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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Friday, October 12, 2007

Leaving them Asking for More: Hook Endings -- Priscilla Kissinger

Hook your reader. If you’ve ever read a how-to book, or listened to a presentation on writing, I’m sure you’ve heard those words of advice.

Hook the reader: in the beginning and at the end of every chapter. Later on in the month, Trish Milburn will share pearls of wisdom about opening lines and how to reel in the reader. Today, I’ll share with you my thoughts about leaving the reader wanting more.

Have you ever read a book where, as you reach the end of the chapter, you find your heroine breathing a sigh of contentment as she climbs under the covers (alone), ready for a good night’s sleep (hence, she’s going to bed, alone; meaning, no hunky hero nearby ready to ravish her or to be ravished). The heroine lays her head on her pillow, closes her eyes and drifts off to sleep. Seconds later, you, the reader, close your book, turn off the light, and join her. The perfect chapter ending, right?


You don’t want someone to put your book down. You want readers so engrossed in your character’s story that they have to keep reading, have to know what happens next. For your contest entry, especially one the length of the GH, your entry may wind up stopping at the end of a scene, in the middle of a chapter. In this situation, some writers make minor changes in order to have that hook ending.

Some of my Posse sisters have volunteered their winning or finalist entry hook endings as examples.

From Saving Grace, by Norah Wilson

Jumping up, she seized the handle of the satchel and dragged it closer to the edge of the bed. A tug of the zipper, a wrench of the wrists and the bag lay open.

Grace leapt back. Holy cow! Guess she hadn’t remembered everything she’d packed.


His name emerged as a croak, probably because of the fear making her tongue cleave to the roof of her mouth. She swallowed, then walked carefully out of the bedroom to the head of the stairs. She called Ray’s name again, louder this time. He materialized below a second later.

“What is it?” he asked, his expression politely inquiring.

“I think you’d better come up here and take a look.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I really want to know what’s in Grace’s bag. Notice the details that show us Grace’s anxiety and pull the reader in: fear making her tongue cleave to the roof of her mouth, her voice a mere croak, she tugs the zipper and her wrists wrench. And then, the big question at the end that has the reader turning the page to find out what Grace found in her bag.

From Diane Perkins, who said she often altered her entries from the “whole book” version when her entry ended at the completion of a scene instead of a chapter:

The sound triggered memories. Voices of dying men assaulted his ears. His knees trembled, and he feared them buckling underneath him. The dream of Waterloo assailed his waking moments. With it came the terror that had only been too real.

Clamping down on his panic, he rushed into his bedchamber and pulled fresh stockings from the chest. He shrugged into his coat, and retrieved his boots from the parlor. Without a word, for he could not guarantee his words would be coherent, he rushed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

Me? I’d be following this guy out the door. Intrigued by the panic rising inside of him, needing to know more about the memories the sound triggered. There are hidden pains deep inside him and I want to know about them.

From Trish Milburn, the last paragraph of Ch. 1 and 2 from Coven, winner of the 2007 YA GH:

Ch. 1

She had to learn to control her emotions and powers better or she’d have to leave him behind, him and the belief in soul-deep love he brought to life in her.

Ch. 2

“Excuse me.” She headed for the bathroom. Everyone would think it was to wash the ice cream out of her hair or to cry. They wouldn’t have any idea it was to prevent herself from killing one of their classmates.

Gulp. Um, “killing one of her classmates”? This girl is practicing some pretty heavy will power if she can walk away from this situation. I’m following her anywhere ‘cuz I want to see what she’s up to next.

From Mary Fecter, the end of Ch. 1 from Beneath the Surface, 2007 finalist:

He was a free man now. She had no hold over him.
But she couldn’t say he no longer had a hold over her.

She’s still in love with him, or at least, emotionally tied to this man. I’m thinking she wants to keep this to herself. Will she be able to? How will it effect her life or what she does next? I want to know, so I’m turning the page to find out.

From Cradle of Love, my 2003 finalist entry:

Dinner was going to be an interesting affair. Raquel was less than pleased about him joining them. Tony grinned, ignoring the prick of guilt for enjoying the opportunity to make her squirm a bit. It was high time the tables were turned.

Hopefully, you’re interested in sitting down to dinner with Tony and Raquel, anxious to see what trouble he stirs up.

The bottom line is this: you want to leave the judges clamoring for more. More about your characters. More questions about their conflict. More cravings to see the romance flourish and flounder. More, more, more.

Take a look at your chapter endings. You may even need to add a line or two to your contest entry. It’s okay to do that. Nothing drastic, mind you. Just the little zinger that has the reader giving you the 9 your entry deserves.

Have you considered your entry ending? Have you made any changes? Is there a compelling hook ending you’ve read recently and want to share? Let’s hear ‘em!

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At 11:49 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

It is a great rule of thumb to end chapters on a hook, Pris.
For the GH, it is great to try to end your partial on a hook, even if it means contributing fewer pages than the entry calls for. Leave those judges wanting more!

Loved these examples!

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Rianne said...

Great stuff. You're giving me all kinds of ideas on how to tweak the endings of my chapters.

But what if the 'hook' ending of the chapters (1,2,3) will make the chapter page counts vastly different. Eg. Chapter 1, 12 pages, Chptr 2, 20, chapter 3 22? Pick something different to end the chapters with so the spacing is similar?

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

rianne, I personally believe leaving them at a really engaging point at the end of the partial is more important than the internal hooks. So if you have to choose, I'd go with that.

I have to admit that I don't understand the whole, "end your chapter on a hook so they won't put the book down." I mean, that's what bookmarks are for, right? I don't routinely stop at the end of a chapter. I just stop any old place.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

I think the point, Esri, is that it's easier in people's minds to say, "I'll stop reading and go to sleep as soon as I finish this chapter." But if there's a big hook, a question they just MUST have answered, they'll keep reading. We want our books to be so wonderful that they are unputdownable. I'm sure we've all had a book we were reading that was okay, but it was easy to put down and we didn't feel any great pull to pick it up again. That blahness is deathly to contest entries. I call them the plain vanilla entries.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

So we're keeping these people from their beds? Seems kind of cruel to me. ;]

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Keri Ford said...

Trish, I do that whole, I'll stop at the next chapter thing. Only before I know it, it's freaking 2 am and I only have 50 pgs left to go. And that chapter I planned on stopping at? somewhere about 300 pgs back.

Those are the winner books and always go on my keeper shelf.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

I'm a read-to-the-end-of-the-chapter person. If not, certainly to the end of the scene. I like natural story breaks. I hate putting a story down in the middle of a paragraph or just anywhere.

I assume most judges read like me, although I realize they may not.

So endings are important. I'm glad to find out, however, that it's okay to submit fewer pages if need be.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

LOL, Esri!

I LOVE reading a book that is unputdownable. Esri is right, it is sort of cruel that the really great authors do that to us, but some books are just so good you just don't want to go to have to find out what happens next!

And Priscilla is right. If the characters are singing lullabies and rocking me to sleep than that's exactly what I'm going to do...put the book down and sleep.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Rianne, I agree with Esri about chapter length--- ending at an engaging point is more important than page count. Now, I'm not saying a 6 page chapter is okay--unless they are KILLER pages-- (grin) but you get the idea. Drawing the reader in is better than dragging a chapter on because you think you need 3, 4, 5, etc. more pages.

Unputdownable--- Super word, Trish!!

Keri, I've done the exact same thing. I may be dragging at work the next day, but the book that kept me awake is a sure keeper. And a new reference for me.

Patricia, it's definitely okay to submit fewer pages to a contest. It's much better to send 42, instead of 45 pages, especially if the ending grabs the judge and leaves them "asking for more".

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Trish Morey said...

Great topic, Pris, and so important to make the most of those hooks.

Rianne, if it's any help, forget chapter length and concentrate on making your story shine. Sweep your readers away to your world and I swear nobody will be comparing chapter page counts.

And while we're talking chapter length, using shorter chapters up front of a book can also set up a fast paced read. I often find with my stories that first chapter might be anywhere from only four to ten pages long. The second might be slightly longer, the third longer again. You want a punchy start and you want to drag that reader along with you for the ride and no, no, no, we are not going to let Esri put that book down and go to sleep! :-))

Now in contests that ask for only the first three chapters, you might have to fiddle with these and run a couple of chapters together so you don't end up with only a thirty page entry, say, instead of 45, but that hook won't be wasted. It will still be there at the end of that first scene to propel the reader into the next.

And definitely end the partial on some sort of cliffhanger, even if it's half way through a scene - a shock discovery, a brilliant line of dialogue, an accusation, a question, an indecent proposal, a turn around by one of the main characters - but make that judge want to buy that book the minute its published so she can read the rest. Like Pris says, leave them wanting more!

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Ami said...

I am loving all this GH stuff. I've already learned a ton. The examples today are excellent. Hmmm. Are all those books pubbed now? Actually, I just found you guys this month. I, ah, googled Trish when I was trying to find the GRW Maggie placements and eventually ended up here. :)

Looking forward to next week!

At 9:00 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Those were some really great examples! I get it now. Of course it means I need to move the ends of some of my chapters back a bit! LOL I tend to want to write to a resting point. I'm a musician. We do that. I realize now that leaving them wanting more is one way to get them to keep reading - judges, editors or readers. I also think it is brilliant to write shorter chapters up front to keep it moving. I am learning so much from these blogs! Thank you, Posse!

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

ami, we're glad you found us!!

I agree with Trish Mo, rianne. Don't worry too much about chapter length, but remember longer is slower. I'd try very hard to avoid any one chapter over 25 pages.

everybody stop in on Sunday and see who wins the critique of the first 5 pages.

At 12:07 AM, Blogger Trish Morey said...

doglady, that's really interesting what you were saying about being a musician so wanting to write to a resting point. I heard a brilliant piece of advice somewhere along the line (wish I could remember from where so I could give them the credit, but someone might recognise it and set me straight). It's another great one for pacing and goes (something)like this - leave a scene a couple of beats early, enter a scene a couple of beats late. Less, this way, is always more.

I figure this is why people on telly never say goodbye when they're on phone calls - they just hang up when the business is done. I used to think they were rude, but it's keeping the focus on the story and not letting it get bogged down in hellos, how are yous and goodbyes.

As writers, we don't want to do that either. Plus we don't need to do it, the reader will fill in the blanks.

At 12:16 AM, Blogger Trish Morey said...

I'm with you Diane - 25 pages would be about my limit too (especially in short category romance).

Hey, good luck all on scoring a critique!

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

I've made it a habit to stop on a hook, never a resting point. that's because we all love those resting points, and like to read to a resolution. But that means nighty-night time. Sorry I'm mean, but I want to keep you up all night.

I recently heard a well-known author say she had been told she didn't really have ending hooks to chapters, but instead every single sentence seemed to hook the reader into the next sentence so that she was leading the reader ever so slyly along all the way through the entire story. Now that's the mother of all hooks!

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Cool how you found us, Ami. I've been Googled. :)

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Tammy Doherty said...

Priscilla, you say fiddling with the partial to end on a hook. Do you just mean maybe send less pages? You don't mean write a different scene ending that won't be in the full ms, right?
And I agree with all of you who stay up WAY too late reading Just One More chapter!
About short opening chapters - I find myself with short climax chapters for the same reason, building a rapid, pulse quickening pace. Is that a good technique?


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