Justine: Regard Readers as Fish

eight ladies writing, writing hooks, hook your readerDid I get your attention with my post title? I hope so. I wanted to “hook” you in, make you want to read. And that’s what I’m talking about today — hooks.

We’ve all heard about the importance of writing a “good hook,” one to get your reader invested in your story. Typically, the concept of the hook is relegated to the first chapter/first few pages of your book (or even just the first line). However, hooks need to be pervasive in your book. You don’t just want readers getting hooked on page 1 — or line 1, for that matter. You want to hook them at the end of each chapter, forcing them to turn the page and start reading the next one. Think of fishing: you don’t just drop one hook into the water, hoping the fish will jump into your boat, you drop many — well, perhaps only one, but you do it over and over and over again.

A few months ago, I wrote about the saggy middle, and how my saggy middle is at the beginning. I’ve been spending the last several weeks working on re-writing that saggy beginning and just today, put together a sequence of actions for Act 1, and that’s when the whole hook thing hit me (please don’t ask me why it took me so long — I’m still muddling over that one).

Before today, I would end a scene at the end of the scene. I know that sounds dumb, but bear with me…I’ll use an example.

Susannah is at Hyde Park to meet with one of her marriage-in-name-only candidates for a ride around the park. The gentleman shows up, helps Susannah into the carriage, then, instead of getting in, holds the horses’ head while Nate climbs in the other side (it was Nate’s idea — pretty good, eh?). They ride around the park; she’s mad, he’s lecturing her about the creeps she’s leading on, they run into his mom/sisters, who clearly want this match to actually happen (much to both Nate and Susannah’s embarrassment). Susannah says she’s had enough and tells Nate to take her home.

THIS IS WHERE I WOULD NORMALLY HAVE ENDED THIS SCENE! Kind of a boring end, eh?

However, I decided to pull a little of the next scene into this one and end the scene on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Nate takes Susannah home, walks her up the stairs, and she opens the door and enters. She turns around to close it, and *surprise* Nate has stuck his foot in the door to keep it open, then comes in right behind her.

THIS IS WHERE I END THE SCENE NOW.

What I’m hoping (fingers crossed!) is that when my readers get to the end of that scene, they’re compelled to keep reading, because they want to know what Susannah is going to do next! (And Nate, for that matter — remember, he’s been tasked with courting Susannah to get into her Uncle’s house, and now he’s in for the first time!).

When I think about the books I read, I realize that authors do this a lot (they must, or why would I stay up until 2 a.m. reading a book?). However, it’s never registered with me as something intentional that they do. In fact, I’ve done this a couple times in later scenes, but I didn’t think about doing it — it just happened.

So, is this something you intentionally do? Unintentionally? What other devices have you used to hook a reader and keep them reading?

8 thoughts on “Justine: Regard Readers as Fish

  1. You know, this would be fun to do with a favorite story. Go through the book and note what is at the end of each chapter. I might try this when I get home and get to my library of favorite books. (Sadly, I don’t have any of them on my Kindle app yet. I should fix that.)

    • I think we kind of did this in class when we analyzed beats. There had to be change at the end of the scene. That’s not exactly a hook, but with good writers, you can definitely see the change.

  2. One thing I do is change the set of characters you’re talking about in the next chapter. So if your chapter ends with Nate following Susannah into the room, you start the next chapter with Uncle Henry talking to the Bad Guy about Susannah’s dowry. Or something like that. Or the chapter ends with somebody hurling an axe—and then you have to go to the next chapter to find out what the character hit.

  3. I just had this discussion with a writing buddy of mine. If the author ties everything up neatly at the end of the chapter, it’s far too easy for the reader to set the book down, and there’s no impetus to pick it back up again. The book may be very good, but without those end-of-chapter hooks, they lose their urgency.

  4. I think I’m not bad at making sure there’s change by the end of each scene. I’m getting better at making sure that change leads the reader clearly to the next scene or future action. I need to get much better at figuring out how to break the story into chapters. I remember a discussion at McD that went along the lines ‘chapters are not narrative units, more like periodic breaks with a hook at the end,’ but at RWA National, I got clear, unequivocal feedback that chapters are indeed narrative units, and that I needed to do a much better job of making sure that mine hang together. I’m on it. Sigh.

    • A lot of people are getting away from the chapter structure. Terry Pratchett, for example, doesn’t use chapters (at least, not always. Now I’m not confident in saying that). But, if it works as a handy structure, why not use it? Some people use acts to group a bunch of scenes. I can see chapters being used to group a bunch of scenes, but I haven’t seen an explicit explanation of what exactly you are grouping together — in the act structure, A is supposed to happen in Act 1, B is supposed to happen in Act 2, etc.

      Plus minus situation. The chapters don’t have a “checklist” by which you can check the development of your work. But it’s also very flexible, and if you need, for example, 13 acts, then it’s easier to just call them chapters.

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