Question from the e-mail: I'm taking a class at my local arts center. I'm "from the community" and not a "member" there, so I'm a bit of an outsider. They rarely comment on my work, except to give a general comment like, "Perhaps a bit flat..." or "Might need a bit more reader involvement." I'm used to a little more detail in critical statements. I don't need polite chat. Iwant them to tell me what is WRONG and then to tell me how to FIX it! Can you figure out what they mean?
Your former student, Jeanne.
Answer: I think so, Jeanne. "A bit flat," usually means they don't care enough about what's happening to the characters. "Might need more reader invovlement," means about the same thing and the way to fix that is to put the character in danger of losing what he or she wants and by including more "hooks," so the reader will care what happens--
"Reader Involvement," means the reader has to be involved in your story, to CARE what happens next.
A hook should raise a question in the mind of the reader that will be answered before the story is done. Hooks heighten reader interest, pure and simple. There are teachers who will tell you that hooks are the stuff of pulp fiction and are "beneath" the writers of literary fiction. I disagree with that. In good literary fiction, the hooks are there, but they're just more subtle. I firmly believe the difference between "page-turner, commercial fiction" and " beautiful, gripping literary prose," lies only in the subtlety of the hooks.
Look at the paragraph above describing Carolyn LeCompte's book. In the first line you have the following hooks: Hawaii (a dream vacation spot we'd all like to visit); Troubled Past (promises a back story that will make you care about the heroine; Lucas Henshaw is the first obstacle (A interesting male to give her trouble); and "But he's not the last…" a promise of plenty more difficulties.
What do do those hooks promise? A young woman (a stranger in a new environment and situation) will encounter trouble brought about by an attractive man, and (probably together) they will encounter More Trouble.
Remember, if your Protagonist (main character) isn't in trouble, there is no story. Readers should identify, like, and root for your protagonist to succeed. If they don't care whether the main character finds a way out of her trouble, that is "lacks reader involvement."
Don't forget, every story ever written is about someone who wants something, and whether they get it or not.