Wednesday 2 May 2012

Penalty for Hooking

I don’t like being manipulated. 

Writers create hooks to pull the audience into their stories by posing questions that the reader or watcher need the answers to.  It’s part of the job of being a good storyteller, drawing people into the story and keeping them engaged.

But I really dislike it when those hooks are obvious.  I hate it when a story starts with a scene from the middle or the end, usually with a misleading twist to it.  Television shows usually have the teaser with an alarming or surprising situation and then a tag saying X-amount of time earlier.  Novels try similar tactics but don’t often tell us exactly how much earlier the story starts.

A good example of the technique is the prologues of the novel Twilight.  It suggests that Bella will die to be with Edward when the scene actually refers to sacrificing herself to keep her mother safe. 

It’s clearly an effective technique since people keep using it.  But I read a lot of stories and watch a lot of TV, so it becomes very obvious.  And since I know the scene in question is misleading, it becomes irritating because it assumes I’m an idiot.  I know the main characters in a long running series aren’t going to be killed off in a mid-season episode.  So showing them to me in a scenario that implies they’re going to die doesn’t intrigue me.

I much prefer to be sucked into a plot subtly.  I like it when the twists and turns of the narrative seem inevitable, each step pulling you deeper and deeper.  I like being immersed in a plot rather than having too much time to guess at what’s going to happen.  When the hook is obvious, I begin to think, what are the options?  What are they really trying to do?  If the characters are appearing to try and kill each other, then I know one of them is under outside control or it’s a fake-out to fool someone or one of the other standard options.  I would much rather not know it’s coming so that by the time the scene arrives, I’m too caught up to consider all the different plot paths.

Predictability is boring and when a device is over-used, it becomes predictable.

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