It’s my pleasure to have as a guest blogger, Pepper O’Neal, during her blog tour for DEAD MEN DON’T. Pepper writes suspense fiction that really hooks you! I’ll let Pepper tell you how she does that. Take it away, Pepper!
What Do You Mean I Have to Have More Than One Hook?
by guest blogger Pepper O’Neal
I once took an online class from author Terry Spear called Happy Hookers – Engaging the Reader. The premise of the class was that in order to write a page-turner, you needed to end every scene and every chapter with a good strong hook. And I thought it was hard work just coming up with a strong hook at the beginning. But as the class progressed and I noticed my own reaction when reading different authors, I realized Terry was right. I mean let’s face it. I’m reading a thriller or a romantic suspense and at the end of chapter the character goes to bed and turns of the light. Now unless I know there’s a killer waiting in the shadows for that moment when the light goes out, I am going to be very tempted to stop reading at that point and put the book aside so I can do something else that’s nagging at my brain. However, if there is a killer waiting in the shadows for the light to go out, I won’t be putting the book down any time soon. I’m going to have to keep reading until I get to another point in the story where the tension slacks off.
Now it’s true that no novel can be so totally action-packed filled and fast-paced that the tension never slacks off. Life (real or fictitious) rarely works that way. We all need a breather from tension and worry. But what Terry helped me realize is that you don’t want to have those slack off points at the end of your scenes or chapters as that is an invitation for the reader to stop reading. As writers we’ve all heard about how important it is to have a strong hook at the beginning to pull in the reader and catch their interest. Unfortunately, in today’s market, that often isn’t enough. My editor tells me that there’s so much competition for authors today that readers will give you about 10 to 15 seconds of reading your opening paragraphs to decide whether or not to buy your book. And then once they decide to buy it, they’ll give you the next 10 to 15 percent of the story to decide whether or not to continue reading it. So if you open with the killer in the shadows waiting for that light to go off, and then you get to the end of the first chapter and your protagonist takes a nap on the couch, washes dishes, watches TV, with no killer sneaking up on them, you’re probably going to lose most of your readers. You can have characters do all of that as well as a host of other mundane things. Just have them do it in the middle of the chapter or scene and not at the end where the reader might be tempted to put the book down.
In my first book in the Black Ops Chronicles series, Dead Run, this presented a problem. Because dreams were an important part of the story, it stood to reason that my characters had to sleep sometimes. When I argued this point with my editor, she told that it was fine to put my characters to sleep on occasion, but not my readers. “No reader wants to read about a character sleeping, so start your chapter or scene with the character waking up,” she said. “So we know that they’ve been asleep and thus had a dream. But don’t end your chapters or scenes with them going to sleep. You’re just asking the reader to put the book down.”
Well, I must have done okay with taking her and Terry’s advice because I just got an email from a fan who told me that she’d just picked it up for something to read at the doctors and found she couldn’t put it down until she finished. Which just thrilled me.
For the second book in the series Dead Men Don’t, which just came out at the end of June, I only had a couple of scenes where I needed one of my characters to sleep, and since she’d been kidnapped and had no hope of rescue, I managed to get away with it as, according to my editor, the reader would want to continue just to see how she got out of the mess she was in.
Of course, a lot depends on what genre you’re writing in. As I write romantic thrillers, and have two series out now—one about vampires and shifters, and the about the mob and the CIA—it’s not that difficult for me to find something suspenseful to end a chapter or scene with because most of the book is suspenseful anyway. But from what most of the writing craft books I’ve read say, this is something that authors need to do, regardless of the genre they write in. According to Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, you need to “have tension on every page.”
Now this doesn’t mean that if you write romantic comedy, you have to have a killer waiting in the shadows—unless, of course, it’s funny and works with your plot. But you do have to keep the reader guessing about what happens next so they’ll keep turning pages. And yes, you really do need to keep coming up with hooks. One at the beginning just isn’t enough anymore. Sorry.
Award-winning author, Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad.
O’Neal attributes both her love of adventure and her compulsion to write fiction to her Irish and Cherokee ancestors. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.