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Monday, May 01, 2006

In the Beginning

Abandon the inverted pyramid, O ye writers of narrative nonfiction. Structure the story to suit your purpose. But you still have to set the hook in the beginning.

(Remain calm. Sports metaphors will remain at a minimum in this blog.)

Setting the hook is not the same as baiting a hook, although you can be forgiven for confusing them. Baiting has to do with tempting. You disguise the hook with a yummy something-or-other so the fish will want to swallow it. Once the hook is baited, you put it in water.

When a fish is nibbling is when you set the hook. You pull tight the line hard and fast so the hook pierces the fish's tough mouth. If you set the hook well, the fish can't swim free until you unfasten it.

By the time the reader nibbles through the introduction, you have to set the hook so that the person is compelled to keep reading--whether it's an essay, feature, or book. Readers are busy, besieged by choices of things to read (books! e-mail! school news! back of cereal box! etc., etc.), and jaded.

How long your introduction is depends on the length of your piece. Sometimes the hook is set in the first sentence. Or you can be like John McPhee, who crafts a long introduction that can outline each book. Obviously, he's got more room to work with.

category: craft


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