Now that we’ve created the perfect opening line for your chapter, let’s get to the closing. If you want to keep your reader turning those pages you need to end your chapter with a hook!
What is a Hook? If you loved fishing as much as I do you wouldn’t have to ask. When I fish I wait patiently with good bait on my hook. When I feel the vibration or quick movements at the end of my fishing pole, I still wait. When the vibrations become stronger, I give my pole a quick jerk back to hook my fish. If I get the hook through his cheek I have him. If the hook just touches his lip he gets away. I can’t see the fish or where the hook is when I make that sudden jerk. It is all a guessing game. It should not be a guessing game when you write. In writing, a hook is meant to grab and capture your reader. It is meant to grab their interest and keep them reading. Whether you knew the term or not you have probably been hooked more times then you know.
Remember the Perils of Pauline or the Keystone cops? These were classic short adventure films made during the early days of Hollywood. These stories always left the audience hanging. At the end of the film Pauline was left tied to railroad track with the locomotive bearing down. In the Keystone cops a group of cops in a car had just driven off a cliff and were suspended in the air. It hooked the audience. If they wanted to find out what happened they would have to come to the theater next Saturday. Look around and you will see hooks being used everywhere. And guess what? You are the fish. Just watch the commercials for the latest TV programs. Judge Judy is telling someone off – don’t you want to see why? The eleven o’clock news has the results of a new study of what foods will cure what ails you – don’t you want to stay up late and find out what they are? Guess what? You’re on the wrong end of the pole.
Hooks in your Writing
All writers, whether they write short stories or novels use hooks to capture the attention of the reader. You don’t want a prospective fan to put your book down. When they are standing in the book store flipping through your nove, you pray that they will read that one line that will grab their interest. When they are sitting in the doctor’s office, you hope that one of the lines of your article will keep them reading. Wouldn’t you love to have one of your potential fans read the beginning of your novel and read; “I’m a sick man…a mean man.” as in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground. The hook can be used effectively in the rest of your work at the beginning of your novel, at the end of each chapter, at the beginning of an action scene…etc. However, important as the use of hooks are, many modern writers forget that all of the lines of their work should be the best. All your work should be at the same level as your hooks. Great authors worry over each line. If you hook your reader don’t disappoint them afterwards. They may never forgive you.
It’s important to use a hook at the end of every chapter. Readers often read a book chapter by chapter. Make them want to read the next chapter to find out what happens. Let the story be so exciting that they can’t wait to get home from work or get that lunch break to start the next chapter. If your’s is an action novel, leave them wondering if the hero made it out of danger. If your work is a romance, leave the heroine wondering who that other woman is. Your hook can be emotional, spiritual or physical, but it must be unique. In John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the ending paragraph of chapter twenty-five is:
“The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
Don’t you want to see what happens to the people? Aren’t you hooked? Can you end your chapter with words that sear the readers soul?
In Bleeder, John Desjarlais ends chapter twenty-six of his thriller with the words; “I rubbed my temples and notice the elastic band on the rock. I tipped it over with Citizen Cane. A folded note. You will be the victim, too.” Wow! don’t you want to see what will happen?
You can see the importance of using a hook at the end of each chapter. Now check the end of your chapter. Does it hook you? If not, make it hook the reader. Quickly look at your paragraphs and sentences. Do you start each paragraph with a hook? Do you make each sentence the best it can be. Does your prose flow from the opening paragraph and not just the first line of each chapter? There is a rhythm to prose. The best way to learn that rhythm is to study or write poetry. A poet pours over each word. Next week lets talk about that rhythm,but for now look at your work. Look at the hooks at the beginning and end of each chapter. Check the rest of your prose. Does it continue the excellence that your hooks promise?