Writing hooks are not only a great way to engage readers, but are also an excellent tool to keep them reading.
As writers, we hear all the time about the importance of hooking our readers at the beginning of the book, getting them to read past that first line, that first paragraph, that first page. But it is equally important to keep them hooked.
Ever been fishing? When you hook a fish, they will try to escape. The way a skilled fisher keeps a fish, especially a large one, on the hook isn’t by rushing to reel them in. They pull the line taut, reel them in, bit by bit, letting them have a little slack, then increasing the tension. Again and again and again.
Here are five writing hooks you can use to increase the tension for readers and keep them turning the pages instead of closing the book.
1) Ask a Question:
People are curious animals. Anyone who has spent any time with a young child knows that humans ask a lot of questions. We want to know the reasons behind the world we see. Why things are the way they are. We have a deep desire to know the answers. That’s why games are so popular.
Putting a question in the reader’s mind at the end of a chapter will make them keep reading to get to the answer. Something as simple as having the character wonder, “What if…?” can force reader to turn the page and start that next chapter.
2) Start a chase or a ticking clock:
If you’re writing action/adventure, setting up a chase at the end of a chapter is a great way to make your reader think, “Okay. Just one more chapter.”
But consider also making a character chase after something they need. And if you put what they need on the other side of town, and if the cross-town bus is their only means of getting there on time, you can end the chapter with them rushing to catch that bus.
3) Create a dilemma:
Remember that time when Superman had to choose between saving Lois Lane from falling, or the meteor crashing into the earth? Save the love of his life, or save the rest of us? Wow! That’s a serious dilemma. But, of course, if you’re Superman, you can find a way to do both. Save Lois and then flay around the earth really fast until you force it to reverse time to goes backwards. Neat trick!
It’s pretty easy to create tension by setting up a life-or-death dilemma. But most of our characters are not Superheroes and plenty of their problems are not as earth-shattering as the destruction of the planet. But a dilemma is still a dilemma.
4) Leave Them hanging:
Cliffhangers harken back to serials. They are specifically designed to make the reader anticipate the next installment. They work as great chapter hooks, as well. But they don’t always have to leave the character in a life-threatening place where you leave them literally dangling from the edge of a cliff.
Remember that cross-town bus in number two? Making the character miss that bus and forcing them to find another way is a great place to end a chapter. Readers will want to know how the heck the character will get all the way across town to achieve their goal, or what actually happens if they don’t.
5) Make Us care:
This one can and does encompass all the above. What we want throughout is for readers to care about the story, what is or isn’t happening, but mostly about the characters.
Thrillers make us worry about the character’s physical well-being. Will they survive? Romances make us worry about the character’s emotional well-being. Will they get their happy ending? There are so many reasons to care about another person, even a person who we only know through story.
Make us care about the character and then put them at risk, physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, financially. Set them up for loss and/or failure and, if we care about them, we will keep reading.
They’re Called Writing Hooks for a Reason:
Just like fish, readers need to be kept on the hook and reeled in by adding tension to the line periodically land them at the end of the story. Using these five writing hooks to add that tension at the end of the chapter will make them want to turn the page and keep reading.
Happy fishing, hooking, er, writing!
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