Just over a week ago — Good Friday, to be exact — we visited another National Trust site, accompanied by our grandson, Ben. Amongst the attractions was a makeshift fair, one stall of which was the hook-a-duck. Ben, being seven, immediately lobbied us to try this out.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but somewhere in my distant past when I were a lass and gerrin’ up at five in’t mornin’ to light fire for me da before he went off t’werk — okay, that might be a slight exaggeration; I’m not quite that old, yet — hook-a-duck possessed an element of skill that made the effort seem worthwhile. The plastic birds would bob about on a pool of water at enough of a distance so as not to make the exercise seem too easy, and in order to connect hook with said duck, a degree of fine motor dexterity was necessitated. Even then, if all went swimmingly (like the pun?), you weren’t guaranteed a prize. Chance played an all important part in the equation because you couldn’t be sure you’d hooked a winner until the underside of the duck was revealed.
On the aforementioned stall, these ducks, conversely, looked like they’d been on steroids, were stationary — the ‘pond’ being devoid of any water — and used a hook that sprouted an eye capable of restraining a small dog, should the need arise. The stall holder made no effort to build the tension by throwing down the gauntlet to this young child, who saw it as a quest to overcome; one of his many rites of passage. In fact, she barely looked at him as she took his £2.50 and placed before him a laminated card stating that he was already the winner of any prize. And this was before he’d even picked up the hook. By doing this, not only had he been robbed of any incentive to strive, he’d also been denied the satisfaction of winning, or the impetus to try again should he fail. She might just as well as cut out the middle man by handing over a plastic sword and saved herself the cost of half-a-dozen ropey-looking PVC fowls, especially when the entire ‘hooking’ experience was over in three seconds, anyway.
This got me to thinking — WARNING: Carrie Bradshaw alert — that games like this are akin to a good story: in order to keep turning the page there needs to be a hook with which the reader can connect, clues to challenge their prevailing understanding and red herrings to keep them guessing and earn their literary supper. Would the experience be as satisfying — would we even get past the first few chapters? — if all the pivotal plot points and resolutions were laid bare and immediately obvious, like that of the fairground attraction? The story might contain much the same constituents as another, but there’s no doubt it would make for stultifying reading when presented in this way. The lesson for me to take from this is, like the fairground stall, if a writer doesn’t generate enough interest to make the reader want to invest time in their novel, they will lose faith and move on, never to return. Hook-a-duck proprietors: Take note!
Photo image courtesy of: https://www.ptasocial.com/fun-activities-for-your-outdoor-summer-fair/