• It is said that good things come to those who wait. I believe that good things come to those who work. - Wilt Chamberlain
  • A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. - Richard Bach
  • You don't find time to write. You make time. It's my job. - Nora Roberts
  • Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. - Buddha
  • Luck is when an opportunity comes along and you're prepared for it. - Denzel Washington
  • I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying. - Michael Jordan

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Building Blocks of a Page Turner

I've been a bit remiss about sharing some of what I learned at RWA national. So today I will post a bit of information from a workshop titled Humor, Heat and Hooks, The Building Blocks of a Page Turner by Author Katy Madison. My apologies to Ms. Madison as I was unable to access the website listed on her handouts and thus am unable to provide you with her link.

Elements of a Scene:

Business Elements:
1) Show the setting; time and place
2) Set the mood
3) Allude to all characters on scene
4) Foreshadowing; hinting of future events
5) Linking past details and reminding the reader of plot points
6) Backstory, only when necessary

Dramatic Elements:
1) Show character
2) Dialogue
3) Action
4) Introduce obstacles
5) Raise the stakes
6) Solve a problem
7) Sexual tension
8) Reinforce the conflict

Essential Elements:
1) Advance the plot
2) Character growth
3) Romantic development
4) Engage the reader's emotions
5) Entice the reader into the next scene


Opening Hooks:
-  Story question - Why? What will happen next?
-  Do not withhold valuable information from the reader. Tell them who, what, when, and where. The WHY comes later.
-  Present your characters in a scene where further action or a decision is required.

Types of Opening Hooks:
-  Setting - set mood
-  Protagonist is faced with an immediate choice or crisis
-  Protagonist is immersed in action
-  Witty dialogue
-  Problem to be solved
-  Character is faced with a dilemma

Ending Hooks:
-  Each and every scene should end on a question for the reader.
-  Except the last scene of the book - unless you have a sequel

Types of Ending Hooks:
-  Reinforcing the conflict
-  Why would the character do that?
-  What will they do next?
-  Cliffhangers
-  Breaking a love scene in the middle
-  Out of the frying pan into the fire
-  Emotional or physical danger to the character.

This workshop taught me that each scene needs to serve a purpose other than to simply entertain the reader. I knew all about an opening hook, something to grab your reader, to entice him/her buy your book. This workshop taught me the importance of ending hooks, to keep the reader reading, to make him/her turn page after page without being able to put the book down. (I'm still working to perfect it!)

What types of hook draw you into a story? Are you good at writing hooks? Did you know about ending hooks before you read this post?

Next week I'll go over the humor portion of the workshop. Hope you'll come back to read it!


  1. I dislike the blatant "Will Batman survive the steam-press? Will Robin's tights ever be tight again? Tune in next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!" ending hooks, but there's a lot of room for variation. I found that chapter ending hooks sprang up naturally in my writing -- it surprised me, actually. But I've done an awful lot of reading, and I suppose I got it through osmosis.

    The only kinds of opening hooks I know I dislike are false ones: hooks that pull you in, but are really camouflage for what's really going to happen. In other words, the writer couldn't come up with a good scene with a good hook, so just did the hook instead, and did an unrelated scene to follow.

  2. I agree, John. I can't stand when a scene opens, draws you in, you can't wait to read what's going to happen next and the character's alarm clock goes off. It was just a dream.

  3. That is a pet peeve of mine as well, John. If you set a hook at the end of a chapter, you'd better use that hook at the beginning of another chapter in a SIGNIFICANT way or as a reader I feel betrayed. And if you use a hook to begin a story, it better have something SIGNIFICANT to do with the story. For example don't do this to reader-me:

    Joe is being pounded by the water rushing to the falls as he hangs on desperately to a fragile tree limb. If the limb breaks or his grip slips, he'll be swept over the falls to certain death. The chapter ends with the sound of the limb snapping...

    But in our next chapter Joe is helping his wife load groceries into the family van while arguing about the approaching visit by the in-laws. He insists a visit from his mother-in-law is worse than anything that would have happened to him if the rescue crew hadn't arrived before that branch gave way completely. The writer never returns to the scene at the waterfall's edge, what happened there, or why it is significant to Joe. It was simply a beginning hook and had nothing to do with the story that follows which is about Joe's crumby life.


  4. Good example, Regina. (I'm supposed to be working on coming up with examples like that, but all too often I still draw a blank.)

  5. Sometimes I write stories where the chapters shift from character to character, such as heroine chapter One and hero chapter Two. What I try to do in these cases is to put some kind of hook that shows there will be a switch. Such as a sort of where is he now or as in You will meet a warrior of Horu who will help you on the quest.

  6. Ohhhh, extremely helpful information Wendy. I just got my CDs from this year's RWA, so I hope she's on there.

    Abbi :-)

  7. Wow! Great example, Regina! And I agree.

    Great idea, Janet.

    Thanks, Abbi. I got mine in the mail too. I hope I actually use them!

  8. I am more and more coming to believe that an opening hook is the least important thing in your ms. Especially if it's contrived and artificial. I know this runs counter to current thinking, but the books I enjoy the most are ones that gradually draw me through a setting of scene and a fleshing of characters, giving me people to understand and root for, rather than plopping me into the middle of some frenzied action with characters I don't yet know or care about.

  9. Have to say that I have read some killer opening hooks/sentences in some of the New Voices entries. Some of them make me feel green with envy, thinking - I wish I'd wrote that!"
    But the ending hooks are crucial. Some just fall flat. Some make your fingers itch to turn the page and find out what happens next. Can't wait to see all the second chapters to see if they live up to the initial promise. It will also be interesting to see if some chapters go through without having good hooks at the beginning and end. Let's see!

  10. I've learned the art of ending hooks, much to my delight. But remember, they don't all have to be as dramatic as Regina's character hanging from a branch over a raging water fall. It just has to be enough that the reader wants to see how your character is going to implement her new plan or solve her current crisis. Or whether or not the young adult heroine is going to let the handsome quarterback kiss her...

  11. I agree, Taryn. A reader must care about your characters if he/she is going to continue reading.

    Hi Susan!
    I think everyone's heard of the opening hook by now, and people work hard to perfect them. It will be interesting to see if the rest of their stories fall flat. I can't wait to read your post on it....since I haven't been following the New Voices contest.

    Hi Jen F!
    Will she allow the quarterback to kiss her...I love those kind of hooks!

  12. Great post--I especially enjoyed the breakdown of closing hooks. Many thanks!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  13. You're very welcome Angela!
    Thanks for stopping by!