One of the things I keep seeing when people give you recommendations on writing a novel is that you need to have a hook early on. The hook in this regards is that part of your storytelling that glues the audience to your product, and makes them stay until they’ve enjoyed it fully.
The Hook extends beyond publishing of course and it’s perhaps one of the first things people tell new creators about. Your game needs a hook early on, to grab the player. Your TV series needs a strong hook on the first episode, something to keep the audience coming back for more.
Films on the other hand don’t need a hook, I feel, as there is no reason for the audience to come back for more. There isn’t more, not unless it’s a multipart feature or a series of films and usually so many years have passed between them that the hook itself becomes inconsequential. Films depend more on the overall quality of the story or the filmmaking, and it’s the experience as a whole that will make people come back for more…or not.
Every time I hear about the hook I can’t help but groan, because I don’t think it’s that important to be honest. Sure, a good hook will grab your interest immediately but I’d rather have no immediate hook if the payoff will be much better. I have read countless novels with a powerful hook that ultimately led me to nothing but annoyance and frustration. The same has happened with games, with titles having strong openings that fizzled out almost immediately.
If you want an example, I’ll have one that’ll raise some eyebrows: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a novel with one hell of a hook in the opening chapters but ultimately being one of the most boring pieces of fiction I have ever read. The hook brought me in but the rest of the novel failed to keep my interest. It took me months to read, because I had to force myself through another chapter.
In games, there’s Night of the Rabbit, and it was the same thing, a strong opening act leading to boredom with an unsatisfying story and some of that frustrating moon logic you find in Daedalic Entertainment games.
But at the same time there have been many novels, series and games without a clear hook for me that got better as I pressed on through it. The lack of an instant attractive quality isn’t enough to put me off, as I always try to watch, read or play all the way through or for as long as I can stave off the tedium.
Take Wynonna Earp. My first reaction to it was lukewarm at best but on keeping with it, I found a pretty good show. Same thing happened with the first season of True Detective. I hated the first episode, found it thoroughly boring, but on watching the next few, the storytelling drew me in.
So I ask this question: is the hook necessary? Most experts in their fields will tell you it is and in fact many an agent says that having a killer hook within the first five to ten pages is essential for your book to even be considered for representation.
I honestly call that into question every time I read or listen to it, as I feel it’s a cop out answer in the best of times and at worst forces storytellers to conform to a pre-established formula for their fiction, even if the specific story needs that slow build to be effective.
How many games have you played where the start of it isn’t much to talk about but as you get into it and find its complexities, you discover a wonderful experience? For me, and to once again mention my frenemies Daedalic Entertainment, I had that experience with Memoria, a title I didn’t expect much from and which at first had some of the telltale signs of Daedalic-ness, but then the game and Daedalic surprised me with a wonderful story, ingeniously crafted puzzles, becoming what is to this day my favourite Daedalic Entertainment game and the standard by which I now judge all their creations.
In novels, I never found Dune to have a very strong hook. It didn’t have a powerful opening, but instead it was the storytelling as a whole that kept me going and ultimately made it such a fantastic novel to read, and this is considering the fact its protagonist is a Mary Sue—let’s face it, he is.
I don’t believe in the importance of The Hook in entertainment, particularly in publishing. In fact, I believe that demanding a hook be there only stifles creativity. In fact, I believe this to be true for every form of entertainment. Games don’t need hooks and neither do TV series. The content itself should be enough to keep you there.
After all, people as a whole don’t have such short attention spans that not having an instant hook will make them disregard potentially good content.
But I know I’m being extremely naïve and that bottom-line and revenue concerns are what drive this need for a hook.
What do you think? Have there been books, games or TV series without a ‘proper’ hook that you ultimately loved? How about the other way around? Let me know in the comments, Facebook or Twitter!