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Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy Endings Are For the LAST Page

Last week we looked at first lines. They grabbed us, they made us pay attention, but in the end their power is limited. An opening line needs great follow through to make us keep reading.

Knowing that I wondered what actually makes a reader move from chapter one to chapter two, and the answer is glaringly obvious... the hook.

The hook, the last line, the ace up the author's sleeve is what grabs our attention on the last page of the chapter and makes us stay up until 3am to finish the book.

So I've grabbed six books off my shelves, one I know has terrific hooks, some I know I read just for the authors voice, and one that I was so terribly ambivilant about that I wonder how it survived the mass exodus of Pink Books to the local Goodwill in April.

Let's have a look....

The Lost Fleet: Courageous by Jack Campbell:
This isn't just the end-of-chapter hook this is the last line of the third book, the line that had me screaming for Mr. Campbell's blood...

"I'll see you in Lakota."
"Jump now."

This, in my opinion, is the perfect way to end a book. Nothing is resolved. All the characters have is a decision to go fight some more. Yes, you do need to read the book to get the full resolution but from those lines (and understanding this is sci-fi not YA on a playground) you understand that the action isn't over and to see a resolution you need to read more.

The Black Order by James Rollins:
This is the one I was ambivalent about. A good premise but the book itself wasn't anything stellar, the characters cliched, and the writing sometimes heavy handed. It was a vacation book. I flipped through and tried to find the chapter endings, here what was available...

End of Chapter 1-
"Who are you?"
"Painter," he said with a groan. "Painter Crowe."
End of Chapter 13-
"One dead... one critical."

Mr. Rollins likes endings, not hooks. He likes to answer the questions, resolve things, and tie off the loose ends. This book is a stand alone. I never expect to see these characters again. The only reason someone finishes this book is because you become invested in seeing the overall resolution, but without the hooks this is an easy book to put down. And without good characters it's a hard book to pick up again.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett:
One of my all time favorite books but told without chapters, only line breaks. The appeal of that format is that the reading is continuous, there isn't a defined place to put down the book so you can eat lunch (or go to sleep) and the scene's all flow together to make a complete story rather than having fragmented vignettes. There are mini-hooks though so I've picked a one of those.

Vimes shifted in his seat, aware of the sound of his own heartbeat, and glared at the haze over the river.
...and saw the wings.

From this little hook it breaks into another character's POV and you need to keep reading to find out whose wings Vimes saw (he's hunting a dragon just in case you haven't read the book). As hooks go, I like it. If the book had chapters though I'm not sure it would work so well. There's a lesson in that, if you're writing style isn't conducive to chapter breaks than Don't Use Chapters! Mr. Pratchett switches between books, sometimes using chapters, but usually not. That works for his style. I have WIP's that don't lend themself to chapters (because chapter 1 is 60 pages long). Chapters are not a requirement for a good book.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede:
Our token YA book that I love and read to my children. Very definite scenes and chapters and almost all the chapters end with hooks, although not all of the same kind.

End of Chapter 6-
"There!" cried Antorell over the nightshade's noise. "Vanquish that, Cimorene - if you can!"

End of Chapter 8-
The carpet shuddered, shifted and rose slowly into the air. Smiling broadly, Cimorene waved at Ballimor, then leaned forward. The carpet shivered againa and began to move. It sailed up out of the castle and into the sky over the mountains, gathering speed as it went.

Both chapter endings have action. OF the two I think the end of chapter 6 is stronger because it leaves the MC in peril. You *have* to turn the page and see how she survives (and you know she will because you're only half-way through the book). Chapter 8 has a description of the MC setting out for adventure, no peril or danger is evident, but there's a tone of excitement and finally getting to go. I like both and I now have visions of aerial fights from magic carpets.....

Every Which Way But Dead by Kim Harrison:
Urban fantasy isn't an entirely new genre, but it's exciting.

End of Chapter 15-
What if he was telling the truth?
End of Chapter 24-
But he hissed and shushed me, pulling out bottle after bottle of spray and odd-looking instruments whose use I couldn't even guess. I knew it was a battle already lost.

Chapter 15 ends with a question rather than an action, and I think that works. It gets the reader involved. Asking a question through internal monologue is as close as most books get to breaking the fourth wall (involving the audience). The audience starts thinking, they're fixating on the characters and situations and not going to bed despite the late hour, and that really is a good thing.

The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum:
The Bourne books aren't like the movie but they're fast paced and are, by definition, action books- which means they have a lot of hooks. Let's look at the classic end line of chapter one.

"He's come back. The assassin has come back to Asia! Jason Bourne! He's come back!"

First, the original Bourne books have a different premise from the movie. Bourne (David Webb) was a Vietnam Vet who took the name of a dead traitor (Bournse) and used it to lure out the assassin Carlos. Webb never killed anyone, and the US government knows it.... but some other people don't and the second book opens with the bad guys (sort of) believing Bourne is back. That sets the tone and theme for the rest of the book. The entire plot revolves around finding out who is impersonating Webb and why (and getting his wife back- she doesn't die in the books). It's perfect, it's classic, it tells you where the book is going and why. And it makes you keep reading.

So.........lot's of quotes but what does it mean?

What I see is that there are several types of endings and they have different effects.
1) Action- makes you keep reading
2) Question- makes you think and probably keep reading
3) Wrap up- which let's you put the book down

In my mind ending types 1 and 2 are the best choices for most genres.

So let's put our knowledge into action.

Give me your ending lines. From chapter 1 is best but if you have another chapter ending you just have to show off then go ahead and submit. Put things in the comments section and I'll post up above. When you post your ending tell us what type of ending you think it is and why you think it works.

Good luck!

P.S. Don't forget that next Monday Authoress starts the Are You Hooked? contest on her blog with a real live literary agent commenting on every piece! Polish up your openings and be prepared for fun!


  1. The devil held a new shovel by the handle, point down into the dirt floor of the cellar. The lantern light reflected back at Vito who tried to swallow the lump that formed in his throat. He glanced down at the shovel and back into the eyes of the master of his corpses. “Oh shit.”
    “Hello Vito.”

    Oooh what fun. Here's an ending where I tied up a lose end. I'd say it's action unless you read what comes before, then you'd call it a wrap.

  2. There was only one solution to his treachery. He’d make him suffer. One planet. A place Nero traveled to once and swore he'd never revisit. A ‘cess pool’ he’d called it. Polluted, overcrowded, angry.


    Darius’s mouth twitched. "Pack your bags. We're going to Earth."

    "We?" Nero muttered, his eyes wide.


    Okay one more. I love last lines. I'd call this action.

  3. he he he- thanks Dawn!

    I'll get those up :)

  4. Ooo, oo, pick me! :D

    All quotes from The Project:

    Ch 1:
    I fought against his restraint. “Andrew,” I said, ducking out of his hug, “I don’t think he didn’t die. He didn’t die. I don’t know why you can’t just accept that.”
    “Come with me to the lab?”
    His words caught me by surprise. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
    “Please? I think you’ll understand then.”
    I nodded. Why not? What did I have to lose? We went to the lab, we saw Dad, Andrew admitted I was right and confessed to whatever stupid prank he was pulling, and we went our separate ways again. Happy.
    I headed to the front door. “I’ll get my keys.”

    Yes, I used more than the last line, because the hook comes just before it O:) With luck you shall cope :P:D

    Ch 3:
    A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. I slid off the chair and crossed to the door, opened it, and found myself face to face with a policeman.

    That'll do for now :)

  5. As you shall see, endings are not my strong point. I will have to work on them next draft...

    All from EotF:

    Ch. 1:
    The guard still kept his post at the Dome entrance. If Jex didn't leave the same way he entered, it would look suspicious. He nodded to the guard and swaggered into the courtyard.

    - Action. does it work? no idea. I think the last scene of my heroine's POV is more hooky, and hopefully that and the reader's curiosity about Jex will keep them reading.

    Ch. 4:
    She stood and turned to leave when she heard someone coming. Likely the same person who set up camp in her clearing and had the nerve to mistreat their horse. She decided to stay and confront whomever it was.

    - Action/anticipation. The reader knows who is coming, but not this character. Anyone know a better way to write that last line and get the point across? It's just so... awkward.

    One more. Ch. 13:

    A name came to her at last, "Arroyo," and with the simple whisper they belonged to each other.

    - Not so much because it works as a hook, but it's one of my favorite lines. :-)

  6. Here are the last few lines at the end of chapter one of my urban fantasy novel:

    I stared at the fist aimed at my face, the knuckles white, the backs of his curled fingers sprouting fine hairs as pale as those on his head. And he wore a ring on his middle finger, its ruby center surrounded by Sanskrit letters that I could read with crystal clarity. They spelled the word Vyantara. Then I saw only darkness.

    I'd say action. I think it works as a hook because it definitely sets the tone for this character's future, which is pretty bleak.