Writing Tips: Writing Chapter Hooks

This is part two of “Writing Hooks,” based on the workshop notes by Bunny Hansen, a Writers in the Grove member. If you haven’t read part one, please do so as it contains many notes and resources for understanding more about the writing of opening hooks.

Hooks can be found anywhere in the telling or a story. These hooks keep the reader reading and carry them through from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page turning page, and pulling the reader through the book, chapter after chapter.

An example of a foreshadowing (okay, blatant foreshadowing) is found in the new book, “The Martian,” by Andy Weir, a statement that not only keeps the reader reading, but they now know what is coming, and based upon what has come so far in the book, they know it is going to be a fun ride.

Everything went great right up to the explosion.

The satirical nature of Weir’s writing and the strength of his first person character is found throughout the book, excellent examples of character-driven hooks, and readers keep reading for those precious ironic gems such as this much quoted passage at the midpoint of the book.

I need to ask myself, ‘What would an Apollo astronaut do?’ He’d drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.

And this prime example of voice, style, and character after using his own body waste to start a garden of potatoes:

They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially ‘colonised’ it. So technically, I colonised Mars.

In your face, Neil Armstrong!

In the trailer for the movie from the book, examine the use of hooks that not only ask questions but keep the viewer watching.

An example of foreshadowing is found in this excerpt from “To Kill a Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee in the early section of the story:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

The lawyer, Atticus Finch, tells his children that it is better to be noble than take arms, proving it when he takes a case sure to fail by defending Boo Radley because it is the right thing to do. The reader easily sees into the heart of the character and feels compassion for him. You feel his courage and determination, a warrior with the law as his only weapon, and you keep reading on.

Hooks drive a story forward, pulling the reader along for the ride. One of the biggest challenges for an author is to get the reader to not just complete the current chapter but turn the page to start reading the next, eager for the story to continue.

Writing Chapter Ending Hooks

Chapters should end with hooks to draw, entice, push, or pull readers into the next chapter. Without appropriate hooks, readers have little reason to keep turning pages. If you satisfy past story events without giving the reader something to look forward to, readers can easily put your book aside.

Here are some characteristics of a good chapter ending:

  • They are prompts and impossible-to-resist temptations.
  • They do not allow readers to put the piece down until the end.
  • They introduce or raise tension and/or conflict.
  • They reveal something new about a character’s personality or his reasons for being involved.
  • They introduce new characters, new aspects of old characters, new events, and secrets.

Example of opening hook of chapter one: The Street Lawyer by John Grisham is:

The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I did not see him at first.

What is he doing on the elevator? Why didn’t he notice the boots? Should he have noticed the books? What would have changed if he had? Why are the boots important?

The hook at the end of Chapter one makes us want to turn the page.

We stared at the fax machine in the corner for fifteen minutes, afraid Mister might start executing us if our 1040’s didn’t hurry along.

The story opens in an elevator with little information, then the story takes a twist at the end of the chapter with the treat of execution, literal or mental. While out of context this is just the impatient wait for tax forms to print, what lies between makes us take this information and turn the page. The book flows from chapter hook to chapter ending hooks until the final resolve and complete closure in the last chapter.

Deciding where to end a chapter and start a new one is a difficult decision for most writers. Jack London of Helping Writers Become Authors said:

Ideally, each chapter will cover an event, a character, or a story line with internal cohesion. Its first paragraphs often stake out the new territory. Its middle portions relate to or progress the overall story. The chapter should build on characters or events that lead toward the story resolution. The end of the chapter should hint at something to come without giving away when or where it will next be seen…

Traditional Transition Points for Book Chapters

  • When the following chapter will change the scene or the setting.
  • When the following chapter will change the period in which the current phase of the story takes place.
  • When the following chapter changes the focus on the characters or conflict.
  • When the following chapter changes the story line.
  • When the following chapter changes the point of view.

Notice a common thread? The author knows what is coming, but the reader doesn’t. So, how should book chapters conclude to keep the reader engaged?

Consider this: the end of a chapter should not end much of anything. Instead, imagine writing the concluding sentences as hints of reminiscence for what led everyone up to that point, tinged with hope, anxiety, or fear for what lies ahead.

In WritersDigest, Aaron Elkins wrote that today’s writer should not turn to the classics for inspiration on how to develop chapters, taking pages and pages to just get to the opening moment.

A good rule of thumb: Ask yourself, How can I end this part so that the sleepy reader is compelled to keep the light on, if only to see how some crisis turns out or how some crucial question is answered?

When shooting for this can’t-put-the-book-down effect, there’s one principle that’s as close to a surefire technique as can be: the good old cliffhanger, a term that dates back to the 1930s and ’40s, when Saturday movie matinees always included a serial—as a matter of fact, as kids we called them “chapters”—in which Tarzan, or Buck Rogers, or the Green Hornet would be left literally hanging by his fingernails from the crumbling edge of a cliff. The idea, naturally, was to make sure we were back in the theater the following week, and that’s the way it works for novels, too.

Chapter One of Stolen Prey by John Stanford begins with a perfectly delicious hook.

That was the summer of the cast and the cell phone.

The questions spill into our brains. How did the person get a cast? What was broken? What does a cell phone have to do with it? Why was this summer so memorable and did it have to do with both things? Or something else? Do the cast and cell phone serve as a memory trigger? So many questions to answer.

The Hook at the end of the chapter is:

In certain businesses, prudence is mandatory.

There is foreshadowing and a sense of determination. It also connects, a critical characteristic of a good chapter ending. The “prudence” must relate back to the cast, taking care with one’s step or body to prevent broken body parts, as well as the prudence required in business practices, a corollary. Follow-through on the mission set within the chapter, leads us to the next chapter.

In Killer Last Lines — How to End a Chapter by Elsie Chapman of WriteOnCon, she explains:

But what about that killer last line? I don’t mean the very last line of your entire book (which is, I think, even more important than your very first line, and a different blog post for another day), but the last line of a chapter. How to keep a reader engaged enough so that they won’t want to stop reading between chapters? Not even won’t but can’t, and that the next thing they know it’s four AM and they’re still reading and they don’t even care that they have to be up in three hours?

Just like that killer first line, a successful last line of a chapter makes the reader want to keep reading. That’s really all it comes down to; that is the main goal. The beginning and middle chapters of a book should end with a reader having more questions than answers, and then as the main conflict is resolved, with more answers than questions. Killer last lines are the perfect ratio of both, depending on whether it’s a chapter from the beginning, middle, or climax of a book.

Hooks are not confined to opening lines. As you can see, they pull the reader through the entire story, as long as they stay consistent to tone, premise, and character. For more information on hooks at the ends of chapters and within the story, see:

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