Saturday, February 19, 2011

Turning Tricks

Every novelist wants to knock out a great book, one that engages readers and gets them to care about the final outcome and read beyond chapter 1. To be an exceptional storyteller, the vital thing you must master is the art of hooking. And you do that by using plenty of page-turning tricks and lures.

One of the best ways you can create a hooky work that's so very hard to put down is to end every chapter in some dynamic fashion...even better if it's every scene. You never want to be predictable, to always use the same kind of endings, with a banal note of foreshadowing if in First, with a dum-dum-dum moment if in Third. The same kind of downturn used consistently time after time becomes stale, moldy and barbless, even exasperating for readers. Aim to surprise, stimulate and catch readers off guard.

I was reviewing one novel on TheNextBigWriter where every chapter ended with some kind of cliffhanger, but then when the new chapter began, the perceived threat was nothing. Perception by the character, or more likely a case of cheap teasing by the author, was way overblown.

This is melodrama in its most insidious and ugly form. It's fake. It's stupid. And worst of all, if you've dished this out every chapter and we're four chapters in, guess what, you've inadvertently shifted your readers to a place where they no longer believe you, and you may never gain your credibility back. Even the most unsavvy minds are no longer fooled, more over hooked or affected, by your "trick". DO NOT fall into this rat trap. Ever. You can play the misunderstanding card once, maybe twice if it's far removed from the first, but really, overall, mix things up.

Even if you write literary fiction or a more character-driven work, you can strengthen your plot and make your book irresistible. Here are some cool tricks and angles you can infuse in endings in order to pull readers onward in the journey you've mapped out for them:

§ Failure in reaching a goal. Characters generally want or need something. Your job as a writer is to pull that object of desire further away from their outstretched hands. End the scene/chapter after a failed attempt.

§ A setback or deterrent. You can land your characters in a spot that's far worse than they were at the onset of their quest.

§ Increased jeopardy. Is the antagonist one step closer to his or her prey, someone readers care about? Nothing gets readers turning pages faster than tension or a threat to the MC or another likable character.

§ A twist. You can lead readers to believe one thing and then make a shift in the story that gets them hungry to learn more about the jarring shocker you just revealed.

§ A new direction or lead for the protagonist/antagonist to pursue. Readers are information junkies and care about the story question you presented at the beginning, so get them excited or biting nails over the new possibilities in the arc.

§ A new question. You can hint at something that will be fleshed out later. Adding another mystery into your mix of goodies will give readers more to be concerned with.

§ Something totally unusual or unexpected. Pique curiosity, and you'll hook.

§ A cliffhanger, imagined or real. If you leave a character in a state of peril, readers will race through subsequent scenes to get back and learn the outcome.

§ A chord of doom. If characters are about to follow a dangerous path in the story or are dealing with the weight of some kind of trauma or terrorizing realization, readers will be concerned with how a character deals. If you can end with sour, dire or terrifying chord, that's best.

§ A departure from a heated moment. If you yank readers out of a heated argument or a passionate frenzy, they'll be dying to return and see how things get resolved. BUT if the build up and full display are equally as important as the resolution, then do NOT shut readers out by giving a mere summary in the resurface, pick up where you left off. Write the scene and end with one character dissatisfied or regretful or spurred into another course of action. You can have a goal being met yet the outcome being not what the character anticipated.

§ Big trouble: a character dying, moving into a trap, blacking out because of a car accident, fall or whatever or caught in a chase; the emergence of a new threat; someone has died or has been found dead.

§ A new obstacle to overcome.

§ An apparent use of concealment. You may want to keep something hidden and depart from a point of tension that leaves readers guessing and wondering about what happened so you can reveal those details later on in the story.

There are many ways to hook readers. The key to good execution is to give doses of forward motion with plenty of unexpected and stunning scene-ending disasters along the way to the big answer. Write on. Hook 'em and reel 'em in, my fellow plumers.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.