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They Aren't Just For Openings Anymore!

Copyright © 2004 by Deborah M. Hale

You’ve heard of the opening hook, right? That tricky, intriguing start to your story that grabs the reader and makes her begin reading your book. Opening hooks are definitely a worthwhile element of writing craft to master. But did you know that hooks are for more than the opening few pages of the story? Sure you need the reader to be drawn into your book at the beginning, but your work doesn't end there. How many books have you put down and never gotten around to picking up again?

Readers rarely put down a book in the middle of a chapter or a scene, but the end of chapter or scene is a natural time to take a break. Don't let them! Give them a reason to say, "Oh I'll just read a couple more pages." Then, chances are you've got them until the end of the next scene at least. Do that often enough and they won't be able to put your story down until the very end.

A hook is anything that makes your reader curious, wanting to know what will happen next. It can be a pivotal piece of action. If something big is happening near the end of a scene, for heaven sakes, don’t resolve everything, then wrap up the scene or chapter! Break it off right at the moment of greatest suspense, so the reader is itching to find out what will happen next. Here’s an example of an action hook from my book Carpetbagger’s Wife:

Behind him a revolver cocked. “Not so fast, Yankee. If I’m not going to get compensation for my brother’s death, I reckon I’ll have to settle for revenge.”

Now, you can’t have somebody pull a gun on your characters at the end of every scene. And it doesn’t necessarily take something that dramatic to pique the reader’s curiosity. It can be something as simple as a character coming to a realization about something that will have an impact on what happens next in the story. Perhaps the hero discovers the heroine's old boyfriend is back in town. That isn't major action, but you know readers will want to keep reading to see how this will throw a monkey wrench into the hero and heroine's relationship.

Or perhaps a character has a sudden new insight into his or her own feelings that will have an obvious impact on the direction of the story. In The Bonny Bride, I used that kind of hook when Jenny Lennox finally faces the fact that she doesn’t love the man she’s come hundreds of miles to marry:

No question Roderick was a very handsome man. Yet more and more in the fortnight since she’d come to Chatham, Jenny found his good looks an impersonal fact of life. He might have been a fine painting or an expertly crafted piece of needlework. Pleasing to the eye, but not necessarily engaging to the heart.

After reading a closing hook like that, the reader is going to wonder whether Jenny will go through with the wedding or not. Since you’re trying to build curiosity, ending with a question, either in dialogue or introspection makes a good hook. In Whitefeather’s Woman, I had my hero, a half-Cheyenne horse-whisperer, ask a rhetorical question to the horse he’s grooming:

“What do you think Cactus Heart? Am I going to be able to gentle that skittish little filly like Ruth wants, or is she going to buck my old heart bloody?”

There’s an implied question any time you get uncertainty. I used that in Lady Lyte's Little Secret to create a hook when Thorn Greenwood finally gets up the nerve to ask Lady Felicity Lyte to marry him, knowing she has vowed never to wed again.

As he steeled his spirit in vain against the anguish of her rejection, Felicity gave him her answer. The second most beautiful word in the English language. "Perhaps."

See how that answer makes for a good scene hook? Either a Yes or a No would make the reader figure she knows what's coming next. Perhaps makes the her want to keep on reading to find out whether Felicity will decide to stick to her guns and turn Thorn down, or let him persuade her to wed.

Nothing provokes curiosity like a riddle. At the end of the first chapter of Beauty and the Baron, Lord Daventry asks Angela Lacewood to become his finacée. Unlike Lady Lyte, Angela is quite emphatic in insisting she cannot marry him. Lord Daventry provides the chapter hook when he says,

“I understand Miss Lacewood.” As slowly as he had sunk to the floor, the baron rose again until he looked down into her eyes. “But you see, that is not what I am asking.”

Another good hook is to have a character make a decision at the end of a scene that is likely to cause problems in the next one. You can cheat a little with this, too, by having the character come to a decision, but leave the reader dangling about what that decision is. In my first book, My Lord Protector, the heroine and her adversary/mentor end a key scene with this exchange.

“How can I sleep? I still have no idea what to do.”
Vanessa leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. Washed by earlier tears, her eyes were pools of liquid emerald. “I think we both know what we have to do, my dear.” Her voice faded to a reflective whisper. “The question is, can we find the courage to do it?”

Ending a scene when all looks bleak is another good hook. Romance readers are optimists who like to see troubles resolved. They hate to set a story down at a point where the happy ending appears to be imperiled. There are times it’s okay to end a scene on a seemingly idyllic note with everything perfectly resolved. One is at the very end of your book. If you’re going to do it before then, make sure the reader has information that the Point of View character does not. Information that threatens the fragile perfection the character believes he or she has found. Now the reader will want to see what happens when the other shoe drops. This is often a good device to keep the reader turning pages following a love scene. After Harris and Jenny blissfully consummate their marriage in The Bonny Bride, my narrative lets the reader know there's still trouble ahead:

Out on the streets of Chatham, the air was unbearably close and hot. No breeze blew from the river or the sea to bring a breath of relief. From the surrunding forest there rumbled a faint sound like far-off thunder or the report of distant artillary. Thick dark clouds shrouded the sky, their undersides glowing an eerie, lurid yellow.

Those are just some possible ways to hook your reader at the end of a scene or chapter. I suggest you read over some of your favorite could-not-put-it-down romance novels and figure out how those authors hooked you to keep reading at the end of each scene and chapter. I’m willing to bet, they roused your curiosity in some way.

The next time you come to the end of a scene in your story, I hope you’ll remember that hooks aren’t just for openings and that curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's the genre fiction writer's best friend!.



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