Having Trouble Writing Ending Hooks for Difficult Chapters

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What do you do when chapters don’t lend themselves to a hook? Here’s what I’ve done.

1. Story set up

My story focuses more on a time-driven mission than on one or two characters’ journeys. It has two main point-of-view (POV) characters with growth arcs and continue into the second part of the mission in book two. But book one also has two intermediate and four minor characters with POV chapters. They all move the mission along.

Problem:

Some minor and intermediate characters’ POV chapters are “stand-alone” chapters. They add to the mission as it marches along in time, but they are complete events in themselves and don’t relate to other POV characters’ chapters. Therefore, the end of their chapters must wrap up their part of the mission because we won’t be coming back to them soon or ever to tie up an ending hook. 

Often the perfect place for a hook is in the middle of the last scene of problem chapter. But some readers dislike writers to end a scene with a hook, then start the next scene right where the last scene left off.

Solutions:

Sometimes a great ending hook naturally presents itself, or I can rewrite a scene to create an ending hook. But on those “stand-alone” chapters, I can at least remove unnecessary wrap-ups. 

1. I axe ending sentences that tend to wrap up a situation or add ending sentences that leave something open.

2. I must remember an ending hook isn’t a character feeling perplexed, sad, or worried. Those endings show how the character feels and isn’t much of a hook.

3. The examples below are from my book in progress. 

Example 1 – Rewriting and cutting.

The bug the women talk about is a listening device. Elsie locates it in their RV after Dreama’s near drowning at the hands of a security policeman.

Before:

With little pain to her bum knee, Elsie marched the bug’s remains outside to the bridge and dropped them into the water.

Dreama stood at her side, the towel wrapped around her head. “Good riddance. Is that all of them?”

“Yes.”

“You did good, Elsie girl.”

“Let’s call it a day. St. Louis is a little way up the road. Let’s find a campground outside the city, then take showers.”

After

Elsie stared at the bug, then picked it up and set it on the tip of her forefinger. With little pain to her bum knee, she marched outside, and flicked the bug into the grass.

Dreama stood at her side, her towel wrapped around her head. “Good riddance,” she whispered. “Is that all of them?”

“Won’t know until we’re out of range of that bug.”

Analysis:

I rewrote the before and moved the kudos from Dreama to the next scene which takes place after their showers. I left them not knowing whether their device detector is picking up the bug they tossed into the grass or another bug in the RV. They need to watch what they say.

Example 2 – Adding

Lola delivers illegal Bible verses hidden underneath beaded bracelets she creates and normally would sell.

Before:

Thankful the need to paddle was light on the way home, Lola rested and recalled her four encounters with the Word carriers. When she reached the hut of the third carrier, the woman waved to her, and on her arm was the beaded bracelet. The same greeting occurred when she passed the shacks of the other two carriers who wore their bracelets. Was that a sign she had pleased God with her accomplishments today?  

After:

Thankful the need to paddle was light on the way home, Lola rested and recalled her four encounters with the Word carriers. When she reached the hut of the third carrier, the woman waved to her, and on her arm was the beaded bracelet. The other two women sent her the same greeting when she passed their shacks, wearing their bracelets. Was that a sign she had pleased God with her accomplishments today? 

Would God send more women out of their huts to beckon her to them on her way home? Oh, how she prayed it so. Eight bracelets remained in her bag. Papi said he’d return in two more days, but he had come home early on other trips.

Analysis:

The before wraps up a good day for Lola. She feels good. We won’t be returning to Lola until a much later part of the mission. For the after, we already know that Papi, Lola’s father, is abusive and would punish her if he catches her covertly distributing Bible verses to women along the river. She must get the eight verses delivered before he comes home.

The afters for both scenes aren’t a strong hook, but they leave the reader with possible problems that don’t need to be tied up soon. 

How do you turn a difficult chapter’s ending into a hook or at least into one that doesn’t leave the reader content to say goodnight?

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Hook Your Reader to Start the Next Chapter NOW!

“That’s what agents and acquisition editors are looking for–something they don’t want to put down.” —Ray Rhamey

 

by phaewilk
by phaewilk

Writers are told to end each chapter with a cliffhanger that keeps the reader from inserting a bookmark and going to sleep.

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  • Would a chapter with these endings make you turn the page?
    click to tweet
      • Tomorrow was another day.
        Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
        Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
      • She smiled. “You’ve made me happy today, Mark.”
      • She huddled down in her hiding place and drifted off to sleep.

I imagine you’d be inserting the bookmark. Why?

      • All provide stopping places. Whether the character’s situation is bad or good, each scene ends with quiet closure.
      • Readers are left with no reason to keep reading.

Here are two chapter endings that contain a hook.

Example 1 from Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock:

“Well,” I said, “nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too. Oh, and welcome to Ohio, I guess. But listen, just watch out for the red-eyed devil.”

“The what?”

“Marlene!”

“I said I’m coming!” She started to go, and then turned back. “But don’t worry. You’re pretty safe as long as it’s daylight. He mostly comes out at night.”

I wanted to ask her what she was talking about, but before I could say another word she had run off, laughing, to join her family.

 

by clarita
by clarita

Comment: Okay, I want to learn who the red-eyed devil is. I’ll read one more chapter.

Notice how Tatlock winds down the chapter at the end of the day with goodbyes between the main character, Eve, and Marlene. A nice stopping place. EXCEPT Marlene, brings up the danger of a red-eye devil appearing at night—which is fast approaching.

Tatlock didn’t stick the hook in as a gimmick. She ties it to the story and reveals who the red-eyed devil is shortly. These two elements are important.

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  • Your end-of-chapter hook must not be a gimmick but part of the story.
    click to tweet

Example 2 from On the Threshold by Sherrie Ashcraft and Christina Berry Tarabochia:

Her cell phone rang.

Not now. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone except her husband…and maybe not even him. She checked the caller ID.

Beth. Okay, make that anyone except Jake or Beth.

She pulled to the side of the road. “Hi, honey.” Suzanne forced a pleasant tone.

“Mom?” Beth sniffed, voice breaking. “I need you.”

 

by DTL
by DTL

Comment: After an awful day, Suzanne considers what to do about dinner. A nice stopping place. BUT the phone rings, and her daughter’s in trouble. Okay. I want to know what Beth’s problem is. I’ll read on.

Again, the hook is tied to the story, and within a few pages we know Beth’s problem.

Here’s the last of my ho-hum chapter endings above transformed into a hook:

She huddled down in her hiding place. Minutes went by while she listened to the drone of cicadas in the darkness. Her eyelids grew heavy.

A loud huffing sounded.

Her lids shot open, and every muscle tensed. Only an angered bull made that kind of sound. Or a monster.

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How would you change one of the ho-hum endings to make the reader turn the page?