Friday, June 22, 2012

In Defense of the Hook

It seems like it has become morally suspect to suggest that a book, essay, or story should have a "hook." The implication seems to be that it's a contrivance or a gimmick, and as such, I understand why it has become unfashionable to use the term. Still, I think there is something to be said for thinking in terms of a "hook," and so I'll try to say that something.

Perhaps the problem is the term "hook" itself, which implies the reader is a fish. The reader is not a fish. The reader is an intelligent human being with many demands on his/her time--but in abandoning the term hook, it seems like too many writers also forget this crucial fact of the reader's humanity. Too often, I see writers who seem to feel that the reader owes it to them to slog through pages or attempt to penetrate their word puzzles and mind games just because the writer bothered to write the pages in the first place.

The reader, however, owes the writer nothing. In fact, it's the reverse. If someone has been gracious enough to spend time and money to read our efforts, we owe them.

What I like about the term hook is that the metaphor implies the writer should offer the reader some morsel up front--something we can see and smell and taste just as much as we can see, smell, and taste the barbed hook itself. The writing needs to establish a reason for us readers to willingly sacrifice our time.

Ultimately, the hook should not be a gimmick. If it is, chances are the reader will be disappointed in the work. Readers will rightly feel cheated. Instead, the hook should offer readers a glimpse of what the rest of the piece promises to give: romance, tragedy, mystery, comedy, philosophical questions, etc. The hook establishes the art of the book. It is the offering the writer makes for the reader's time. The best hide hooks themselves because, like well-tied flies, they feel a natural part of the narrative landscape. When those lures are artfully done, I as the reader will bite every time.


PS. (ten minutes later)
After writing this I stumbled across Julie Ritter's poem "Ravi Shankar Hand Dip" at Synchronicity?

Quick as a fishhook flared into the water,
the way hip rubs against hip intentionally
unintentional on the dance floor, furtive
as a glance at someone else’s bank
statement, palmed like a cigarette in the rain,
the fingers exploratory, an insect’s antennae,
twitching to capture texture to populate
the hinterlands of a long winter night alone,
a maneuver not catalogued by the Kama Sutra,
but full of nervy frottage, pervy wattage,
a slip of skin on skin thin as a wine glass stem
and more circumspect, harder to unpack
than a tackle box and oft-deployed in subway
cars and murky bars – that’s the hand dip.

No comments:

Post a Comment