Monday, 3 March 2008

Chapter hooks (beginnings and endings)

Because I can't be arsed am too tired to do any editing tonight I thought I'd do something a bit different.

I've been thinking about books that are classified as 'page-turners' and what it is about them that propels you through the book.

And something I've realised, by analysing a few best-selling chicklit books, is that most chapters have a compelling hook at the beginning and another one at the end.

What's a hook? An unanswered question, an unusual situation, a dilemma, a revelation - basically anything that gets the reader's attention. It's all very well hooking the reader (or agent!) at the start of your novel but if you want them to keep turning the pages without falling into a coma you need to do the same for each and every chapter.

And when that chapters ends?

You need to give them a reason to move on to the next one.

Let's look at Can You Keep a Secret?by Sophie Kinsella.

Chapter 1 beginning
"Of course I have secrets.

Of course I do. Everyone has secrets. It's completely normal. I'm sure I don't have any more than anyone else."

Hook: What are her secrets? I have secrets too. Are her secrets abnormal? Has she got more than me? What are they?

Chapter 1 end
"His voice is dry and has an American accent. I'm about to ask him politely where he's from, but he immediately turns back and stares out of the window again.

Which is fine, because to be honest, I'm not much in the mood for talking either."

Hook: Who is the man sitting next her? Is she going to try talking to him again?

Chapter 2 beginning
"OK. The truth is, I don't like this.

I know it's business class, I know it's all lovely luxury. But my stomach is still a tight knot of fear."

Hook: Is the main character going to survive the flight? Is something going to happen? Is she going to freak out and do something weird?

Chapter 2 ending
"I'd love to move in with you, Connor," I whisper, and to my utter astonishment, burst into tears.

Hook: She's just agreed to move in with someone she's not sure she's in love with. Why did she burst into tears? How's he going to react to the fact she's just burst into tears? What's going to happen next?

And so on and so forth. Of course not all the chapters start with a hugely compelling opening line. The questions/dilemmas/mysteries the author has raised within each of the chapters should propel the reader onwards, desperate to find out the answers, but too many dull, unimaginative chapter openings and their attention is going to start to wane.

But you get the idea.

What I found interesting when I analysed my chapter openings and endings is how dull the ones I haven't rewritten yet are. Out of the 10 chapter (or so) I've got to rewrite 4 of them open with the main character waking up and one of them starts with a comment about the weather.

How boring!

Cut, cut, cut and start with the action. Give the reader a reason to read on.

On the plus side the ones I've already re-written are tons better (which is a relief).

Hmmm...maybe I'll do a bit more rewriting tonight after all.


A. Writer said...

Good points!

Looking at my beginnings/endings. I've got a couple that start with the character getting up in the morning and end by her going to bed. Yawn!

My rewritten chapters are a lot snappier and definitely have more of a 'hook' at the end.

Nichola said...

Oh dear, another reason to go through my novel and delay sending it off to an agent!

Your blog is dangerous for me, you know that? I'm going to stop reading until my manuscript's in the post!! ;)

KAREN said...

This is a very good exercise. I've been doing some similar analysis since reading Sophie Kinsella's new book, Remember Me?, which I read in one sitting on Sunday morning! Needless to say it had me hooked from the word go. Her writing seems so bloomin' effortless, and you're right - a lot of it is about the hooks.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Sounds as if you're doing brilliantly. Another trick is to split a chapter right in the middle of a scene - and then start the next chapter somewhere else, so it's a while before the reader finds out e.g. why she burst into tears.

Kate.Kingsley said...

Ooooh, thanks for this ~ I am going to spend this evening adding hooks to all beginning & end of chapters!

Cal said...

A.Writer - It's a good exercise. I'd already done the chapter ending hooks but the beginnings weren't so compelling. But I'll get there. As will you I'm sure!

Nichola - Ha! I just keep finding these things out and passing them on. More reason for me to procrastinate too ;o)

Karen - I must read that. It hasn't had quite as good reviews as Can You Keep a Secret but Miss Kinsella is the mistress of the hooky novel so I'll definitely be reading and studying it.

Zinnia - that's a very, very good point *goes off to check novel for places to chop chapters in half!*

Kate - My pleasure. Hope it helps!

womagwriter said...

Hooks, yes!

Good post, thanks.