In this week’s Word Essential 60 Second Writing Tip, Alida discusses the common problem of writing past your hooks & killing your endnotes. Not sure what a hook is? Why you need it? Or what it means to write past your endnotes? Watch and learn.
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November 9th at 6:30 p.m. Central Standard Time.
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Hi, I’m Alida, your writing coach at Word Essential. Today’s 60 Second Writing Tip is about Writing Past Your Hook and Killing Your Endnote.
You want to end every scene and chapter with something that will stay with the reader. And, to make that carefully crafted endnote effective, you need to refrain from writing past it.
As readers, we like to get to a good stopping point before we put a book down for the night. That means when we see white space, whether its a line at a scene break, or a page at a chapter break, we take it as permission to put the bookmark in and do something else for a while.
As writers, we want to make it hard for readers to close the book, and when they do, we need to make it so they’re eager to get back to our stories as soon as possible.
To do this, we need to end every chapter, and ideally every scene, with a hook.
A hook is a very simple device. It’s a question you raise in the reader’s mind that is promised to be answered later in the story. Which is why the reader must get back to it as soon as possible.
Sometimes the question is as simple as “What’s going to happen next?” Or “However will she deal with that?” But the idea is to leave something open ended in the reader’s mind. Oftentimes, a hook is invisible on the page, but if you’re doing your job well, you’ll know exactly what it is and the reader will need to keep reading, even if he doesn’t know exactly why.
Let’s say you end a chapter with your protagonist asking the girl he loves out on a date. The implied question is, “Will she say yes?” End the chapter with the question, not the answer. Open the new chapter with the answer. That way you end with a hook and open with a resolution. If you give the protagonist and the reader the answer before that white space, it looks like a perfect time to place a bookmark and go to bed.
Sometimes the problem isn’t that the writer’s giving the answer too quickly. Sometimes the problem is that the writer tries to explain himself to the reader, instead of trusting his scene to do its work.
Suppose your character, let’s call her Mary, has gone to visit her childhood home and family. Things are tense with her parents, and her siblings are still jerks. She’s frustrated with her family and depressed that nothing has changed.
She goes upstairs to be alone for a while and finds her grandmother’s quilt folded over the foot of the bed. Her grandmother was a wonderful woman who never let other people’s crazy get to her. She always had a smile for everyone, and especially for Mary.
Mary admires the quilt, runs her hand over it, then unfolds it and wraps herself in it with a fond smile.
You see, Mary really loved her grandmother and has missed her terribly since her death four years ago. Wrapping up in the quilt, Mary feels close to her grandmother again, and like she might just survive the visit with her family.
Do you see what just happened there? The hook is that nice moment when Mary wraps up in the quilt. It’s visual and sensory. We know quilts are warm and comforting. We know this one is associated with Mary’s grandma. That moment, when she wraps up in the quilt, it’s like this:
<<<Alida chimes a singing bowl.>>>
When a writer writes past the hook, that lovely, sensory moment of connection between reader and POV character, it’s like this:
<<<Alida chimes a singing bowl and proceeds to talk.>>>
You see the endnote of the scene is like this singing bowl playing it’s note. As a writer, your job is to let that note resound with the reader, in beautiful emotional harmony. And to let the reader decide when the moment is over. If you don’t trust your writing to deliver that endnote, or if you don’t trust your reader to get it, you end up writing past the hook, explaining away the moment, and doing a big disservice to your story, your reader, and yourself.
The hook in the first example is obvious. Boy asks girl on date. “Will girl say yes?”
The second hook is not obvious, and the reader might not even be conscious of it. When Mary wraps up in her grandmother’s quilt, it implies that she is taking comfort, finding strength, and even inspiration here. The hook is “Will Mary now be able to engage differently with her crazy family?” It’s a subtle hook, but effective. Readers who care about Mary will stick around to see how she does it.
Oftentimes, these more subtle, emotional hooks, are present due to context within the book. In The Murder in Skoghall, I have a chapter that ends with a happy couple talking about making a baby. Where’s the hook int hat? Well, if you’re reading the book, you know that the woman becomes the ghost in this story and her husband gets locked up for her murder. The juxtaposition of their happiness with their outcome creates tension that raises questions in the reader’s mind, designed to keep him turning pages.
Let’s break this down into your 60 Second Writing Tip
Your end hooks can be action based or emotion based. They can be obvious, like an explosion, or they can be subtle, like an emotionally significant moment.
Whatever kind of hook you write, it needs to engage the reader and compel her to keep reading past the whitespace.
The drive that keeps readers turning pages is the need to have a question answered.
If readers care about the POV character, they’ll be invested in the character’s choices and emotions. That is a hook in itself.
Whatever you do, do not write past your hook by giving away too much or explaining away the moment. Both can cause a reader to grab that bookmark.
When a reader has to put your book aside, the goal is for the reader to keep thinking about it, hence ending with a hook.
Next time you hit white space in the book you’re reading, see if you can identify the hook. If there doesn’t seem to be a question inherent in the text—and there often isn’t—ask yourself what you’re concerned with now. Then put it in the form of a question.
And whatever you do, if you take the time to craft a beautiful endnote, let it sing.
If you enjoyed this week’s tip, please share it with all the writers in your life!
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