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