Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Classic Hook - 2

Here is another example of the classic hook via long-range story questions about the core conflict — the opening of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), literary fiction by Harper Lee.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when he first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.
That opening won't set your hair on fire, either. But you can see that the craft has advanced in the thirty-five years since the publication of The Great Gatsby. This advance was partly due to Hollywood's discoveries about the art of storytelling. Lee's opening tells you what the story is about, posing the long-range story questions about the core conflict that are answered in the end. Those questions arouse your curiosity. How did Jem's arm get so badly broken that it's permanently deformed? Who are the Ewells and what did they do? The very name of a character like Boo Radley makes you curious about him. Where was he hiding? Why wouldn't he come out?

So this example of the classic hook is quite effective.

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