Building Hooks: Taking a Cue from the Harry Potter Series

At the Merging+Media lab and seminar back in April, Anita Ondine talked about the need to build "hooks" into a transmedia property. This was the name she gave to those bits of story that are put in one medium that draw you to another medium, another part of the story. They're the pieces of story that hook together the whole project, the things that make it one whole rather than a lot of pieces, the things that make it transmedia storytelling.

Last month, leading up to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, I re-read the entire Harry Potter series. In a month. I'd only read the books once each, previously, way back when each first came out, so re-reading them -- especially in such a short span of time -- was a great experience and led to a lot of insights I had previously missed.

One of these, which I wrote about on my blog last week, is Rowling's brilliance in setting up a story device in one book before having it be a vital part of another book. For example, Harry Hermione and Ron create polyjuice potion in Chamber of Secrets to spy on Draco, then in Goblet of Fire, polyjuice potion is the main plot point of Crouch's disguise through the whole book (with hints such as his continual hip-flask drinking and his real identity appearing on the Marauder's Map). Polyjuice potion comes back again in Deathly Hallows in the scene of seven Harrys.

Another example is the establishment of animagi in Prisoner of Azkaban (and the fact that some are registered and some are not), and then bringing that back as a plot point for the mystery in Goblet of Fire with Rita Skeeter.

And while this is amazing storytelling on its own in the form it's in, it occurred to me that this is also a good example of how hooks could be built into a transmedia property. What if the use of polyjuice potion was set up in a novel -- but then the villain who uses it as a disguise did so in the ARG storyline? Previously encountering polyjuice potion isn't necessary to follow the new storyline; if there's a mystery involved, all the clues can be contained in the one medium without requiring having read Chamber of Secrets. But if you did encounter it before, your experience of the whole will be that much richer for it. You will see the ties between media, you will see the consistency of the world.*

Rowling does this a lot with characters, too. Rita Skeeter's a good example, when she returns to help clear Harry's name in Order of the Phoenix, then again in Deathly Hallows as the author of Dumbledore's biography. But it happens too with many other recurring minor characters, especially in references to family trees and relations.

Referencing things like minor characters across multiple platforms and through multiple stories helps demonstrate the wholeness of the world in which those stories take place.

It shows that each does not exist in a vacuum, but truly all live in the same world, building on each other. And encountering them again and again is a reward for the audience member that follows through all the media involved in the property, to see those hooks from one piece to the next.