The Sky Is Not Blue

In any writing course I’ve ever taken, whether it was high school or college English or whatever else, I’ve always heard about the hook: a statement or idea that catches the reader’s attention and keeps them, well, hooked. This is a difficult concept to put into practice well.

A few years ago, my dad knew this guy who was writing a book and wanted a hook. He thought about it and thought about it and finally he found the perfect opening. Guaranteed to keep people reading. He let my dad read the first page when he was ready to look for a publisher and Pop glanced at the words. “The sky is not blue.” Oh, that’s interesting. But after he read past that first sentence, he found that nothing following it had anything to do with skies or the color blue. Original thinking? Oh yes. Successful? Probably not. As far as I know, he never got published.

So that’s one way to think of the hook. Another way would be to look the hooks from famous authors who did get published:

“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

You’ll find 197 more examples here.

Journalists really have to understand the concept of a hook. If you read newspaper articles, there’s always a headline and then a lede. The lede is the intro, explaining in a brief one or maybe two sentences what the article is about. This and the headline, but especially the headline, draw the reader in. For example:

Gunman kills 12 in Colorado movie theater

A heavily armed gunman attacked an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater early Friday, tossing tear gas before opening fire on the terrified audience and killing 12 and wounding 38, authorities said. The theater was showing the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” —Michael Pearson, CNN

I know most people have heard about it by now, but I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and facebook updates that seem trivial if they make no mention of the event. I know that’s silly, but I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. The people who lost loved ones and those who had to witness so much violence somewhere they should have been safe shouldn’t have to feel alone. It’s almost like James Holmes was telling people watching the movie that there is no Batman who could save them, not in real life. But there were villains who would hurt them. That’s when approximately 200 policemen answered the call for help.

Sorry if I sound preachy or corny. It seeps out sometimes. Like a gas leak. You can’t see it coming or even when it’s there, but oh boy can you smell it.

If you don’t mind occasional gas leaks, be sure to subscribe or comment.

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