To score fifty points, you have to have the right tiles, the perfect fit to play on the board and the RIGHT word.
Hooks in chaper breaks are the fifty point tool of the writer.
Back in the dark ages (1914 to be exact), a silent movie series titled The Perils of Pauline starred Betty Hutton as Pauline, the damsel in distress menaced by assorted villains, pirates and Native Americans. In each episode the audience was convinced poor, pitiful Pauline’s situation would surelyresult in her imminent death until at the last minute she was rescued or otherwise escaped the danger. The damsel in distress and cliff hanger endings kept movie goers returning.
According to Wikipedia, in 2008, The Perils of Pauline was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Successful writers need compelling characters like Pauline and strong chapter breaks to keep their readers satisfied. How do we write our fifty point chapter endings to score hits like the screenwriters did with The Perils of Pauline?
I ran across two great blogs with answers to the question. Both bloggers agreed the key to powerful chapter breaks is raising the reader’s curiosity.
K.M. Weiland suggests these ten ways to raise questions in the readers’ minds.
1. Promise of conflict to come.
2. A secret kept.
3. A major decision or vow.
4. An announcement of a shocking event.
5. A moment of high emotion.
6. A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down.
7. A new idea.
8. An unanswered question.
9. A portentous metaphor.
10. A plot turning point.
Weiland warns “not every chapter needs to end with a cliffhanger, but they do need to encompass a question powerful enough to make the reader crazy to know the answer.” If you read her blog here, she elaborates on how to use all ten ideas she suggested.
In the other blog, NY Times bestselling author Laura Griffin identifies characteristics of poor chapter hooks —
The sleepy time chapter end – letting your heroine end her action-packed scene by going to bed
Disaster averted – ending the chapter when the crisis is resolved
The threepeat – Using Pauline-in-peril gimmicks repeatedly. Unlike the silent movie success, overused in writing can turn your reader off
Lacking punch words – not ending the last sentence of your chapter with a punch word at the end.
Check out Laura’s blog at Romance University here for fixes to the problems she points out.
Whether you’re a Scrabble player or not, as a writer you play with words. You have to “scrabble” ways that keep the reader hooked into turning the pages.
YOUR TURN: What’s your 50-point strategy for chapter endings?