You’ve just finished writing an amazing scene. The girl has been rescued, the building saved, the loot found. And now, you’re faced with a difficult decision how to move on to the next scene and keep the reader reading?
Well, when you write with Scene and Sequel (for more on that, read Jack Bickham’s book, SCENE AND STRUCTURE), you know that everything your characters do should cause something else to happen. This in itself helps build in a great scene transition and gives you a way to create a hook. However, many writers underestimate the power of a scene ending and lose their reader at a very critical time.
Not having enough punch: When you end a scene, you should always have a HOOK to keep the reader moving on to the next page, the next chapter or the next scene. This does not have to be a cliffhanger. There’s no rulebook that says every hook needs to have Dudley DoRight dangling off the edge of a mountain, unsure if he will live or die. Sure, that’s a great hook, but it doesn’t quite work for every kind of book. And, if you ended every scene that way, it would get pretty boring. Too much of a good thing is well, too much. There are other types of hooks you can use:
Decision hooks: Your character is left in a quandary and has not made a decision yet (see the Scene and Sequel notes). The reader wants to know what he/she is going to do, so they turn the page. Soap operas do this to the extreme, but you can use that same technique (with a few less facial gestures and no Tide commercials) to hook your readers.
Comedy hooks: Leave them laughing and they’ll come back for more. These work well when paired with another type of hook, too. You don’t just have a joke, you also have something big happening. Put the two things together and your reader is bound to keep going to enjoy more of the comedy and find out what’s going to happen.
Dead body hooks: Nothing perks up a reader’s interest more than the sudden appearance of a dead body. Now, this doesn’t work in every kind of fiction, nor can you use it at the end of every chapter (too many dead bodies and you’ll end up running a funeral parlor instead of a novel) but you can use a well-placed murder at a climactic moment in the book to spur reader interest.
Secrets hooks: When one character mentions they’re holding a secret and doesn’t share it before the end of the scene, this also keeps the reader interested. They want to know what it is, so they’re going to keep going.
There are lots of other types of hooks out there this just gives you a few examples. Play around with your story and see what kind of suspense you can leave at the end of your scene. What you’re looking for in a hook is a reason to read on.
To learn how to write good hooks, you should read good hooks. Find five books that have kept you turning the pages long into the night. Look at how the author ended the scenes and the chapters. Was there a question in your mind at the end of each one? That would be the hook. That’s the kind of suspense you are trying to capture, too.
Transitioning to a new scene is often easiest if you have a change. Change in point of view character, change in time, change in place. To show the transition to a new scene, either double-double space between the end of the last scene and the beginning of the new one or insert three # # # marks on the line between the two.
Change in POV character: This means that whoever’s voice the scene is in changes. Say Sally is the voice behind the scene when the loot is recovered. You’re done with that scene and you switch to the interrogation of the burglar in the police station. Here, you might want to use the other protagonist’s viewpoint or, if you’ve used it before, the villian’s.
An important thing to keep in mind WHEN YOU CHANGE P.O.V., you need to immediately set the stage in the new character’s frame of mind. Use their name and show something through their eyes right away so the reader knows whose head they are in:
Joe looked around the small, bare room and had to laugh. These cops thought they’d get something out of him because they figured they were smarter than the average crook. He’d tell them about as much as the plain white walls told about the personality of the room. Nothing.
Change in time or place: When you change time or place, be sure to have an immediate note that establishes where and when you are. Something simple, such as: “Two hours later, Sally sat outside the restaurant” or “After a week of fruitless searching, the group gave up and met on the dock” is enough to give the reader the guideline they need to know where and when the novel is at. Keep it short and sweet because the focus is on the story and the characters, not the pockets of time that have passed.
When you learn to write powerful scene transitions and hooks, your fiction will be ten times stronger. Your goal is always to keep that reader hooked, from the first page to the last. Every scene should raise the stakes, carrying the reader further along a growing tidal wave toward the inevitable disaster that changes the character’s lives and personalities. This is true in all kinds of fiction from mystery to romance, from thriller to coming-of-age novel. Novels are about change in a character’s life. People don’t change without undergoing a number of events that force them to step out of their comfort zone and confront themselves.
So give your characters a rollercoaster of events and keep the novel moving along at a brisk pace. If you do, your editor will keep reading, and so will your reader!