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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Keeping the reader hooked

Thank you for your first sentence submissions! I hope the comments were helpful in some way.

Now, lets talk about those other hooks I mentioned on Tuesday. Once you have the reader's attention, you want to keep it. You do that by hooking them at every opportunity. The beginning of every scene/chapter and the end of every scene/chapter.

I admit, this is something I'm still working on. Some of my chapter endings make it easy to put the book down--bad!

For a great example, think of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I'll admit it took me a page or two to get into this book, but by the end of chapter one Collins has you and she doesn't let go. Think about the end of each chapter. Did each chapter resolve?


Collins was brilliant in her breaking the scene in half with her chapter breaks. That's how she kept you reading. You had to start the next chapter to see how Katniss made it through the immediate conflict/task. And then Collins started a new conflict before the end of the chapter making it VERY hard to find a place to put the book down and go to sleep.

Now, we can't all copy Collins because we have our own voices. But, think about ending each scene with a cliffhanger (hook) so the reader has to turn the page.

Here are some of the last sentences from Sendek. Some of them work as hooks. Most of them don't. Granted they work better with the context of what comes before. For the most part I have a lot of work ahead of me based just on my endings. I bolded my favorites.

It was a high price to pay--his soul--but the demon would prolong his life and give him strength to carry out his plan for revenge.
How I wished he were here to comfort me now.
He hoped the magic of dragons would help him return to Dailya when all of this was over.
There were mages somewhere on the planet and he needed to find them.
I sighed as part of me wanted to accept his invitation.
Whatever potential he has will be wasted if he follows me onto the tram.
16 (scene break)
The whispers of his mind didn't have time to register before everything went black.
He trembled as he heard the lock click in the door behind him.
"Too bad for you this is the hell I came from."
29 (scene break)
My stomach flip-flopped as I realized I was about to meet more people like me. (This is a horrible sentence!)
34 (scene break)
I gathered the energy until I exploded.

Look through your manuscript and just read the last sentences. Make a list if needed so you can see all of them at once. It is amazing what you can learn about your writing.

I just learned that Talia passes out A LOT. I need to fix that.

Take a look and share what you learn about your MS and some of your favorite last sentences as well!


Huntress said...

Near the top of my all-time-favorite list of books is the series The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.
He ends several of his chapters with rather blatant foreshadowing events.
"I thought he was harmless. I was a fool" is an example.
I cringe slightly (yes, it feels like blasphemy to say so), but it makes me turn the pages so fast that I nearly rip the books apart to get to the next chapter.

Charity Bradford said...

Oooo, I just finished The Name of the Wind! Loved it! and you are so right.

mshatch said...

I concur - mightily!

Ellie Garratt said...

Fantastic post - I shall bookmark it for later!

Ellie Garratt

David Jace said...

I have to disagree with this view. It's far better in a book than in a TV series, but I hate it when shows do this; why would I want to do it to my reader? I actually stopped watching Heroes in mostly because of their constant dedication to doing exactly this.

If I have written a good story, my reader will come back the next morning. Why shouldn't I give them a convenient place to take a break? Isn't that what chapters are for? Why not just get rid of chapters all together, if you are looking for a gimmick to keep them reading.

I certainly don't mind some cliffhangers, but every chapter? That seems a bit much to me. It doesn't feel like you are working in a cooperative union with your reader. It's like getting a coupon that is only good on days that end in U.

Huntress said...

It’s a matter of increasing the stakes, building conflict until the end of the chapter.

For example, let’s say the tension level at the beginning of the chapter is a 4 out of 10. By the end of said chapter, you should build the conflict, whether by action or dialogue. That doesn’t mean a 9 or 10 but definitely, it must rise above that initial 4.

Raise the level, the stakes, create discord to carry the story forward.

Cliffhangers aside – and I agree with you on Heroes, sheesh, what a waste of a good program – it is the protag’s stake in the game that keeps the reader turning pages, either by subtle methods or big bang.