Monday, August 29, 2016

Hook ‘em Tight: One Technique for Writing a Book They Can’t Put Down by Author Janine Mendenhall

So you’d like to write a novel, huh? I can appreciate that. I want to write another one too. In fact, like you, I’d like to keep writing them from now on—a book a year, or maybe even two. But the thing is neither one of us wants to produce an ordinary piece. 

We both want to please our readers so much that they won’t want to put our books down, right?

That means we need to hook our respective audiences not only with an excellent story full of conflict-based tension, but most especially, where people normally think it’s time to stop reading.

So when do readers reach for their bookmark? (I’ll give you one guess.)

That’s it, at the end of a chapter!

Before I go any further, I need to give credit where it is due because, the truth of the matter is, I learned to write (and still am, by the way) by following Steven James’s directions in Story Trumps Structure and from other great Craft books written by James Scott Bell, Jack M. Bickham, and Jordan E. Rosenfeld—to name a few.

Now that that’s settled, let me share three ways to keep your readers reading. 

3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter 

(My examples come from my debut inspirational historical fiction/romance novel. Preview Starving Hearts at 

  1. Modify Your Thinking. The close of a chapter is NOT the end. It’s the beginning of your next scene, or one that will follow soon enough. Instead of tying things up in a nice little bow and losing the tension you’ve built up, create some suspense by leaving a string untied. 

Add an extra dose of tension in the language too.

These are the last three sentences of Chapter 2--Savior in Starving Hearts.

        At the far end of the gallery, she entered the deserted renovation area. Honestly, at the moment, she could not care less that it was off limits. 
       Opening the door of the first room she reached, Annette stepped in and lurched to a halt.

Did you see and feel that? 

The door opened, but we couldn’t see what Annette saw. The shocking word lurched created a touch of suspense, and the reader turned the page. 

Once the page is turned, we’re safe, as long as there’s a good hook waiting to catch the reader at the beginning of the next chapter.

  1. Create Nagging Doubt. Our readers have very quick minds. If we offer just enough information to create a slight imbalance, they will get the subtle hint and ask themselves “But did she?” (or a similar contrary question), and that will be enough to make them move on and find the answer.  

Here’s what I mean.

Read the last three sentences of the Prologue of Starving Hearts. See if you feel enough doubt to cause you to ask what I call a contrary question.

         Annette was too overwhelmed to care. All she wanted was Mother’s assurance that she would never see or hear of the fiend again. Mrs. Chetwynd agreed that was best, and she would personally see him immediately dispatched from the estate. And that was precisely what Annette believed Mother would do.  

Of course, readers don’t necessarily realize they are constantly scrutinizing stories as they read them. But did you recognize the subtle “But did she?” that came at the end of that sentence? 

My heroine, Annette, believed her mother would do what she said, but the fact that I wrote it this way caused you to doubt that her mother did what she said.

That nagging doubt is enough to keep the reader going, of course, it also makes a promise, and as Steven James always says, we need to be very careful to keep our promises to our readers. 

If we don’t, they will close our books and never read any of them again. (If you haven’t read Story Trumps Structure, please know, it is well worth your time, and Steven James isn’t even paying me to say this. )

  1. Play Opposites Attract.  I cannot emphasize it enough. Our readers are very intelligent, and they often automatically predict what will happen next. We can take advantage of this brilliance by giving them something negative or scary to worry them without even putting it on paper.

Notice the end of Chapter 4—The Plan. 

You will automatically predict that the opposite of what I’m telling you is really what will happen next. And because that opposite is attractive in a negative way, it’s likely you’ll want to find out how bad things get for my hero, Peter.

Try it, and see what happens.

         Adjusting his evening coat again, Peter willed himself to move to the door. He had made his decision. He would propose tonight, and she would accept him. Then his life would begin, and all would be well.

It did happen, didn’t it? You predicted she would not accept his proposal and that things would not end well, right? That’s because you’re smart, just like our readers.

On that note, it’s time to say goodbye, at least for now. I hope you enjoyed this little lesson on 3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter so they can’t put your book down. Visit me and preview Starving Hearts to see if I’m successful at keeping your attention. 

If I do, remember, the credit for Craft goes to those I mentioned above, but the real glory belongs to God.   “Whoever abides in (Him) . . . bears much fruit, for apart from (Him) you can do nothing.” John 15:5


Janine Mendenhall teaches teens English, of all things! Sometimes she sleeps, but most nights she reads, writes, or watches movies like “Pride and Prejudice” and claims she’s researching her next book. “Splickety Love” and “Splickety Prime” have published her flash fiction. She and her husband, Tom, live in North Carolina where they and their two golden retrievers help gratify the needs of their five children and two cats.



Pat Nichols said...

Excellent advice. The last paragraph in each chapter serves as a launching pad to the next.