By Hook or by Crook

My daughter is in middle school.

I’m sure we all remember the books we were asked to read in school. I remember “The Lord of the Flies,” “The Scarlett Letter,” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Oh, and the plays. The Crucible. Romeo and Juliet. And the short stories: Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” and let’s not forget “The Lottery.”

I specifically remember “The Lottery.” In my humble opinion, we have a twenty-first century equivalent of that story: “The Hunger Game.s” Yup. The whole premise is that some innocent person has to kill or be killed in order to feed his–or her–family. Someone must lose their life to sadistic, unreasonable, societal expectations, either to entertain the idle in their bloodlust, or to maintain savage “tradition.” I thought we were past this as a society. Personally, I think the whole idea is degrading and animalistic, but what do I know? I didn’t want my children to read the book because I have this funny, old fashioned idea that children need to be protected from depravity and savagery, but guess which book my girl was assigned in her literature class?

Fine. I told her she didn’t have to read it if she didn’t want to, but she said she would give it a try. When I asked her what she thought, this is what she said: “I hate the story idea, the premise of child gladiators killing each other to feed their families, but—” her words not mine: “The writing was so incredibly great that I was pulled in from the first lines.”


My curiosity piqued, I mentioned this to my friend Lauren, a fellow Snippeter and a writer-who-sees-clearly. She sat down and analyzed the first page of that novel. What was it that pulled the reader in and didn’t let them go?
Hooks. Lots and lots of carefully placed, well hidden little two-or-three syllable temptations that have you miles deep in the story before you know you’re through the first page. This is what Lauren said:

“In the first paragraph, author Suzanne Collins introduces the main character, the family situation, and a hint of poverty. She ends with a hook. She mentions “the reaping,” an ominous phrase that brings to the subconscious mind visions of a dark hooded specter carrying a scythe. The second paragraph also ends with a hook. And the fourth paragraph refers back to the hook in the first paragraph, and the menacing hope of “the reaping.”

By the end of the first page (or in reality, page and a half) she’s introduced the setting, the main character, the society, and leaves with another hook, pulling you through to the next page. What is the reaping? Hope for better, the word suggests, since it’s a cause for gift giving. So far it’s the only thing mentioned more than once.

It doesn’t start into the action immediately, as some people seem to think is necessary. It sets up the situation in careful detail and leaves us wanting more by the use of carefully spaced hooks. This story has been painstakingly crafted, the hooks placed with caution and deliberation, to keep the reader reading.

It is also written in present tense, which makes the action (or rather lack of it) more immediate. But that’s another story.”

Now I have my next focus of study. But I’ll figure out how to use hooks to draw my readers in with anticipation, with joy. Not with dread. I think the literary community from Euripides to dystopia is saturated with dread. And I’ve had enough of dread.

By Ava Mylne

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7 responses to “By Hook or by Crook

  • Alice

    I like what you had to say about hooks and Hunger games certainly has a lot of them and draws you in right form the start. Even though I think the premise of Hunger Games would be horrible and barbaric in real life, I find the story fascinating and loo forward to seeing the movie, but I hope they tone some of the violence own and don’t make it too graphic.

    I was thinking the other day of what people could do to protest if something like this ever really happened, and I came up with the idea that the teens could just refuse to fight each other, even if the government killed them all for it because all but one of them would die anyway. Of course all of them would have to agree to do it, and that probably wouldn’t be very likely, but it would be an alternative to killing each other.

    And if that happened in the story, well, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell unless they did it in the last book. I just like coming up with my own scenarios for things. Must be the writer in me. The story certainly gives you lots to think about and leaves room for discussion in a class situation, but it might be a bit much for some middle schoolers.

    I’d be interested to hear what our followers think of hooks and Hunger Games.

  • M.L. Forman

    I haven’t read Hunger Games, but I did read the cover in Costco the other day. Sounds like a re-do of The Running Man – yes, an Arnold movie, but I believe the original story was done by Steven King. (go figure) I also never had or got to read The Lottery in school, though all the others are familiar.

    Without talking about a specific book or story, however, hooks are possibly the most important part of your writing. The hooks get people to turn from page one to page two, they are what get editors and publishers excited about your work. Everything you write needs hooks, lots and lots of hooks, but the real secret is to hide them. Obvious hooks work some of the time, but the hidden ones, the ones that nobody really notice until they sit down and think about it, are the ones that keep people reading and leave them wanting more.

    Hey, if you want to catch fish, you gotta have a hook… or a really big net.

    • Ava Mylne

      Thanks Alice and Mark, for reading and replying. I had a reply all written out to post, but I read it to my husband and he laughed at me. 🙂 So I will get off my rant. Hooks will definitely be my next area of study though. Thanks again for your input.

    • Alice

      Thanks for your comments Mark. Great advice, but tricky to do. Will have to try hiding some hooks in my WIP. I think we should have you back on for another podcast on hiding hooks in your story. What do you say? Are you game?

      • M.L. Forman

        Well, I’m no master of hidden hooks, but I’d be happy to come back and talk about it with you all. Let me know when works best for you guys, and I’ll see what my schedule is like.

  • Alice

    Awesome. I think we have an opening in March or May. Would either of those work for you?

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