the collar and propell him into the story" hook (as Mattleo defined), but not all stories should begin that way. I've read some stories that have tried to force a hook in the beginning and either have to do a lot of back tracking or the beginning feels false and sometimes even promises a different story than it delivers, and that's not good.

I think the whole advice to start a story with a "hook" is really more about starting the story with something interesting. Whatever that is is going to be different for different readers, so know your audience, know how to promise the story you are telling. And you can do that by looking at the compelling openings of stories you enjoyed that are similar to yours.

My personal opinion is to start at that moment of change, when the protagonists world is turned upside down or whatever sets the plot into motion.

Don't worry about hooking the reader. Start where the story naturally begins and use strong, confident writing so that the reader feels he/she is in good hands.

If you want a professional opinion on how beginnings work, I suggest checking out Nathan Bransford's blog. He has these first paragraph contests where he discusses openings in great detail. I blogged about it a while back with all the links to his contests where he discusses what makes a compelling opening if you are interested.

That All Important First Paragraph

[ March 03, 2013, 11:16 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

Posts: 1026 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
LDWriter2
Member
Member # 9148

 - posted      Profile for LDWriter2   Email LDWriter2         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
MAP you have a point but I think you misunderstand what grabbing someone by the collar means. Or at least how I understand it, anyway.

Anything that compels a reader to keep reading grabs him-her-it by the collar. It can be as shocking as a mailed or space armored fist reaching out of the book-story or as gentile as a butterfly landing on his neck and using its suddenly super strong wings to push him into the tale. Again that is the way I interpret it.

Posts: 4645 | Registered: Jun 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Denevius
Member
Member # 9682

 - posted      Profile for Denevius   Email Denevius         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
To be honest, the "hook" is a bit amateurish. Like, it's something great for writers who still need developmental skills, and it probably does help, if you're stuck beginning a story, in trying to start with the most interesting part of it.

But to MAP's point, a lot of my favorite stories/novels, and really even movies and albums (which dates me, I suppose), didn't "hook" me at first. And even the ones that did, it was subjective, and people who I suggested should read a particular book just couldn't get into it the way I did, and vice versa. I've also had a lot of instances where something compelled me in the first page, but fell off dramatically after that, sometimes to a point that I couldn't even finish. I've actually found that to be fairly common in workshopping environments, where the most interesting part of the story is the first paragraph. Kind of like how for many movies the best part is the preview. After that, it's all downhill.

Basically, I think the hook is just a developmental tool, mostly for developing writers. It's definitely a rule we should all learn early on with the intent of breaking later being the general practice as you become more confident in your writing style and narrative voice. And again, knowing your target audience is really key. Don't write a story that begins gradually for an audience that prefers things to start with a bang.

Posts: 383 | Registered: Nov 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MAP
Member
Member # 8631

 - posted      Profile for MAP           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
LDWriter, we all will come in with our own definitions of what it means to be hooked. I was trying to use Mattleo's definition.

It sounds like you consider being hooked as a willingness to turn the page. If that is true, I am easily hooked. I usually give every story a fair try (far more than 13 lines) as long as it is in a genre I enjoy and the writing is good enough.

What being hooked to me is the feverishly turning pages and ignoring starving children to finish the chapter. Then thinking of the chapter while feeding starving children and dying to get back to it. [Smile]

There are stories that have hooked me like that from the first sentence.

[ March 04, 2013, 12:38 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

Posts: 1026 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
genevive42
Member
Member # 8714

 - posted      Profile for genevive42   Email genevive42         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Do remember, what works for one will not work for others. Scott Card flat out does not agree with starting a story 'en media res', in the middle of the action because he doesn't believe it gives you time to care about the characters. (I know this from Boot Camp and personal discussion with him about my novel opening). After significant study, I disagree. I understand his point from an academic point of view, but I've found a number of novels I've really enjoyed have started in the middle of things and left me to sort it all out on the run. To a degree, this is personal taste, but it all is in the end and we have to come up with our own standards. Personally, I'm not likely to enjoy a milieu-only opening unless it is really unique, but do it right and I'll give you the time.

One thing I found very helpful was going to audible.com. I started listening to the openings of a bunch of different books to see which ones grabbed me and which didn't and tried to figure out why. Of course you can do this in a bookstore, or from your home bookshelves, too. And if you've already read the book you can evaluate if the story kept its promise to you by the end. But look at books you wouldn't normally consider as well as old faves. If you have a writer friend to do this with, it can make for great discussion.

Posts: 1928 | Registered: Jul 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by genevive42:
Do remember, what works for one will not work for others. Scott Card flat out does not agree with starting a story 'en media res', in the middle of the action because he doesn't believe it gives you time to care about the characters. (I know this from Boot Camp and personal discussion with him about my novel opening). After significant study, I disagree

This is a very interesting point. I happen to agree with you about in media res openings, yet at the same time I've seen many instances of exactly the problem Card is talking about. It underscores the tentative nature of so much of what we know about writing. It's an art, not a science, and as Denevius says what ultimately counts is what you can get away with.

Still, it's worth examining the notion that in media res doesn't work, because it happens to be true a lot of the time.

I wouldn't characterize the problem as readers not caring about the characters yet; I'd characterize it as the readers not understanding the characters' problems. This is a common feature of many weak openings: reader confusion about what is going on. Yet readers seldom understand everything that is going on; that's not necessary or even desirable. Readers need to understand of the gist of the character's immediate problems, enough to follow the action.

Suppose the story starts with a young woman on foot being followed late at night through a bad part of town. I think this is enough to be getting on with; we can understand the gist of her immediate problem enough to follow her predicament with interest. But there's a lot we won't know until later, such as what she was doing in that part of town at night. There are things she herself might not know, like the precisely what the people following her intend. The gist of her problem is that she's in a vulnerable place and needs to get to a less vulnerable one, and that's enough information for us to follow the action.

I believe readers approach a story primed with a certain amount of caring (but not with understanding, mind you). That's based on the fact they've picked up your story with the intent to read it through. That amount of caring probably varies with the personality and purpose of the reader. Someone who's picked up a romance novel with the intent of being entertained starts with a somewhat larger stock of caring than an agent or editor plowing through the slushpile.

But however much caring the reader starts with, you have to be very careful not to overdraw that limited stock. Confusion is certainly one way to do that, but another way I see is the author who crucifies his protagonist on the first page.

Posts: 1174 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
rcmann
Member
Member # 9757

 - posted      Profile for rcmann   Email rcmann         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Much of it depends on the type of story, and the medium it's presented in. The person writing a short story to be published in a print magazine has to do it all in the story itself. If you self-publish your short story, you have the option of presenting a teaser, which may or may not help hook the reader depending on how well it's written. You also have a cover (presumably) that is supposed to help intrigue the reader enough to get them started. A novel in print form offers cover art, a back blurb, and for paperbacks they usually offer an excerpt inside the front cover. A novel in digital form offers all of that, plus the chance to point someone at a blog or web site with supplemental bait.

You have to consider the entire reader experience. It's not all about the first thirteen lines, or even the first page, by any means.

Posts: 884 | Registered: Feb 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
In medias res openings, meaning in the middle of the action, start at a point after the beginning of the action. That seems self-evident on the surface. "Action" is the crux. As MattLeo notes, the action is a character's problems, or as I do go on about, a want or problem wanting satisfaction, a central dramatic complication.

The beginning of the action could begin when a character is born. The Potter saga opens soon after Harry is born. Ancient epics start with the pedigree of characters' ancestry, their entire lineages back to when their gods mingled among mortals. Several Old Testament narratives also begin with the begets of central figures.

Aristotle's The Poetics describes the beginning of the action as a first cause that naturally and logically follows no other of consequence.

Short stories' comparatively modern and experimental openings tend to begin at a point after a first cause, closer to an ending of the action. These types of in medias res openings follow the action when tangible wants and problems are accessible and appealing to readers. Backtraking to a first cause that's insubstantial, immaterial, or intangible—abstract as it were—might come later as backstory, or not at all if readers' imaginations don't require that bit filled in or it is artfully implied by the unfolding tangible action.

Say a protagonist is already head over heels smitten by a love interest. The initial attraction might be intangible, but starting later in the action might be a stronger opening. The first cause then might be an initial rejection or an awkward date or discovering a rival, etc., problems impeding satisfaction of the want.

A setting opening in regard to an in medias res opening can work tension or "hook" magic. For example, if the setting holds a tangibly ominous problem—say a damn threatening collapse: or an attraction—say there's gold in them there hills. Alternatively, a setting opening might portray a routine about to be interrupted, a danger at the door opening in the middle of the action. No point, per se, in beginning with a rogue tank column leaving the motorpool when the tangible action might begin with the first shell lobbed into an idyllic company picnic.

Posts: 2814 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks for your input, everyone! This gives me a lot to think about. I really do struggle with beginnings. It's rare that I find one that I really want to keep.

There are different hooks that work for different audiences, but I think that landing in the middle of the bell curve is better than landing on an outlier. =)

Posts: 159 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
babooher
Member
Member # 8617

 - posted      Profile for babooher   Email babooher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
There is an article by Stephen King about this called "Great Hookers I Have Known." If you can find it, I'd suggest giving it a read.
Posts: 703 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
There is an article by Stephen King about this called "Great Hookers I Have Known." If you can find it, I'd suggest giving it a read.

After a long day at work, it took me a minute to get this. Very punny. =D

I'll definitely look into it.

Posts: 159 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
genevive42
Member
Member # 8714

 - posted      Profile for genevive42   Email genevive42         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm working on creating a pair of challenges based on this duscussion. More to come soon.
Posts: 1928 | Registered: Jul 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
babooher
Member
Member # 8617

 - posted      Profile for babooher   Email babooher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The first line of the article is something along the lines of "When I finally figured out what my 13-year-old son was asking for, I told him sure, I could probably find him a couple of good hookers, maybe even a couple of great ones."
Posts: 703 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
The first line of the article is something along the lines of "When I finally figured out what my 13-year-old son was asking for, I told him sure, I could probably find him a couple of good hookers, maybe even a couple of great ones."

I have to say that while I admire the clarity of King's thought and writing, the sophomoric persona he uses in his opinion pieces grates on my nerves.
Posts: 1174 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
babooher
Member
Member # 8617

 - posted      Profile for babooher   Email babooher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Really? That line and title serve perfectly to illustrate the point of the whole article. Yes, he could have started with a history of pulp fiction or some doggerel explaining the purpose of capturing the reader's attention, but instead he illustrates. Sophomoric...perhaps, but artfully so. To shove the humor and shock in your face while so subtlety demonstrating the lesson is craft and a fun bit of antithesis that I'd bet was a blast to write.

As for a hook being "amateurish," I'd question then what makes it such a pleasure to burn? Why I should call him Ishmael? Or even what disgusting thing the kid did under the bleachers?

Posts: 703 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, I grant you there's a bit of self-referential humor in the opening, but I just finished Stephen King's ebook 'Guns' and I'm tired of the style. Wile I largely agree with the points he makes in the book, the relentless, scatalogical wisecracking made 'Guns' sound like it was written by the world's most brilliant 15 year-old.
Posts: 1174 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
genevive42
Member
Member # 8714

 - posted      Profile for genevive42   Email genevive42         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The 'No Hook' hook challenge is up.

http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbwriters/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=7;t=000223;p=0&r=nfx

Posts: 1928 | Registered: Jul 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MartinV
Member
Member # 5512

 - posted      Profile for MartinV   Email MartinV         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
There is an article by Stephen King about this called "Great Hookers I Have Known." If you can find it, I'd suggest giving it a read.

I can't find it. Can someone post a link please?

[ March 09, 2013, 02:22 PM: Message edited by: MartinV ]

Posts: 1266 | Registered: May 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
babooher
Member
Member # 8617

 - posted      Profile for babooher   Email babooher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I only have it in a book. I think it is called Secret Window or maybe Secret Garden and it is a collection essays by him.
Posts: 703 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
"Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing"

Nope, not online. =(

Posts: 159 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2