Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hooks and Endings

We all know that we have mere pages to hook our reader’s interest in our story. There are certain things that need to be in the first paragraph, first page, first chapter that will engage the reader and keep them reading.

But what about after the first chapter? What keeps them from putting the book back on the shelf? Or cleaning the kitchen? Or, worse yet--*gulp*--turning on the TV?

Hooks are a continuous part of our novels. Each chapter beginning should start with something to grab the reader’s attention, just like the first chapter. It doesn’t have to drop you into the middle of a big action scene, but it should spark the reader’s curiosity.

Just opposite of the beginning, of course, is the end of the chapter. The end of a section is a good opportunity for the reader to put the book down for a bit or even so they can go to bed. A writer’s job is to make that as hard as possible. Yes, we can torture our readers as well as our characters.

The end of chapter should end propelling the reader into the next chapter (where they will be hooked by the beginning…see the endless, vicious cycle?) to find out something. Great places to stop our called cliffhangers. Some will be stronger than others, some are emotional and others are physical situations. Either way, they should leave the reader with a question in their mind? Will the heroine escape the fire? Will Bob cave to his fear and not ask Miss Marilynn to marry him? Where’s the baby? Got milk?

So, how do we accomplish these tasks over and over again? Here’s some tips and tricks:

*Create conflict/tension at the beginning of the chapter, stop at the height of it in the end.

*Drop the reader into the middle of an action scene, stop before an action scene is completely resolved.

*Avoid pleasantries to open/close a chapter. I’ve read in different places that most of the time, a writer can cut the first few lines, or the last few lines from a chapter, and the reader will still have all the information they need, but the pacing will be better (and possibly the tension/conflict stronger).

*Before you answer a story question, propose another one. Also, put off resolutions until the next chapter, but don’t forget to raise the stakes.

*Unless you’re writing a suspense/thriller/horror novel, not every chapter can be filled with non-stop action. Even in those novels, writers have to give the readers a break. Work on finding emotional hooks/cliffhangers to keep the tension high without resorting to someone getting killed or landing in the middle of some precarious situation.

*Never take the easy way out.

Here’s an example from my WIP:

End of Chapter 11:

She stood and brushed the loose grass from her pants. “Did you come back to harass the crazy lady?

“Do you really think you can help?”

She drew her lips into a line and shook her head. “I don’t know. I have no idea what God intends for me to do with this gift. The fact is I witnessed the murder for a reason and now I need to see it through.”

He stared off into the distance. His jaw muscles twitched.

She didn’t care if he believed her—it wasn’t like he needed to—but she needed to solve this puzzle. Her whole body ached for answers.

At last, he jerked his head toward the car. “Get in,” he growled. “But not a word to anyone as to why you are with me. Understood?”

Beginning of Chapter 12:

Axriel approached Rochester’s new office with his blood boiling. The human body’s reaction to anger aggravated him even more. The racing of his heart, the drumming in his temples, the way his skin turned an ugly shade of scarlet never ceased to irritate him. Sure, he got angry. In fact, he got angry quite a bit, but his demon form showed no physical signs. He was free to act on that emotion as well. He didn’t have to cower behind human confines and relegate his anger to a small corner of his mind.

What do you think?

When we keep our hooks/endings strong, that’s when we hear of readers who stayed up til 3 a.m. to finish our novels. We get to be the blame for tired moms, zombie employees, and children who fall asleep in class. That’s quite the accomplishment, isn’t it?

What other tips and tricks do you have to offer? Also, I would love to read your favorite chapter endings/beginnings from your own WIP.

1 comment:

  1. This was the topic for yesterday's Seekerville blog. Here's the end to Chapter 3 [I posted it there too]. Julie Lessman made a couple of suggestions but I, uh, haven't done anything with them yet ;).

    Cast of characters:
    Mandie - it's her POV
    Liz - her twin sister [who fully expects to be engaged to...]
    Joe - Liz's boyfriend/almost fiance and twin brother of...
    Nate - Mandie's defacto date and the exboyfriend who broke her heart 5 years ago
    Mark - Mandie's very recent ex-fiance

    He had held my seat for me as I sat down. It would be so easy to let myself pretend that the intervening five years hadn't happened and that we were in the same place Liz and Joe were. I wondered what it would be like dancing with him, now that he was all grown up and filled out just right. I thought he might even be slightly taller than he had been when he'd moved away. Though if the last five years hadn't happened, if he hadn't broken up with me, I would probably have been his wife for at least a year by this point. I sighed and couldn't let myself dwell on what could have - or even should have - been.

    I mentally shook myself. I wasn't going to go there. If he asked me to dance, I might dance with him, but I wasn't going to set myself up to be hurt again. The pain of the breakup with Mark was still way too recent and I had promised myself years ago to never trust Nate again. After Mark, I was beginning to wonder if any men were truly trustworthy.

    Our appetizers had arrived when I heard something that made my skin crawl. It couldn't be. I must have heard wrong. I used my fork to take a bite of something I barely tasted, focusing on anything but the voice behind me. The one calling my name. The hand resting on my shoulder. Nate standing up next to me, eyes blazing. I closed my eyes and prayed desperately for strength to get through the next few moments with a bit of grace and my dignity intact.

    Finally, I looked up. "Mark," I said, nearly wincing at my tone of voice. I was sure everyone else was, too. "What do you want?"


Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts/opinions.