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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How to Bait Your Hook and Catch Readers... (Page 1)

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Author Topic: How to Bait Your Hook and Catch Readers...
skadder
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This post is in response to a request by KDW, following a post I did in the short stories section.

I thought we could try and create a list of ideas that explains how hooks are created, with a bit of explanation for each point. It will at least create a thread where we can direct the hookless for further info.

I will begin.

1) Hooks can be created by your style of writing alone. In my opinion this is one of the hardest ways to create a hook (on its own). The writing itself has to be done so cleverly that people engage with the narrator's 'voice' you establish. This is usually something only very experienced writers can do and novices can't. As prose improves, so will your 'voice', and it will certainly add to your total hook, but you may never be able to hook on the strength of the 'voice' alone. It is often better to use a combination of methods to create a hook.

2) Hooks can be created by the characters you create. If your create an interesting character people will read on to find out what your characters opinions and thoughts are. Often this will require elements of a good 'voice' to make it work successfully.

3) Hooks can be created by the world you create. If you give people a glimpse of a world that they want to know more about, you have created a hook.

4) Hooks can be created by the situation you describe. This is the most common. You introduce someone (MC) and something interesting/exciting happens. Some sort of conflict, perhaps, and the reader will want to know the outcome of the event. It doesn't need to be the main hook/conflict of your story, but it needs to be enough to pull them through until your next hook catches them.

5) Items can create hooks. Interesting technology or magical powers etc. can create hooks.

6) Unanswered questions create hooks, as long as they don't smack of withholding.

I got all the easy ones...anymore for anymore? If you feel I haven't explained a point properly or you want to add something, just post with the number of the point next to it. Put your own explanation in, or re-write all the points to your own satisfaction. I don't claim any ownership of these points, so feel free.


[This message has been edited by skadder (edited October 05, 2008).]


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philocinemas
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Skadder, thanks for this post. I've only been seeing certain types of hooks here, and I was feeling the 13-lines were being a bit limiting. This certainly clears things up for me. I can now align myself with the "13-line mantra" - I'll keep marching.
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TaleSpinner
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First, good topic and excellent starter post, skadder.

"Unanswered questions create hooks, as long as they don't smack of withholding."

I think witholding is a common mistake. Here are a couple of tests which I think help to distinguish between witholding and legitimate unanswered questions.

Is the question one to which the MC, at this point in the story, knows the answer? If yes, it's witholding. If no, questions the MC cannot answer are a great source of tension.

Is the question one to which those involved, and therefore the narrator, would know the answer? If yes, it's witholding. If no, its eventual answer lies in the natural narrative flow and, again, might be a good source of tension.

In other words, questions which are unanswered for the characters are legitimate.

Questions the narrator chooses not to answer are intended to create tension which is not authentic--tension which nobody in the story feels--and are not legitimate.

Hope this helps,
Pat


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TaleSpinner
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Unexpected juxtapositions.

The eighteen wheeler floating in San Francisco Bay (I really must write that one some time); a dog with cat's eyes; a cream leather car-seat with a smear of blood.

We read on to find out about the things that should not be together--why they're together, what happens next.

Pat


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TaleSpinner
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Ben Bova says one should establish a time-bomb early in the story.

Make it clear that if a certain problem is not solved by a specific date or time, a bad event will certainly happen--and that bad event will have serious consequences for the main character, with whom we feel some sympathy.

For example, in one of my stories, it's clear in the first 13 that if MC doesn't stop a certain politician from meddling, her research will be stopped and her home town will lose its revenues from the growing of rape-seed.

Hope this helps,
Pat


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annepin
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Thanks for starting this skadder. I think this topic is long overdue, as so many folks seem to think hook=action. I've said it everywhere I go, that a hook is anything that draws the reader in. Period. So now it's helpful to dissect the elements of a hook.

A hook can be a promise of a fresh take on an old story or an old situation.

As for your number 4:
"It doesn't need to be the main hook/conflict of your story, but it needs to be enough to pull them through until your next hook catches them."

Yes... but the "bait and switch" is a big no-no. You can't just introduce some hooky element devised simply to hook your readers. It must have some relevance to the central conflict, whether in setting it up, in presenting character, or something.


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extrinsic
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The most acclaimed fishing story of all time doesn't seem to have an opening hook, nor a First Cause or Inciting Moment, yet the opening drew me in like I was a fish-on! I've recently uncovered the opening hook, to my satisfaction. It's the emotional premise, begun in the title and developed in short order and perpetuated throughout the story. I issue a challenge asking anyone to name the emotional premise, the hook.

I've read and reread Ernest Hemigway's The Old Man and the Sea trying to unravel what makes it a powerful story. It's been a bench test for my developing theories of story, where I turn to for inspiration and technique when I'm adrift. The great wide world certainly saw--sees--the novela as a masterpiece of literature, barring the usual run of naysayers: 1953 Pulitzer, 1953 American Academy of Letters Award of Merit, a consequent Nobel Prize for the author, 1954. It's uncomplicated narrative is deceptively simplistic, yet open to a broad range of literary interpretations and widely appealing to the masses. I didn't fully appreciate why I and others liked it until I examined the emotional premise of the story.

And that, for me, is what all good stories universally share in regard to an opening hook, introducing the overarching emotional premise of the story. The opening, be it in medias re, sublime or absurd rhetoric, enticing reader curiosity through the dramatic premise, sympathy for the protagonist's predicament; voyeuristic identification with a character, the setting or milieu, an object, the imaginative premise; appealing to readers' emotions through the emotional premise is, in my final analysis, invariably the function of an opening hook.


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tempest
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what a great topic. it puts into words some of the very things i struggle with. since i know very little of the technical aspects of writing i have been relying on what "feels" right. i dont think i can add anything here, but wanted to express that its very helpful and im sucking it all in (especially as i am preparing my first "13").

extrinsic- of all the mandatory books that i have read over the years, the only one i remember anything at all about is "Old Man and The Sea" (with the possible exception of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). you have inspired my to read it again.

thanks all.


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skadder
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quote:
Yes... but the "bait and switch" is a big no-no. You can't just introduce some hooky element devised simply to hook your readers. It must have some relevance to the central conflict, whether in setting it up, in presenting character, or something.

I agree, however...

If your main story is about a space ship that makes a hyperspace jump and accidentally ends up out side the galaxy, the opening may be about captain hassling the the engineer to finish his repairs so they don't miss their jump window. The hook may be the pressure to finish the repairs in time--will they make the jump window or will the lettuce they are carrying as cargo go off as they wait for the next window? The reader will read on to see if the engineer is successful. The scene will provide the hook, set the scene, identify his character and the captain's and provide a pressure situation. Then the story will move on to the jump and the dawning realization the aren't where they are supposed to be. Later you may realize the initial scene also provides the reason the jump went wrong--the engineer was under pressure and mixed up some cables, but you read on because of the conflict and the pressure the engineer was experiencing.

The initial hook wasn't the main conflict of the story, which may be contact/conflict with an extraordinary alien species (The Borg!).


Just to clarify, the hook elements we are talking about are not confined to short stories, but also to novels. There is more leeway in a novel than in a short story.

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited October 05, 2008).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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As far as Hemingway, his prose is the hook. (As in #1.) Also, as has been discussed in another thread, Mainstream, Literary, Speculative Fiction and Mystery/Suspense attract different readers, with different expectations. Also, Hemingway isn't for everyone, neither is Orwell, Faulkner or Frost. In my oponion, a hook should transcend genre restrictions.

A good character may draw a reader from another genre in.

To continue Hooks:

A Hook can be established when the story starts in medias res (in the middle, or in the middle of the action).

Also, a first sentence can be a hook. On another workshop I frequent, there is a "First Line" competition. The rules are that the sentence cannot be an enormous run-on and you have to include the speculative element. It's interesting what the reults are.


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extrinsic
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I do find Hemingway's prose to be interesting but without a compelling emotional connection it would be a saccharine diet, not enough to absorb me and hold me through the story. There's another hook that's difficult to pinpoint, nearly invisible.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 05, 2008).]


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philocinemas
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Although I don't want to contribute to a Hemingway hijack of this thread, I must add something to this conversation. Hemingway was considered by most to be all washed up at this point in his career. His last significant novel had been For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940. It had been 12 years since anyone had read anything resembling his former literary brilliance. No one was asking, "When's the next Hemingway novel coming out?"

I believe what makes the opening of The Old Man and the Sea such a great hook is its great characterization. The MC is someone to whom we can relate at many different levels. I "saw" the MC vividly from the opening line of the story (just from the setting) - the later depiction only served to reinforce my mental image of him. Then Hemingway sets up an intense lingering empathy with the introduction of the boy and his dilemma - in reading this, I became the boy, caring for this grandfatherly person and wishing I could stay and help him. I am therefore thrust into the story at an emotional level. By the time we get to his eyes (lines 14-15), I am there to the end.


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kings_falcon
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Another good point about hooks is illustrated by the Hemingway discussion:

1) People are hooked by different things in the writing;
2) The best, defined by the ones that draw in the most readers, hooks combine elements - i.e. great prose AND a great character.


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skadder
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Hemingway may be able to do what you (plural) can't. You may fail to hook if you rely on just your prose and a character, because you don't possess (yet, of course!) the skills of Hemingway.

I would recommend using a number of methods to hook people in. Prose, character, situation, items for example.

We did a 13 line competition recently where dialogue could not be used in the opener. The results were interesting and came across as much more subdued than the usual entries. Perhaps a competition (for 13 lines) where only character and prose can be used would be fun. Perhaps a single reference to setting would be allowed. Just a thought--maybe someone could be bothered to arrange it? Anyone?


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Crystal Stevens
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I agree that the Hook should draw in whoever reads the story and that is what a Hook is for, BUT the one that must be impressed enough with that Hook to read on would be the editor who receives your story submission if the story is to sell. Am I right?
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extrinsic
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It seems my challenge to identify the emotional premise of The Old Man and the Sea wasn't well received so I'll state it in order to illustrate my insight. But first, the necessity of an emotional premise to the hook.

Interesting prose, interesting character, interesting milieu, interesting etc., make for interesting anecdote. Anecdote: a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident. Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary. Omit "biographical" and the definition also applies to fiction. No mention of plot, which is story rather than anecdote, although a story might be comprised of anecdote. Story-plot is for emotionally stimulating the reader. A hook is best when it begins plot movement by emotionally stimulating the reader. Ideally, the plot, the hook, the emotional stimulation begins in the title, and the emotional stimulation doesn't let up until the end.

Now that I've suspended the answer, not too artfully, long enough; The hook of The Old Man and the Sea is the sorrowfull plight of an old fisherman desiring to restore his fading prowess. The story premise, the dramatic premise, the emotional premise all rolled into one. And the outcome of all the premises remain in doubt until the fleshless marlin carcass rides up on the beach. A pyrrhic victory of the first stripe!


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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:

Just a thought--maybe someone could be bothered to arrange it? Anyone?

I've got it (see the challenge section).


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MrsBrown
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I've not read it in a while, so this may be off, but my first thought about The Old Man and the Sea is the conflict of life against death. That poor old guy seemed on death's door--he kept surprising me with an amazing vitality.

Extrinsic, your analysis rings true too. I remember my concern for the old man (and his suceess) as the motivating factor to read on.


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djvdakota
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quote:
BUT the one that must be impressed enough with that Hook to read on would be the editor who receives your story submission if the story is to sell. Am I right?

Yes, that's right. But, as is being discussed, the hook can simply be the quality of writing. I am MUCH more likely to read more of a story that's written well than one filled with grammar errors and incomprehensible meanings. Flowery writing doesn't particularly impress me either.

But more often it's a combination of things.

Hooks can be subtle or hammer-me-over-the-head direct, but they should never read as if they're TRYING to hook me.

And PLEASE never forget that a hook is NOTHING if the rest of the story is crap. Just because you were able to hook the editor won't count for squat toward publication. We do read the whole story--if it lives up to the promise of the hook and keeps us interested, anyway.


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J
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Extrinsic, I agree with your analysis (The Old Man and the Sea is my favorite book of all time--I read it every year while sitting on the beach), and with all the following comments about what makes the book compelling.

But I do think the book has a traditional hook.

The very first sentence is "He was an old man who fished alone in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."

Bam! Right off the bat, we're hooked. He's an old man and he fishes alone--we can infer he's a fisherman by trade, and not very well off. And he's gone eighty-four days without taking a fish. That's not only a long time, he's obviously keeping count and its important to him that he hasn't caught a fish in so long. Right away, we know the hook--what is going to happen on the eighty-fifth day?

[This message has been edited by J (edited October 09, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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I do agree that the hook is a traditional one. What I wanted from analyzing The Old Man and the Sea is to be able to identify all the benchmarks of plot, including the hook. For a significant fraction of readers, the novella is a tedious read. After all, it's just a fishing story with a slow pace until the marlin is on the hook, isn't it? Not much after that, either, is there? Yet, the First Cause begun in the title is completed in that first sentence, along with the Inciting Moment, all the premises relative to plot, and, of course, the Hook. Life and death, man and primordial nature, Hemingway's ultimate expression of his cult of manhood themes.

And the author is totally invisible within the frame of the story, isn't he? I think one interpretation--my favorite--is it's a para-allegory for the plight of an aging writer's experiences in the publishing world. I have yet to find anything within the story that contravenes that interpretation--what are the sharks who rip the flesh from the marlin carcass?--other than the deeper meanings are not in the high-premise concepts and are totally impossible to interpret from the superficial story. That interpretation keeps bringing me back time and again.

I've wondered, though, if anyone else sees the seemingly glaring plot hole of marlin being caught for food. It's not, although I've discussed that possibility with intelligent people who thought so, mostly well-read sport fishermen. Me, I've tasted raw marlin. It is horridly bloody and oily, nothing whatsoever like any variety of sushi. Grilled is almost tolerable. Salted and smoked, delicious. Jerked, uhn-uhn-uhn, I've had none better.


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steffenwolf
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I realize I'm in the minority here, but I did not enjoy The Old Man and the Sea. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was assigned reading in high school and perhaps my age did not allow me to relate to the character. The hook didn't hook me, which is probably appropriate, since the body and ending of the story was on par with my low expectations. If I had picked it up on my own, it would have become the 2nd book I gave up on in mid-read. People have recommended Hemingway to me over and over, but I'm reluctant to spend any time on his other stories, considering what I thought of this one.

*tenses to run from the angry mob of writers*


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arriki
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I hear where you're coming from. I was never forced to read Hemmingway in school. I suffered through MOBY DICK, though. Cried my way through I hated it so much.

A couple of months ago I decided to fill in some of the holes in my education. I checked THE SUN ALSO RISES out of the library. Hated it. A long, dull story about people some of whom have too much money hanging out with others who don't and they ALL have too much time and no goals in their lives.

I also checked out THE GREAT GATSBY and came to somewhat of the same conclusion only there was slightly more plot. It was no surprise to me that Daisy killed the woman by accident (oops! Did I spoil it for anyone?) Nor that Gatsby took the blame for it for her. There were moments of great composition in both stories, but their sum was -- for me -- less than zero.

On the other hand, I DID like ATLAS SHRUGGED and 1984 and LORD JIM and lots of other classics. There MAY be some hope yet for me?

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited October 21, 2008).]


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J
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Start running.
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steffenwolf
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Now, J, let's be reasonable. Put the pitchfork down and let's talk this out. I'm sure you hate some stories that I like too. It's only natural. And if you keep waving that torch around you're going to start your hair on fire.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I decided in high school that Hemingway was a better short story writer than he was a novel writer. I just didn't think he could sustain characterization (except, maybe for the point of view character) for a whole novel, and I thought his female characters had less personality than inflatable dolls.

So you're not alone, steffenwolf.


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Robert Nowall
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I thought Hemingway was better when I didn't have to read him in school. In school: The Old Man and the Sea, which I got not to liking. Once out of it, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, a bunch of short stories, and the late-in-life essays in A Moveable Feast---all of which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Moral: being taught in schools may sell your books, but it doesn't make readers like me like your stuff.


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extrinsic
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Required reading list (partial list);

BrontŽ, Emily, Wuthering Heights.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness.
Crane, Stephen. Red Badge of Courage.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea.
Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha.
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book.
Laurents, Arthur. West Side Story.
London, Jack. White Fang, Call of the Wild.
Maugham, Somerset. On Human Bondage, Of Mice and Men.
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind.
Mitchner, James. The Drifters.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm, 1984.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet.
Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle.
Steinbeck, John. Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row.
Voight, Cynthia. Homecoming.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions.
White. E. B. Charlotte's Web.

In high school, I read all of the above and twice as much because it was required. Red Badge of Courage is the only one that was a chore. I started reading books without pictures in first grade, the first one, Emil the Tapir, but I don't remember who the author is. I should note that I graduated high school with vocational, college prep, and honors endorsements.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 22, 2008).]


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steffenwolf
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Kathleen, I've never read any of Hemingway's shorts. Maybe I should pick one up to see if I like it.

extrinsic, I have read surprisingly few books on that list (though many are on my to-read list).
I did have to read Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders as school assignments. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and intend to re-read them as an adult. Lord of the Flies was scary and entertaining to see what became of these prep school boys. The Outsiders I read when I was about the same age as I think the protagonist is, which probably helped.

I also enjoyed "Interstellar Pig", another sassigned reading which was probably my first exposure to SF. I'm not sure that one would stand up to an adult reading.


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Zero
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I think developing a full appreciation and understanding for classic literature depends on quite a bit more life-experience than most high-schoolers have. So, the net result is a lot of pissed of teens who are put-off by the English language in general, and reading in particular.

I have always thought an equal or greater focus on enjoyable reading could be just as productive, or more so, for young adults. Even in half-baked pop-culture writing several interesting insights can be gleaned. Why not make it fun? And why not encourage more writing projects instead of just digesting the writing of others?

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited October 22, 2008).]


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philocinemas
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Lord of the Flies is one of my all time favorites!
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most spectacular uses of "word-play" I have ever read.

extrinsic - Were you trying to see if anyone caught your Of Mice and Men reference? - I'm sure you know it was written by Steinbeck - (Isn't that right, George) - Another favorite! - Great ending (really).


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kings_falcon
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Back to the issue: Of those books that did hook you and you enjoyed - WHY??


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arriki
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Emotion. They all raised some emotion in me.

Curiosity is a big one. There are others, though.
Wanting to hang out with a character is another that works with me.
Connecting to something I'm interested in will draw me in past the first page, but you better have a good story or I will eventually put the book down.

Wanting to BE there, whether it's ancient Egypt or 23rd c. Marsport, if you can paint the place so it sounds REAL, I'll keep on reading...a ways.

Always, always -- you have to have a good story to KEEP me reading.

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited October 22, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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I felt the emotion of each and every one of the listed stories. I felt I was in the place and time and presence of the characters and settings and such, even Red Badge, but it hurt to read it so that made it a chore.

What I've sought lately in studying several of those stories and others is how exactly the writer accomplished absorbing me into any given story, sure, emotionally, but through what methods. My latest and perhaps final writing epiphany gave me my answer. It's the way that the several essential features of plot are consolidated, coordinated, organized, escalated to provide an emotionally stimulating story.

In short, it's through semantic spatial orientation, animate through obviate relationships, how thinking feeling beings feel about others and objects and places, their feelings, orientation, and hierarchy related to their semantic space. Whoa! wow! what an insight! My fingertips vibrated when I had that epiphany. They're still tingling.

I see semantic spatial orientation now in all stories as the logical, causal, and emotional organizing plot feature. Through semantic space, a story involves a reader in the story by involving a reader in the emotional contexts of their goals, desires, feelings, and their interactions with their semantic space as it's represented by a story. A story draws a reader into its semantic space, barring disengaging peccadilloes, the reader is captive to the story.

I've heard it said that like art, a good story appeals, how or why it appeals is open to debate, if it's knowable at all, but you'll know it when you see it. I've found what for me is universally how a story appeals. I now not only know it when I see it, I see why and how "and that has made all the difference." Pages to write before I sleep. Quote and bowdlerization from Jack Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
----
No, philocinemas, I wasn't up to some treachery, just a typographical artifact of composing and sorting the reading list.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 22, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Jack Frost?
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extrinsic
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Doi, I'm becoming absent-minded. Robert Frost, of course.
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aspirit
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Well, Jack Frost provided the snow that inspired Robert Frost, right?

extrinsic, when you use "semantic spatial orientation", do you mean the order in which information is provided to the reader? When I see the phrase "semantic spatial orientation", I think of the deliberate distribution of carefully chosen words, punctuation, and white space to produce an appropriate image on the page (not in the mind). I suppose both are important: An imbalance in the latter could alert the reader to problems in the former.

For example, if the following were the first lines in a story, I think most people would think "Amateur" after a single glance. Tell me if I'm wrong.

---Start Example---
Samantha Turner cut into the cake while singing "Happy Birthday" to herself.

No one else sang, because no one else was in the room.

She was celebrating her birthday alone.

Again.

She sighed as she dropped a piece of cake onto a gleaming topaz-colored plate. She licked pink and white icing off her fingers.

And sighed again.

She wished she had a cat to share her "special day" with, but her gray tabby cat, Sally Sarah Mae, had died a week ago from cancer. Maybe it was for the best. Sally Sarah Mae hadnít liked cake.
---End Example---


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extrinsic
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By semantic space, I mean the way we perceive, order, project, and orient our place and emotional state in the scheme of things. Any given individual nominally places him or herself above others in animacy, or self-importance, emotionally and physically. Exceptions might include placing deities, respected superiors, and authorities above the self, though those examples are as likely to be placed below the self as above. (That goes to my insight into liberal versus conservative social values as they relate to story [not political values].)

An intimate, familiar married couple might place one spouse's authority over the other's in both's perceptions. The one who assumes or usurps dominance often doesn't regard the feelings of the other, effectively causing misunderstandings that rock the relationship. And the dominant partner doesn't and can't figure out why there's a misunderstanding, which is caused by the dominant partner obviating or diminishing the feelings and importance of the submissive partner, typically by acting without consulting the submissive partner or by assuming a controlling attitude or guardianship of the submissive partner. Often, the submissive doesn't know the reason for the hurt feelings, either, or even that the dominant perceives them as the submissive partner.

There's a bunch of ways the relationship is jeopardized by presumed superior animacy, but, in all, the dominant assumes or is led to assume the submissive is incapable of taking care of self due to real or imagined dependency upon the dominant partner. In other words, the dominant is the more animate partner to the relationship, the submissive is less animate. Children, often less animate to the dominant, more animate to the submissive because in that role the submissive is the dominant of the children, and so on. The pets, perhaps less animate to the partners, more animate to the children. The cars, the house more animate to the dominant, less animate to the others, perhaps. The cell phones, televisions, iPods, hmm, and on and on. The neighbors, the coworkers, the strangers; the enemies closest by, the enemies farthest away in semantic space, the lawn, the housework.

How semantic space relates to story, particularly causality, is how it's oriented and organized for each character's actions and reactions and emotional responses. Say, the protagonist, borrowing from the above example, is celebrating her birthday alone. (Tragic, yes, for most people. I've forgotten mine once or twice.) Samantha has limited potential for revealing any semantic spatial orientation, no one to interact with in the passage. She's barely aware of her semantic orientation to the other objects in the scene as it is. Thus she's not acting, reacting, or emotionally responding. A reader is left alone to develop emotional context from the cake, the unknown knife, the solitary birthday celebration, the prosodic plate, the icing, a cat who's died of cancer, her sole emotional utterance, "Again."

For purposes of plot and semantic space, I've uncovered a formula for causality that follows a logical train of thought and/or action. Cause / emotional response / action related to the cause / emotional response / reaction related to the cause and the action / emotional response / effect related to all the preceding that elicits an emotional response and in turn becomes a new and correlated ongoing train of causes. In each phase of causality, a character--or a living thinking feeling being--how they're semantically oriented influences how they will logically respond.

Again from the birthday celebration, Samantha's logical responses derive from the First Cause, she's alone, and she wishes she weren't, the effect. The wish should be the inciting moment when the forces in opposition come into play, but don't. Say, an additional antagonism related to her solitude that drives her to seek company or invent it. Either she's going to be proactive in fulfilling her desire or she's going to accept it. But in accepting it, she's bound to fail. She's a social being and she's not being social, wants to be socializing. The way she logically demonstrates that is through reorienting her semantic space to feel less alone. The inaminate obviate objects, like the cake and the plate, become more animate to her emotionally. Then after she's shown how truly alone she is by placing inordinate emotional significance to otherwise everyday objects, then and only then, can she escalate her emotional state by going into the dead Sally Sarah Mae's emotional siginficance to her.

However, me, I'd want to have an insight or foreshadowing of where the story's going within the first few lines. Say, projecting from what's there, Sally Sarah Mae is in a supernatural way more present than Samantha realizes and a reader gets to know before she does, and thus, the reader is involved in the semantic space of the story as a participant in the coming suprise. Huzzah! the hidden value of a hook now revealed; involving a reader in a story's semantic space.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 23, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Cool analysis, extrinsic, thanks.

And for those of you whose eyes have glazed over, please try again. What extrinsic is saying is worth reading, even if you have to do it slowly--a little at a time--in order to "get" it.


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extrinsic
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Thanks for the thumbs up, Ms. K.

In my exuberance to share, I didn't express the concept of semantic space as succinctly as possible. Simply put, semantics is the study of the meaning of language, semantics meaning, meaning, literal and figurative. In story, semantic space is the meaning of a story's premises given to a reader through a writer's perceptions and responses to those perceptions.


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kings_falcon
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Darn extrinisic! That's good. It's going to take re-reading it a few times to get the nuances but that is profound.

To (over)simplify for my head (so tell me if I'm off course)- semantic space is a cause and affect chain that is overlaid with where the character is in the social interaction chain.

The Samantha scene which could be emotionally dense falls flat because there are no social interactions to put a context on the situation. So the reader can't make the emotional connection to the scene and while Samantha is doing something the scene "feels" passive. There's no dominant or submissive to interact with the energy - either by trying to take it (dominant) or by giving it (submissive) to the scene/MC.

Close???


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philocinemas
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I am currently reading an essay, "Living the Future: You are What You Eat", by Gardner Dozois. It is primarily about science fiction and how many writers take a static approach to society when writing about the future. He discusses how every aspect of life (emotional, social, psychological, behavioral, etc.) can be changed by one new technology or event. Society is organic and constantly changes, and this should be reflected in one's writing.

I feel that he was touching on something very similar to what you are stating - characters and plot need to be organic, always acting and reacting in an appropriate time and way according to circumstances within the pages. Everything has bearing according to its animacy.


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extrinsic
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kings_falcon, right on target, but adding the emotional context as well, what all of those things mean emotionally. Where we feel we are, where others feel they are, how we feel others feel about where we are (watch out for the persistent feedback loop), and most importantly in life and in story how those feelings change.

I concur, philocinemas, we are what we eat, even if it's eating crow.

I'm still feeling the quickening of writing satori. I've written one story to test and apply the hypothesis of semantic space, wrote it in a flash, uhn. It's good, I know it's good, though it's literary in its conventions. C'est la vie.


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J
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Steffenwolf--I keep my hair cut short just for that purpose. You know what they say, "Set myself on fire with a torch once, shame on you; set myself on fire with a torch twice, shame on me."

Extrinsic--I get what you're saying and like it. I'd love to see your test story.


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arriki
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extrinsic -- you said -- For purposes of plot and semantic space, I've uncovered a formula for causality that follows a logical train of thought and/or action. Cause / emotional response / action related to the cause / emotional response / reaction related to the cause and the action / emotional response / effect related to all the preceding that elicits an emotional response and in turn becomes a new and correlated ongoing train of causes. In each phase of causality,

To me this sounds like what Jack Bickham discovered and wrote about in his book, SCENE AND STRUCTURE. Have you read and compared yours with his?


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kings_falcon
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So, if we started the Samantha scene with her and her teenage son fighting about his going out, and his leaving regardless of what she says and then a short time jump to her cutting the cake in line 13, NOW you have a scene that resonants and creates emotion. Why?

1) Established Samantha's place in the pecking order - she's submissive to her son;
2) The effect of that is she's not able to control or influence what he does;
3) The son doesn't consider his mother's feelings in his actions
4) He leaves
5) she spends her birthday alone and abandoned by the one person who should feel some sort of gratitude toward her.


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extrinsic
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arriki, I haven't read Scene and Structure. I abandoned writers writing about writing several years ago. Suffice to say that each respected author's take offered some small insight, many of them identical insights, but one or two insights per 100,000 words struck me as a bait and switch racket. Eighty thousand words of (to me, gloating) self-promotion, ten thousand words of demonstrative "show" that I felt could have been better "told," and ten thousand words to say what could have been said in one hundred, padded out to absurd extremes.

I'm not outright condemning what to me appears to be an industry-wide promotional marketing practice, rather than what I sought, genuine "how to" manuals. I do think that one good intention of writing compositions is to save every emerging writer from having to reinvent the wheel, but I've not yet read anything that does that. What I've read leads me to believe that a story writer can't write an effective "how to" manual. Their talents lie in other areas. Nor, for that matter, do I think that story writing can be taught with a "how to make" manual. "How it's made," yes, past present tense not future perfect.

I've grazed what's available for review of Jack Bickham's writing compositions, and read several of his seventy-five novels. He's on to something. What I take from what I reviewed is his "Emotion, Thought, Decision, Action--Scene and Sequel" is macro oriented on scene flow and transitions between scenes. For me, my formula works at that level, more importantly for me, it works at the micro level, at the level of a clause or sentence. I've observed how emotional responses to causes, actions, reactions, and effects occur in the moment, even in action plots and in life. Sometimes the entire flow of my formula occurs within one short paragraph, in a moment's time within a story, sometimes in a single clause, sometimes only a cause followed by an emotional response effect. I believe story has evolved since he wrote. The evolution being in-the-moment sequela within the unfolding scene.

Jimmy's pellet struck the plank beside Janie's head. Her eyebrows arched, she yelled, "Oh, no, you didn't." She ducked behind the barrel and drew her slingshot.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 26, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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kings_falcon, yep, adding a character for Samantha to interact with solves the lack of anyone to orient her semantic space with regard to other people. However, in another way, being faithful to Aspirit's orginal example, I projected that her solitude is complete. She's a much more profound solitaire if she has no person to orient with. An additional character changes the dynamic of the example.

Instead of adding persons or objects to the scene, I projected Samantha interacting with the objects in the passage, seeking to reorient her semantic (meaning) space through what's available. (I also projected that she's had lots of practice at orienting her meaning space through objects.) The cake, perhaps a store-bought knock-off, for example, after lighting the numerous candles, say, twenty-plus or more crowded onto the tiny cake, they burn furiously and ruin the cake decoration. She scrapes off the scorched "Happy Birthday" writing and wax puddles before she cuts a slice. At that point I'd have her remark something to the effect that even the things in her life deny her meaningful companionship. Then follow up with the gleaming topaz-colored plate perhaps reminding her of a happier day, say, where the plate came from. But relate that too in a way that shows her crushing despair.

Perhaps the plate came from a long-lost companion, or worse, she bought it in an effort to belong to some social organization, say, of plate collectors, but it was all she could afford and she was rejected by the collectors as much for being uncommitted as because she's an emotional vampire. She doesn't know consciuosly that she's that needy. But the way she narrates it, a reader will. I'm taking this to an extreme for purposes of demonstration. My purpose herein was to work with what's been given and see where it took me.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 26, 2008).]


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arriki
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Yeah, I know what you mean. Few books are really helpful. In the past couple of years theyíve gotten smarter. They talk about more than setting, character, plot and how to get an agent. I find an occasional book with some helpful insights. Unfortunately, those lack examples. Oh, they refer to some novel or even quote a paragraph to illustrate their point, but itís never enough.

Thatís MY problem. Examples. I can comb through published novels looking for them, but a lot of the time Iím unsure. Is THIS really what X meant? Or does it include those two more paragraphs? I am aching to find people to discuss writing with. To help me decide what the books meant. To figure out how that applies to what Iím currently writing.

Bickhamís book, SCENE AND STRUCTURE, was one of the first I ran into that went beyond the surface to actual, useful insights into story structure. It took me a long time to figure out what his words actual described. I assume if I had been one of his students at the U of Ok, I might have learned what he was teaching faster. Sigh. I have forged ahead on my own (since heís dead) and made more discoveries. Still there are aspects of writing stories which I do not fully comprehend. Tools I can see but cannot yet use.

Examples, the search for examples that clarify the insights is what Iím looking for. I need some other writers to discuss them with. Not as is done here. It would mean exposing long passages of mine Ė our Ė own works and having to hand some of the same published novels to indicate passages in for examination. That sort of thing.

I canít find anyone. With all the writers out there, it seems no one is interested in working hard to find new ways to write better. Itís far too easy to deride even the effort.


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aspirit
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Your last statements are unfair, arriki. Everyone works at writing differently. What I see in your post is a complaint that we aren't playing with you the way you want us to. I'm guessing you need a face-to-face writers' group to supplement Hatrack. To form a group, advertise for interested writers at your library, in your newspaper, or elsewhere; or, attend the nearest literary convention and talk to attendees until you find potential members. By creating a smaller group, you can direct the learning activities.

[This message has been edited by aspirit (edited October 27, 2008).]


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