Friday, January 13, 2006

The Classic Hook - 3

In a first-person novel, the narrator is a character. Just plain curiosity about the narrator can serve as another hook. Mark Twain arouses this curiosity masterfully in the opening of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.
And that brilliant stroke of reverse psychology makes us instantly curious about him.

But Huck is telling his own story. Nick (the narrator in The Great Gatsby) and Scout (the narrator in To Kill a Mockingbird) are telling other people's stories. So, you don't want Nick and Scout to steal the show. That limits what the author can do to arouse curiosity about them.

Also, it's always harder to sink your hooks in the reader with a first-person novel. This is partly because your opening must introduce a main character (the narrator) at the same time and partly because, when people tell a story, they start at the beginning — with exposition — not in the middle of some exciting action or dialog.

Unless you frame the story in it, as Anne Rice does in Interview with the Vampire.
"I see . . ." said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window. For a long time he stood there against the dim light from Divisadero Street and the passing beams of traffic. The boy could see the furnishings of the room more clearly now, the round oak table, the chairs. A wash basin hung on one wall with a mirror. He set his briefcase on the table and waited.

The vampire immediately grabs our attention and makes us curious about him. Great hook. But at a heavy price. The vampire's narration of his story is framed in an interview with the boy. So, this is actually a third-person narration of a narration from the boy's viewpoint. The immediate scene is at this table in the vampire's home. Not in the story he tells. At best, during long quotes of the vampire's narration, the reader drifts into something like "immediate scene once removed." Thus the frame distances us from the story, and that's ordinarily the last thing you want (though you can make a case for imposing this distance on such off-putting subject matter as this vampire story). So, frames usually cause more story-telling problems than they solve.
Therefore, unless you have a good reason not to, stick with third-person narration and hook the reader with teases.

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