Hook ‘em Tight: One Technique for Writing a Book They Can’t Put Down by Author Janine Mendenhall

So you’d like to write a novel, huh? I can appreciate that. I want to write another one too. In fact, like you, I’d like to keep writing them from now on—a book a year, or maybe even two. But the thing is neither one of us wants to produce an ordinary piece. 
We both want to please our readers so much that they won’t want to put our books down, right?
That means we need to hook our respective audiences not only with an excellent story full of conflict-based tension, but most especially, where people normally think it’s time to stop reading.
So when do readers reach for their bookmark? (I’ll give you one guess.)
That’s it, at the end of a chapter!
Before I go any further, I need to give credit where it is due because, the truth of the matter is, I learned to write (and still am, by the way) by following Steven James’s directions in Story Trumps Structure and from other great Craft books written by James Scott Bell, Jack M. Bickham, and Jordan E. Rosenfeld—to name a few.
Now that that’s settled, let me share three ways to keep your readers reading. 
3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter 
(My examples come from my debut inspirational historical fiction/romance novel. Preview Starving Hearts at http://www.janinemendenhall.com/preview-starving-hearts/.) 
  1. Modify Your Thinking. The close of a chapter is NOT the end. It’s the beginning of your next scene, or one that will follow soon enough. Instead of tying things up in a nice little bow and losing the tension you’ve built up, create some suspense by leaving a string untied. 
Add an extra dose of tension in the language too.
These are the last three sentences of Chapter 2–Savior in Starving Hearts.
        At the far end of the gallery, she entered the deserted renovation area. Honestly, at the moment, she could not care less that it was off limits. 
       Opening the door of the first room she reached, Annette stepped in and lurched to a halt.
Did you see and feel that? 
The door opened, but we couldn’t see what Annette saw. The shocking word lurched created a touch of suspense, and the reader turned the page. 
Once the page is turned, we’re safe, as long as there’s a good hook waiting to catch the reader at the beginning of the next chapter.
  1. Create Nagging Doubt. Our readers have very quick minds. If we offer just enough information to create a slight imbalance, they will get the subtle hint and ask themselves “But did she?” (or a similar contrary question), and that will be enough to make them move on and find the answer.  
Here’s what I mean.
Read the last three sentences of the Prologue of Starving Hearts. See if you feel enough doubt to cause you to ask what I call a contrary question.
         Annette was too overwhelmed to care. All she wanted was Mother’s assurance that she would never see or hear of the fiend again. Mrs. Chetwynd agreed that was best, and she would personally see him immediately dispatched from the estate. And that was precisely what Annette believed Mother would do.  
Of course, readers don’t necessarily realize they are constantly scrutinizing stories as they read them. But did you recognize the subtle “But did she?” that came at the end of that sentence? 
My heroine, Annette, believed her mother would do what she said, but the fact that I wrote it this way caused you to doubt that her mother did what she said.
That nagging doubt is enough to keep the reader going, of course, it also makes a promise, and as Steven James always says, we need to be very careful to keep our promises to our readers. 
If we don’t, they will close our books and never read any of them again. (If you haven’t read Story Trumps Structure, please know, it is well worth your time, and Steven James isn’t even paying me to say this. ☺)
  1. Play Opposites Attract.  I cannot emphasize it enough. Our readers are very intelligent, and they often automatically predict what will happen next. We can take advantage of this brilliance by giving them something negative or scary to worry them without even putting it on paper.
Notice the end of Chapter 4—The Plan. 
You will automatically predict that the opposite of what I’m telling you is really what will happen next. And because that opposite is attractive in a negative way, it’s likely you’ll want to find out how bad things get for my hero, Peter.
Try it, and see what happens.
         Adjusting his evening coat again, Peter willed himself to move to the door. He had made his decision. He would propose tonight, and she would accept him. Then his life would begin, and all would be well.
It did happen, didn’t it? You predicted she would not accept his proposal and that things would not end well, right? That’s because you’re smart, just like our readers.
On that note, it’s time to say goodbye, at least for now. I hope you enjoyed this little lesson on 3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter so they can’t put your book down. Visit me and preview Starving Hearts http://www.janinemendenhall.com/preview-starving-hearts/ to see if I’m successful at keeping your attention. 
If I do, remember, the credit for Craft goes to those I mentioned above, but the real glory belongs to God.   “Whoever abides in (Him) . . . bears much fruit, for apart from (Him) you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Bio:
Janine Mendenhall teaches teens English, of all things! Sometimes she sleeps, but most nights she reads, writes, or watches movies like “Pride and Prejudice” and claims she’s researching her next book. “Splickety Love” and “Splickety Prime” have published her flash fiction. She and her husband, Tom, live in North Carolina where they and their two golden retrievers help gratify the needs of their five children and two cats.

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Oldies Hit Parade! What Are Your Favorite All-Time Reads?

It’s late on Tuesday evening and I brought home a portable record player, like the the kind with a turntable and needle, from my mother-in-laws.

Digging in the closet, I pulled out an old Donny Osmond album, his last before the current era, that’s never made it to digital. I thought it’d be fun to hear it again. It’s been more than 20 years since I had a way to play it. #timeless

Music takes me back. It’s a powerful tool that impacts our emotions.

But what about books? Can’t they impact our emotions too? Become timeless in our hearts. Absolutely.

While driving to Tennessee for vacation week before last, my husband decided to listen to The Wedding Dress, a book I wrote almost six years ago, since it recently hit the New York Times Bestseller List.

I cringed off and on the whole time. I heard every mistake, every over used word, but at one point my husband said, “Wow, I just teared up.”

And as the reader read the final scene, I teared up myself. Why? Because I loved the characters all over again and I didn’t want to part ways.

When the book ended, we were both silent for awhile. The story took us some place, Impacted us.

That’s the power of story. Never sell yourself short as an author to move the human heart.

My good friend Debbie Macomber said, “We don’t write to sell units, we write to impact hearts.”

Amen, sister!

The books that moved my heart are the ones I talk about, the ones I remember years after I’ve read them.

What about you? Do you have a book like that?

Softly and Tenderly, the second Songbird Novel I wrote with Sara Evans is still one of my all time favorites. Weird uh? A friend asked me during Christmas why I liked it so much. Don’t you know I teared up telling her all the reasons!

Here’s a list of novels that have impacted me:

The Little House book by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Introduced  to these stories in 5th grade, they became a permanent part of my DNA. While Laura was born 93 years before me, we were somehow alike, the same, sisters from a different time. We were both the second born, but while she lived on a prairie in little houses with three sisters, I lived in the ‘burbs in little houses with three brothers and one sister, we were kindred. Laura’s heart and strength were my heart and strength. Her life is a part of my life forever.

The Song of Abraham by Ellen Gunderson Traylor. I read this mass paperback in college and never forgot it. In fact, for a writing class, I wrote a Biblical story mimicking her style. Outside of the Bible, this book probably had the hugest impact on my spiritual walk. At a time when I was spreading my wings, growing up, figuring out who I wanted to be I read the story of a man who would be called Friend of God. And I wanted to be a friend of God. Traylor’s story invoked a truth in me through the fictional depiction of a real life man.

Shouldn’t that be our goal. To inspire? To point the way to hope and truth?

Rind The Wind by Lucia St. Claire Robson. The story of real life Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped as a girl in 1836 by the Comanche, eventually marrying one of their leaders. I’ve not read this book in eons, but it has everything. Drama, tension, conflict, humanity, glimpses of truth, a bit of fiction, and romance with a mysterious, notorious warrior, Peta Nocona as the hero. Look them up, it’ll have you reading and thinking for a long while.

The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Loved this book, set in World War 2 on the English island that was occupied by Nazi’s. The story of  Elizabeth McKenna, caught on the island when war broke out, is challenging, impactful, a woman with the strength I’d hope to have given similar circumstances. A story to be savored and not forgotten.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. A piece of history, a story of the south. Engaging, real, I was drawn into the story from the get go. By the end, I could feel the truth, the heart and read the last few pages through tears. I love stories dealing with racial issues.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. Another World War 2 tome about the Nazi occupation of Paris. Two sisters find themselves dealing with the war in very different ways, but each one finding the courage to fight the war on her doorstep. Moving, deep, detailed, engrossing, a story to stay with you for a long time. Again, challenging me to ask, “In the face of evil, what will I do?”

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Okay, if you’ve been around me the past year and a half you know I loved, loved, loved this book. I wrote my editor and said, “I want to write like this.” She read the book too and loved, loved, loved it. I was first drawn in by a story set in the ’30s New England, then by William’s writing style but quickly it became about story, story, story. Tears at the end. Even cooler is Williams endorsed my next book, The Wedding Shop! Pinch me!

There are more stories but I’ll stop there. What about you? What books impacted you and linger with you through time?

As a writer, how can you aspire to impact your readers. Hint: It’s about character!

*** 

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Hauck lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.
Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.
Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, The Wedding Chapel landed on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirationals for 2015.
Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.

Are You Ready To Publish?

The world of publishing is changing. And you know this unless you just awoke from a long 10 year nap.

There are more options available to writers today than ever before. 
The e-publishing entrepreneurs have changed the way we see book publishing. 
Writers around the world rejoice. Authors with no platform, or with a stack of rejections can publish their books on their own.
Long time authors holding rights revisions can now do something affordable and effective to revitalize their out-of-print books.
And the publishers can do the same. There’s new life to backlists. I recently had a four year old title, The Wedding Dress, hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
If you’re not published yet, traditionally or independently, you have all kinds of options. But you must ask yourself, “Am I ready?”
Just because you can be published doesn’t mean you should be published.
I know, I know, it’s so hard to wait when you’ve been working on a book for months or perhaps years. 
You’ve edited that thing to death and your crit partners have read ad nauseam and refuse to read it “one more time.” 
You are ready to get your book out there. After all, you love your story. It’s your baby. But traditional publishers have failed to see it’s merits. So, you sneak over to Amazon’s CreateSpace and think, “Hmm.. I could just publish it myself.”
I love your entrepreneurial thinking. Going outside the box and finding a way to tell your story is key to being a great author. 
I did something similar back in ’02 when I sold my little romance, This Time, to an e-publisher. No one had ever heard of a Nook or Kindle back then but I thought, “Even if one person reads it and enjoys it, one person outside my circle of friends, then it’s worth it.” 
While it’s a sweet story, it’s not my best writing. It was only the second book I’d ever written. I’ve learned so much since then.
There are more things to consider about writing than “being published.” Or that the publishers just don’t “get” or like your story.
Publishers have to consider their market. They must give something to the sales team that they can pitch to a bookseller in a few short minutes. If that.
Publishers have to consider their own business goals and brands. Your story might be fantastic in every way but not a product that fits the vision and goals of a publisher. 
There are times I’m not sure I can come up with a high concept, pitchable story idea that will fire-up a sales team. So I consult with my writing partner, my agent, my editor and on occasion, my dog. She’s a good listener.
For every indie success story such as J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking there are a hundred Noname Jones and WhoAreYou Smith with books languishing in e-publishing la-la land.
Indie books, above all books, it could be argued, need to be a cut above. Why? Because the competition to be seen is incredible. 
If you are considering independent publishing, or even going with a small publishing house, consider these things:
  1. Rewrite your book. Serious. Don’t just edit and “fix.” Rewrite. Books need to be crafted. And they are not written, they are rewritten. Fork out the money for a substantive edit. Then for a line edit. What’s the difference? A substantive edit is also called a macro edit. It’s a wide review of the story and characters from a trained eye to see if all the components work. You need more than advance readers in order to craft a good story. Readers often don’t have a critical eye. They overlook inconsistencies. They don’t understand craft. A skilled editor can help with characterization, plot, symbols and metaphors. But again, a macro edit is a sweeping, top-down view of your story.  I once worked with a private client who’d been through many professional “editors.” While they helped her with grammar and perhaps some minor elements of the story, they provided no services to her with story crafting. Her story and premise were riddled with holes. So find someone to help you craft your book. 
  2. Hire a good line editor. Also called a micro editor. I love line editors. They really get into the “weeds” of the story. They focus on sentences and words where a substantive editor focuses on scenes, chapters, story and characters. Line editors can really help shore up a story and fine tune minute details.
  3. Hire a good cover artist. Unless you’re a skilled artist, don’t try to do the cover yourself.   I hate when I see a poor quality cover on an indie book. It makes me not want to read it. There are a lot of skilled artist who will create a cover for a reasonable price. Also, research components of a good cover. Writers usually want way too much detail. But covers are really visual concepts of what the story is about. Covers should convey a feeling. It’s true, books are judged by the cover.
  4. Pricing. The free verses cheap debate. Should authors give their work away for free? Aren’t we worthy to be paid for our labor? But free often gets the consumer’s attention. But so does cheap. Latest news I’ve heard is $.99 and $1.99 are fair and solid prices for new indie authors. But do your research. 
  5. Build your tribe and social media platforms. Build relationships with other writers, with readers, with publishers. Be a friend. Be a fan. Be a supporter. Talk about others as much as you talk about yourself. I know when readers or other writers shout out to their social media venues about my books, I’m more than happy to do it for them in return. If I like a book, I post about it. I write a good review. Get involved in the writing community. Networking is the key to just about everything. Publishing, especially indie publishing, is no exception.
  6. Set aside at least $1,000 to $3,000 for promotion. You just have to do it. Network with indie authors who have experience with promotion. Consider Book Bub and other indie promotional sites.
  7. Pray. Be patient. Trust the Lord’s timing is perfect for you.
I hope these help to help. Remember, no book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble is better than a bad book. 🙂

*** 

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Hauck lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.
Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.
Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, The Wedding Chapel landed on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirationals for 2015.
Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.

SIT! STAY! LOVE!

Dana Mentink is a two
time American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award winner. She is the author
of over thirty titles in the suspense and lighthearted romance genres. Her
suspense novel, Betrayal in the Badlands, earned a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award and she has also been honored
with a Holt Medallion Award of Merit. She is pleased to write for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense and Harlequin
Heartwarming. Besides writing, she busies herself teaching third grade. Mostly,
she loves to be home with Papa Bear, Yogi, Boo Boo, a dog with social anxiety
problems, a chubby box turtle and a feisty parakeet.

My writing is
going to the dogs lately. No kidding. It’s strange how life parallels art
sometimes. As I worked on Sit, Stay, Love, my first dog-themed book
about a pro baseball pitcher and a geriatric pooch named Tippy, my own sweet
old doggie was about to take her final walk. Nala was a part of our family for
thirteen years and I knew that she was entering her final weeks as I pounded
away on my keyboard. I found the scenes I wrote about the fictional Tippy were
extra poignant, as I watched my sweet Nala enjoy napping in the sun and eagerly
plodding along through her (slow) morning walks.
In addition
to Sit, Stay, Love, I was working on a K-9 continuity for Love Inspired
Suspense! I delved into the world of bloodhounds, otherwise known as “noses
with dogs attached” for that story. So while my fictional dogs flourished,
my own darling Nala passed away, just as both books were headed off to the
editors. Oh how I cried. I still do. There will never be another dog like my
adorable Nala, my writing partner, my devoted friend. For a long time the house
felt empty without the jingle of her collar, and I looked for her in the
hallway and lying on the grass in every patch of sunlight.
But time has
a way of passing, doesn’t it? Spring has brought us a wild, wiry little mutt
named Junie. We went to the Animal Rescue foundation in search of an older,
mid-sized dog and we emerged with a ten-pound puppy who adores her squeaky toys
and steals my pencils at every opportunity.
Odd, that a
similar wild, wiry little mutt named Jellybean is currently finding his way
into my work-in-progress. Junie’s a bundle of zany energy, she eats absolutely
everything and as I type this, she is knocking all the pillows off the sofa.
Will this insanity be a part of Jellybean’s character in Paws for Love? Oh you
betcha. I wonder what our box turtle will think after she awakens from her three-month
hibernation to find out there’s a puppy waiting to sniff, poke and pester her?
“Doggone it!” I imagine she’ll say before she goes to find a nice
hole to hide in.
I don’t even
want to know what the parakeet thinks!
Sit Stay Love
Take one abrasive professional athlete, a quirky out-of-work
schoolteacher, and an overweight geriatric dog, and you’re ready for a lesson
in love…Tippy style.
Pro baseball pitcher Cal Crawford is not a dog guy. When he
inherits his deceased mother’s elderly dog, Tippy, he’s quick to call on a
pet-sitting service.
Gina isn’t thrilled to be a dog sitter when her aspirations lie
in the classroom. Furthermore, she can’t abide the unfriendly Cal, a man with
all the charm of a wet towel. But with no other prospects and a deep love for
all things canine, she takes the job caring for Tippy.
As Gina travels through Cal’s world with Tippy in tow, she
begins to see Cal in a different light. Gina longs to show Cal the God-given
blessings in his life that have nothing to do with baseball or fame. When her
longing blooms into attraction, Gina does her best to suppress it. But Cal is
falling in love with her too…
Discover the charming story of Tippy, the dog who brought a
family together.
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