Posted On March 29, 2012 by Print This Post

Keep ‘Em Hooked by Laura Griffin

RU Crew – help me welcome back author Laura Griffin as she gives us a great lesson today on How to Keep ‘Em Hooked!

Laura Griffin Romantic Suspense Author

You’ve heard a lot about opening hooks–how to grab your reader from the very first sentence. But let’s assume you’ve started your story and managed to capture your reader’s attention. Now what? Today we’re going to talk about chapter hooks.

Chapter hooks are the sentences (or sometimes mere words) at the end of the chapter that compel your reader to keep reading into the next chapter and hopefully beyond. Sound simple? It is. But this is one of the frequently neglected aspects of a manuscript.

I’m not sure why chapter hooks are so often lacking. Is it because we writers get in a hurry when we’re about to finish a scene for the day? Do we get lazy? Whatever the reason, here are some end-of-chapter techniques that are almost guaranteed to make your reader put the book down. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another, but luckily I had my trusty editor on hand to give me a good shake and say, “What were you thinking?!?”

The sleepytime chapter end. Your heroine wraps up an action-packed day and falls into bed. Unless she is falling into bed with a sexy hero, having her go to bed at the end of your chapter is sure to give your reader the yawns. You may think you’ve still got your reader’s attention because the character is mulling over the mystery or pondering her relationship woes, but trust me, the reader has checked out.

The fix: Don’t end your chapter with sleepytime unless the final sentence of the chapter has your character being jarred awake by some crisis or realization that carries the reader into the next chapter’s action.

Disaster averted. This is similar to the sleepytime chapter ending, but it can happen any time of the day or night. Essentially, this is when the author ends the chapter as soon as the crisis has been resolved.

The fix: Change your timing. Go back and end your chapter at a suspenseful moment (if you’re not writing an action story, this can be something emotionally suspenseful…maybe something in the dialogue) and end your chapter there. That way, by the time the crisis is resolve or disaster is averted, your reader is already well into the next chapter and you can pull them into the next plot event.

The threepeat.  This is the chapter ending that keeps happening. And happening. And happening. Maybe you’re writing a mystery, and every chapter ends by cutting over to a view of the victim in distress, waiting to be rescued. Or maybe at the end of every chapter, your detective gets a taunting phone call from the villain. Whatever the gimmick, it will come across as just that–a gimmick.

The fix: Although it might be tempting, try not to use the same chapter ending device more than a few times. More than three times, and your story starts to feel repetitive.

A final word about final words. No matter what sort of fiction you’re writing, you always want to end your chapter with a punch word. What is a punch word? A punch word is whatever word in your last paragraph packs the biggest wallop. This example comes from my book WHISPER OF WARNING. Which of these two sentences is a stronger ending to the scene?

He peered through the window and spotted a pile of bloody towels on the floor.

OR

He peered through the window and spotted a pile of towels on the floor. One of them was smeared with something dark, and in a heartbeat he knew what it was.

Blood.

As you can see “blood” is a punch word, while “floor” is not.

In summary, there are many creative ways to end a chapter and hook your reader. But remember that the best chapter hook of all is reader curiosity. Your book should include long-range questions, such as: How will the protagonist defeat the villain? How will the hero and heroine overcome the barriers to their relationship? It should also include short-term questions, such as:  How will the heroine make it safely into the next scene, given the obstacle you just threw in her path?

So keep throwing those obstacles out there, especially as you near the end of a chapter or scene. Give your reader something to wonder about as they debate whether to put down your book down. Compel your reader to keep turning those pages.

To end this discussion on a hook (I hope!) I’m offering a giveaway. Anyone who comments is eligible to win a $10 Starbucks gift card as well as a copy of my novella UNSTOPPABLE, which was just released as an ebook. This story features two of my favorite characters in my Tracers series, forensic anthropologist Kelsey Quinn and Navy SEAL Gage Brewer. I have loved writing about this couple, and they’ll be taking center stage in my fall book, SCORCHED.

Leave a comment for a chance to win!

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What’s the last book that kept you up at night turning pages?

Join us tomorrow for When Arguments Are a Good Thing: Conflict in Dialogue by K.M. Weiland

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Bio: New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin started her career in journalism before venturing into the world of romantic suspense. Her books have won numerous awards, including a 2010 RITA (Whisper of Warning) and a 2010 Daphne du Maurier Award (Untraceable). The next book in Laura’s popular Tracers series, entitled Twisted, hits book stores in April.

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59 Responses to “Keep ‘Em Hooked by Laura Griffin”

  1. This was a very awesome post! Thank you tor sharing! Love chapter hooks.

    Posted by Martha Ramirez | March 29, 2012, 12:27 am
    • Hi Martha,
      Thanks for stopping by. I love chapter hooks, too. Kathy Reichs is a master at this. Just when you think you’re going to be able to put her books down, she throws in a hook at the end of the chapter.

      Posted by Laura Griffin | March 29, 2012, 6:29 am
  2. At first, I didn’t expect any new information, but the “threepeat” and “punch words” sections were quite intriguing. I managed to read through the entire article without skimming.

    Posted by Chihuahua0 | March 29, 2012, 5:39 am
  3. Morning Laura!

    Glad to have you back again – with an excellent post! =) I’m terribly guilty of the threepeat, even though I didn’t realize it until a nice editor lady pointed it out. lol….yikes. Lesson learned!

    I’ve had many books where I’ve stayed up until 3-4am reading, unable to put the book down. Reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander left me in a daze for a week, and the JD Robb books always get me.

    My question – what do you think of ALWAYS ending on a dramatic hook? Should it always be a moment of peril, first the taunting call, next the bloody towels, then the bloody knife? Or should the endings be shaken up a little, alternating between peril and emotional drama?

    Thanks for joining us today – great post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 29, 2012, 7:17 am
    • Hi Carrie,
      I loved OUTLANDER. Talk about unputdownable…

      I don’t think writers must ALWAYS end on a dramatic hook. The key is to keep your reader guessing and to change things up. So if you end a few chapters with an action hook, maybe switch it up and have the next chapter end with an emotional hook… a burning question the character wants answered or a sudden realization, maybe a change of plan.

      Variety is key to keeping the reader interested.

      Thanks for the warm welcome!

      Posted by Laura Griffin | March 29, 2012, 7:24 am
  4. Hi Laura,

    If the heroine goes to bed and hears something. Or looks in the hall and sees a shadow. Just when she thinks she can rest, everything starts to happen. For suspense, adding darkness gets me.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 29, 2012, 7:22 am
  5. Thank you for the fixes. The reminder about punch words is particularly useful.

    Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are great at punching chapter ends (and scaring the living daylights out of me). Right now, I’m reading Deanna Raybourn’s SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY. It’s not the kind of pulse-pounder a Preston-Child book is, but she keeps me turning the pages, too.

    Posted by Jane Sevier | March 29, 2012, 7:29 am
  6. Wonderful advice. I like books with great first and last lines. They draw you in and keep you reading. If the last line of a chapter is a question, it almost always keeps me turning the page.
    Thank you for posting. I love your books.

    Posted by Ruby Johnson | March 29, 2012, 7:32 am
    • Thank you, Ruby! First and last lines are so important. Before I turn in a manuscript, I go through to check that. Every now and then I’ll catch something I wasn’t expecting–like opening a chapter the same way twice in one book. It’s a good exercise.

      Posted by Laura Griffin | March 29, 2012, 8:55 am
  7. Laura,

    Thanks for the straightforward explanation on chapter hooks. Its nice to get a lesson that is immediately applicable.

    Posted by Jamie Burton | March 29, 2012, 7:46 am
  8. Great article, Laura! You are a master at pacing so I appreciate you sharing some of your tips.

    Posted by Susye | March 29, 2012, 8:38 am
  9. Hi, Laura –

    Thanks for the fabulous post. It’s a nice reminder as I’m drafting a new story.

    I have a couple of questions for you. I tend to draft in scenes, rather than chapters. Do you find that having at least a mini-hook on a scene ending mid-chapter is important?

    And can you give some examples of writers who don’t write suspense or thrillers who you think do a particularly good job with hooks? I’m drafting a contemporary romance so I don’t have the villain hooks, but want to make sure I’m keeping my reader engaged.

    Thanks a ton!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 29, 2012, 8:40 am
    • Hi Kelsey,
      Great questions. It’s easier to find examples with suspense, but there are plenty in contemporary romance, too. I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips does a good job of keeping the reader hooked emotionally. You can use dialogue hooks, where you have to keep reading to find out how someone responds to an insult or revealation. There are also subtle hooks, where the reader is aware of something, but the protagonist is still in the dark.

      When you’re writing a “quieter” story versus a suspense story, I think it’s all about keeping tension in every scene and keeping those story questions front and center so that the reader stays committed to finding out what will happen next.

      Good luck with your book!

      BTW, I love your name. The heroine in UNSTOPPABLE and SCORCHED is named Kelsey :)

      Posted by Laura Griffin | March 29, 2012, 9:04 am
      • Laura –

        As many folks are, I’m a big SEP fan. She really is a master at so many things.

        I’m going to keep the hook issue floating in the back of my mind as I draft, knowing they the actual words can always be improved during revision/edits as long as I have the hook question/concept in place.

        Guess your heroine’s fabulous name is just one more reason for me to read those stories!

        K-

        Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 29, 2012, 9:17 am
  10. So simple, yet so easy to forget in the writing process! Thank you for such a simple yet beautifully presented way to keep this in mind. This post will be printed out and kept near the screen at my desk! :D

    Posted by Kelly Wolf | March 29, 2012, 9:04 am
  11. What a great lesson. A few weeks ago, while revising, I caught myself sending my protagonist home at the end of a chapter. Just like sleepytime, it would be a great spot to put down the book. My strategy was to scan the preceding paragraphs and the first ones of the next chapter to look for a better chapter break. I’m trying to end each chapter with a conflict, but I should check my last words now too.

    Thanks for the advice!

    Posted by Patchi | March 29, 2012, 9:30 am
  12. Love the advice about a punch word! Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Sonya | March 29, 2012, 9:53 am
  13. Great post, Laura! Especially love the reminder about threepeats and punch words.

    Posted by April Kihlstrom | March 29, 2012, 10:01 am
  14. Hi Laura, such a great reminder. Now I’ll go back over my first draft of my 4th Cindy Nesbit mystery and make sure I have no sleepy time chapter endings. The “punch word” ending is particularly helpful. Thanks

    Posted by Judy L. Taylor | March 29, 2012, 10:59 am
  15. Hello Miss Laura,

    Your blog was full of interesting tips. The example of the bloody towel really drove the punch idea home. I’ll try to remember that.

    I am helping an inmate with his book, and I love coming across anything that could be useful to him. I’d like to copy and paste this for him. Would you mind?

    Your books are so much fun. They can be a bit scary, but not so much that they put me off. The Austin settings are fun, too.

    Posted by Robin Heart Shepperd | March 29, 2012, 1:06 pm
  16. What I like about suspense storiesis that usually I can count on the suspense and tension to keep me turning the pages. Add in some romance and I’m hooked. The last book I read that kept me well up just wanting to see what would happen next was “The Witness” by Sandra Brown.

    Posted by Na S. | March 29, 2012, 3:27 pm
  17. Hello Laura!

    I read your first three books one right after the other. Loved them. Ending a chapter with a hook is something we should all know, but when we get burired in the other aspects of the story, it’s easily forgotten. Thanks for examples and for providing the fixes.

    Great to have you back!
    Jen

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 29, 2012, 4:11 pm
  18. I love the idea of punch words–well said!

    Posted by Kit Frazier | March 29, 2012, 4:20 pm
  19. Great post and something you do so well. Looking forward to all these stories.

    Posted by Toni Anderson | March 29, 2012, 5:24 pm
  20. First and last words…..should be a motto tatooed on our foreheads….or somewhere. Thanks for the reminder. Great advice.

    Posted by Patty Copeland | March 29, 2012, 5:37 pm
  21. Very good article. I noticed in my latest wip that every time I ended a chapter, I felt as though I was repeating myself. I’ll take a close look during my editing and this piece really helps. Thanks!

    Posted by Jess | March 29, 2012, 6:27 pm
  22. This piece is very helpful. Thanks for sharing. I’m editing my WIP and noticed a few times I did the “go to sleep” thing.

    Posted by Mercy | March 29, 2012, 6:44 pm
  23. Laura, This was the PERFECT blog to read as I’m editing my current WIP. Thanks.

    Posted by Mary | March 29, 2012, 6:53 pm
  24. Laura, terrific lesson on something it’s so easy to miss. Many years ago, a writer friend told me, “If your heroine goes to sleep at the end of the chapter, the reader will, too.” Good advice–everything you wrote is great and I’m going to keep this.
    No wonder I can’t put your books down!

    Posted by Jane Myers Perrine | March 29, 2012, 7:26 pm
  25. Chapter hooks are definitely something that I need to keep in mind with my WIP. I know I have a few week endings right now, but I will definitely fix those in revisions! Thanks for the advice.

    Posted by Janel Gradowski | March 29, 2012, 7:49 pm
  26. This is just the sort of info I need to be sure my romantic suspense manuscript is the best! Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Melba | March 29, 2012, 8:59 pm
  27. Laura,
    Thanks for the informative suggestions on Chapter Endings. I never thought about how powerful ending a chapter with “one word” could be. The hook works at the end of a chapter and at the end the book.

    Posted by Jackie Rod | March 30, 2012, 6:43 am
  28. Awesome article and full of great ideas! Thanks so much and looking forward to the new releases!

    Posted by cheryl rae | March 30, 2012, 7:25 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Keep ‘em Hooked by Laura Griffin. Are you making these mistakes in your chapter endings? If so, try these fixes. [...]

  2. [...] Over at Romance University, Laura Griffin discusses chapter hooks. [...]

  3. […] Laura Griffin on page turners http://romanceuniversity.org/2012/03/29/keep-them-turning-the-pages-by-laura-griffin/ […]

  4. […] University posted Laura Griffin’s great message on how to keep readers hooked. http://romanceuniversity.org/2012/03/29/keep-them-turning-the-pages-by-laura-griffin/ And while I agree with her example on which word served as a better hook, I will always feel that I […]

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