Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Page Turning Quality

Originally published 31 October 2012
I feel duty bound to share this information, and I hope that the people I got it from don't mind me doing so. I've heard through the grapevine that Maggie Seed is not looking for historicals 'at the moment'. (please note that this is very old information and may well have changed since 2012). But she is looking for stories with adventure and excitement. (This is the same and has never changed in all the time I've known Maggie!)

This means that I'm trashing my idea of the village murder mystery and have a thriller type story in mind. At the moment I'm thinking trains, McGuffins, stuff that explodes. You know, the regular Bruce Willis type stuff! I'll be in my element! However, I may use some of the characters I've already created, as I think I can easily transpose them from one plot to the other, but just give them different motivations. It will also save me coming up with all new characters!

One of the things that Maggie told my contact is the importance of chapter endings with a hook. So I thought that's what today's subject should be.

The best bit of advice I've ever received was from Mills and Boon novelist, Kate Walker. Kate said that you should never end a chapter with 'She turned the light out and went to sleep'. Because, as Kate said, that's exactly what your reader will do. What you need at the end of each chapter is some sort of hook so that your reader wants to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

It could be a genuine 'cliffhanger' style ending, where someone is hanging from a cliff by their fingertips or just about to defuse a bomb. Or it could be  someone delivering a message or finding a body or the hero or heroine learning something they had not known before but which changes everything that's gone before.

Try to avoid cliches such as 'She wondered what tomorrow would bring' or 'What would tomorrow bring?' That doesn't mean you can't set up a question in the reader's minds. Maybe someone comes to the main character and says 'I've got something really important to tell you'. That way the reader will carry on to the next chapter to find out what that important thing is. Or your main character could enter a room that's been locked to them till that moment. You don't reveal at that point what's in the room. You save it for the next chapter.  It doesn't even have to be that active. It can be a thought process.

Here's an example from my novel Bonfire Memories (available on Kindle!). It's the end of the first chapter, and the hero has just met the heroine:
He could not afford to get side-tracked by a pair of pretty blue eyes. Those same eyes would no doubt turn cold when she found out the truth about him.
My hope is that the reader will also want to find out the truth about him and read on.

This is the ending of the next chapter, which is a little more active. It takes place just after the heroine has found a man dead in the street:
A hand touched her shoulder and a vaguely familiar voice said her name. That was when Cara really screamed.
And the ending of the next chapter:
The man, whoever he was, coughed softly, almost as if he was covering up some emotional outburst. He walked on, disappearing into the fog.
They're just a few examples, and not intended to be the be all and end all of chapter endings. But I hope that even they have sparked your interest, if you don't already have the book. Consider all the books you read. Regardless of genre, there will be something at the end of each chapter that makes you want to keep turning the page, even though you know you've got to get up in the morning and get the kids ready for school and/or go to work. And that's what you're aiming for when you write. It's called Page Turning Quality.

So just browse through and have a look at the endings of each chapter in a book you've already read and see if you can identify what made you want to go on to the next chapter. Of course, you need more than a good chapter hook at the end. Because if you end on a hook, you have to deliver on that promise at some point, and reveal what the hero's deep dark secret was? Who was touching the heroine on the shoulder? And who was the man in the fog? (It doesn't always have to be revealed in the next chapter by the way.)

Don't worry about it too much, as you write. These hooks can always be added in the second draft.

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