Pitches, queries, back cover copy, and full-length stories all have writing techniques in common. For one thing, they all need a strong opening. We talk about that being a “hook,” something that grabs the reader and pulls them forward to the next line, paragraph, and page.
A similar approach works within our stories too. We might employ hook lines to create a “dun dun dun” feeling during a scene. At the end of scenes and chapters, we often want to use a line similar to a hook to ensure the reader doesn’t use that scene or chapter break as an excuse to put down the book.
Anyone who’s beta read for me can attest that I use these cliffhanger-type lines at the end of many scenes and chapters. I enjoy being mean to my characters and that often translates into making the reader want to continue reading to see what happens next. *smile*
One of the workshops I attended at the Desert Dreams conference this past weekend was called Hooks and How to Use Them: From First to Last Word! by Terri Brisbin. She pointed out that hook lines at the end of scenes or chapters fulfill the same purpose as those at the beginning of a story:
“[It] leaves the reader wanting more—more information, more emotion, more of the story.”
However, just like in real life, being in constant crisis mode can be draining. Readers need a bit of breathing room too. The incomparable author/blogger Janice Hardy is full of good advice about how to use sequels to provide a quiet moment between big scenes.
On the other hand, we have to be careful not to release the tension too much. Terri’s workshop gave me some insight into how the lower-crisis moments of sequels, whether they’re a single line or a scene long, can still pack the punch of a hook to pull a reader forward.
Terri shared four main types of hooks:
- Physical Journey: An action that propels the reader along the external plot.
Just then, a body tumbled down the stairs and stopped at her feet.
- Emotional Journey: An emotional statement that propels the reader along the internal plot.
At his declaration, the wall around her heart crumbled a little more. Not again.
- Reveal a Secret: A revelation that gets the reader’s mind turning with the consequences and new story possibilities.
“Luke … I am your father.” (*ahem* Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
- Introduce a Mystery: A revelation that creates more questions than it answers.
Caller ID displayed Rick’s number. But if Rick was on the other end of the phone, who was singing in the shower in the next room?
These hooks all maintain the tension in a story, but some cause a more immediate sense of crisis than others. By mixing up these types of hook lines at the end of our scenes and chapters, we can prevent the pacing and tension from being too “one note.”
The “Emotional Journey” approach works well with lower-crisis sequels while still maintaining tension by hinting at future issues or foreshadowing problems yet to come. Some “Introduce a Mystery” and “Reveal a Secret” lines need to be dealt with right away, and some play into overall story questions that add tension without requiring an immediate response.
If we use enough of these hook lines, we don’t need to plan chapter breaks in advance. Every 8-20 pages, I simply pick one of the good cliffhanger lines and insert a chapter break. By rotating through the types of hooks, we ensure our chapter breaks don’t give readers an excuse to put our book down.
These same types of hook lines work for the end of our query letter, pitch, or back cover copy. Again, the purpose of “leaving the reader wanting more” is the same. A reader who wants more after reading our paragraph or two will want to read the first page, where we’ll hook them into reading the scene, the chapter, and then the whole book.
Hooks kidnap readers and force them to experience our story, from beginning to end. And if we do our job, they’ll be hooked by our writing and will be eagerly awaiting our next book.
Do you end your scenes and chapters on hooks or cliffhangers? Do you mix and match the types of hooks you use? What hooks entice you the most? Do you plan chapter breaks in advance or use the “pick a hook” method?Pin It