End on a High Note


*random squirrel as example of something unexpected
How you end your work counts as much as how you start the work. Your story's first impression (including the hook) determines whether or not the reader will continue past page one. The last impression determines whether or not they'll buy more of your work.

A good hook isn't enough to drive interest in this publishing industry, where there is more competition to be published and less money and fewer resources to spread around.

Polish Your Endings

Your “endings” (the end of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, Acts, and books) are giving agents and editors and readers a “flavor” for how you’ll end your book. This is important because it helps them see whether or not your work, on a scene-to-scene and chapter-to-chapter level, can:
1)  establish and grow reader interest/caring for the main characters (hero/heroine);
2) maintain tension and suspense (of what will happen, not necessarily danger);
3)  increase dread of the protagonist/villain; and
4)  develop a plot and layer subplots to convey a story ride that will lead to an eventually satisfying conclusion, whether it’s an HEA (happily ever after) or not.

Avoid Boring Wrap-ups

As an editor, even I can get bored. When a piece starts with a bang and goes out with a whimper, I immediately want to set the work down. In fact, there are times I’ll edit a chapter that’s really juicy only to get to the end and find that the writer “left” the scene or chapter on a dull note. That’s how your readers will respond, too, and that’s what you want to avoid. 

So your challenge is to keep momentum going, to create bridges from one moment to the next, from one scene to the next, even when you are leapfrogging a story line three scenes down the line. Easier said than done, right?

Leave 'Em Guessing

Leaving your reader with the anticipation of “what happens next?” is one of the most powerful things you can do in your work, and if affects plot, character development and the power of your story theme.

To excite the reader enough to turn the page from one chapter to the next is stereotyped as a genre device. Most folks, in movies and book publishing, call these moments between chapters or scene or Acts “cliff hangers” and, yes, they are just as necessary in literary fiction, memoir and non-fiction works as they are in genre fiction.

Cliffhangers also occur between books in a series or between movies, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, which both concluded the immediate book's plot (who wins the battles) while letting larger issues (who wins the overall war) roll to the next book in the series.

What writers forget to consider are the spaces between paragraphs, or even between scenes within a chapter. These are the micro moments that keep your reader reading. Each one of those endings can use mini cliffhangers to drive momentum or at least end when the energy is still high.

So don't forget to polish your endings and leave your readers on an uptick of energy. Or at least give them something unexpected!

Good luck, my little angels.
Your Editor Devil

Hook Your Reader Hard and Fast

Let's talk about story Hooks, since everyone struggles to write these effectively.
Regardless of your genre, a good way to start a story is to reveal a situation that is about to explode.
Most books start on the brink of catastrophe or a character's catharsis (read “awakening”). Events are literally about to go wrong, and your readers are going to have to witness the devastation and recovery/enlightenment. You need to be sure which is the case for your story to truly create the best opening.
That’s what we call the story's Promise: to take the readers on a ride and deliver them, along with the character, to a new location and/or state of being.

Open with a Bang

Ask yourself this: “Is the character's internal or external world about to explode, and how can I best represent this building tension in the opening lines?” That explosion can vary from literal world destruction to a simple marriage argument (when are those ever simple?), from a lady’s dog about to stray into the road to a confirmed bachelor about to meet the woman of his dreams (which might “destroy” the world as he knows it).
Jessica Page Morrell writes in her book “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected”:
The best beginnings are like forces gathering, about to be unleashed on the reader. With the first words, the writer establishes his credibility, introduces viewpoint and voice, and makes the reader care about people and the story unfolding. Obviously this is a tall order for a few sentences or paragraphs to accomplish. Also, since fiction and memoir are based on adversity, typically an opening introduces a character or person under stress and they story world staring to tilt off balance.

Rarely do we read stories that start with something going right. There’s no tension when the world is perfect. The exception would be a character experiencing a lot of happy “rights” in order to build tension because something is about to bring that character’s world to a crashing halt.

Hook Your Reader Fast

A Hook typically involves the unique problem/situation that your character must address in the story. Maybe it’s a nun who gets pregnant. That’s a situation that MUST inherently, physically change with or without the character's consent. Or a race car driver who nearly died in his last race. There’s no inherent change for him, unless we see him get back in his car. Then the reader will suspect something is about to steer off course.
A Hook may only hint at the unique problem/situation. That means a story of a confirmed bachelor doesn’t open with him showing resistance to marriage, but him not taking on his sister’s puppy when she unexpectedly has to move abroad. That shows a layer of his commitment issues without throwing too much in the reader's face too soon. His self-centered nature is revealed just enough in the opening that we know he is going to fall. How he falls and the unique turns he takes along the way to change make up the rest of the story.
Basically, when you start a story you want to capture the readers’ attention so they ask, “What will happen next?” In fact, every time you end or open a chapter you should be creating that response for the reader all over again.
TIP:  Hooks are not just for opening the book. They are for opening EVERY chapter, EVERY scene. You can also use them to end scenes and chapters to get the reader to turn the page.
Morrell sums this up well:
The best openings of a story, novel, or memoir are contagious—they make the reader yearn for more because you chose the best words at the best moment to launch the events that follow while raising questions that demand answers.
 
Your Hook doesn’t necessarily have to be the first line of the book, but nowadays you might as well put it there, considering the immense competition and the little time your story’s given by an agent or editor. My advice: go for the jugular fast, but keep it natural to your character and story.
Here’s a good example from Kristen Higgins' Catch of the Day: “Falling in love with a catholic priest was not my smartest move.”  We are intrigued to know how she fell for him and what she’s going to do about it. Moreover, we want to know what HE’S going to do next. Will he forgo his orders to love her in return, maybe even marry her? Or will he break her heart?
Remember: raising questions that DEMAND answers creates reader engagement.

Give Supporting Characters Time to Grow

Many authors like to come on strong with secondary characters. Like it’s an art they want to show they’ve mastered.

Yes, you should come on strong with all characters by creating memorable details, but don’t deliver an information dump that halts the story's pacing for a character that doesn't matter as much as the hero/heroine/villain. Just as with main character introductions, sprinkle don’t douse.

Renni Browne and Dave King explain, in their book "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers," that when authors introduce a character all at once, they are "stopping the story cold for an overview of [the] character." These include personality summaries, back-story or flashbacks, and full physical descriptions. Long intros are "plain obtrusive."

You also commit a big author sin when with long introductions: you break the reader from the story and make the author present. The reader can just feel the author's wheels spinning, typing out each line of unnecessary description.

Browne and King explain that when you deliver characters’ information in excess, "you risk defining them to the point that they’re boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow."

Instead, try to:
...introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her... a few concrete, idiomatic details to jump-start your readers’ imaginations... But when it comes to your characters’ personalities, it’s much more engaging to have these emerge from character action, reaction, interior monologue, and dialogue than from description.

When character introductions are given too much time and attention, they also block plot, and since action is character, you inadvertently block the character from acting out their true persona, making them feeling unreal to the reader.

So give your secondary characters time to grow through scenes, through action, through dialogue, and move on with the story.