Friday, June 5, 2020

Draw in Your Readers with Hooks & Twists

Today in My Writing Corner, I am turning to my alter ego--the non-fiction writing teacher in me for some advice and thoughts on drawing in your readers.  As we all struggle with quarantine, I know a  lot of writers are using the time to try to catch up on that fiction writing we’ve been wanting to do. I ve given ideas on subjects in the past, but today let’s look at something other than finding topics.  One of the questions, I’m often asked as a fiction writer is, “how do you keep the reader’s interest?”

A couple of tactics that are often used are some of the best parts of any book – hooks and twists.  Once you have your book rolling along you need to keep the reader moving and hooks and twists go a long way toward doing that. By the time you’ve reached the middle of your book, continuing to plot can start to seem overwhelming. We have our captivating beginning, we might even have ideas for some complications with conflict for our heroes, heroines and companions. 

How else can you make the middle come alive? This is the point where so many authors get stuck. Suddenly there seem to be so many directions the story could go and the choices can seem endless. Maybe you’ve hit a block or you know some of the things you want to have happen, but you have no idea now where to place anything. Even worse, the story seems to just be hanging there, going nowhere.

The story may be moving along but it is getting boring. What now? How about a plot twist? Think of those true crime TV shows where the host or hostess promises to “turn the story in a whole new direction.”  Well, that’ what you can do with a plot twist. Once you have established the flow of your book, you’re going to want to break up the flow with action scenes, or if you’ve had too many action scenes, maybe you need to turn your story around with a slower, more thoughtful scene. You don’t want to simply string together a bunch of action scenes. You can afford to take a few breathers every now and then to let your characters react emotionally to what has happened.

It may be time to think about some of that backstory you’ve put off or to provide an explanation of something that might be useful later. As just about any writing instructor will tell you that backstory should not come in the opening pages of the book, but once you have established your story and gotten the plot moving, this might be the time to work in some of that slower back story to give the reader a break in the action and to let the reader think.

We might want to start consider putting in a few scenes that speak to who your character is and why your character is acting in a certain way. By now we’ve set a direction for your character and let the reader in on some of your character’s better personality traits. Now we want to show a little more of who this person is.

You don’t want to drag down your book with too much detail or backstory or make the reader suffer
with a “sagging middle.” What do you do to make the backstory interesting? One way to accomplish that is to  make the scene part of the action. Are there ways you can  show emotional problems through action? Scenes can be on the internal or external level and this provides a good chance to use some of those internal or emotional scenes. What you need to keep in mind is that through this all you still want to keep up the tension and the pace. Don’t just say your heroine had an argument with her father years earlier, show the tension between them. Don’t just say the hero did something years ago, show it through a conversation or a flashback. Let the reader feel the passion of the events that are still being debate or that are still affecting the characters.

There are other ways to engage the reader further and make them want to keep going.  It’s what is called a “hook.”

Hooks are those tiny little surprises that the author constantly throws at the reader to keep them going. They are especially useful in the middle of the book, but they can come in at any time.

Look for them

- At the beginning of the book --sometimes even in the first line to draw in the reader
- At end of a scene so the reader will keep reading  
- At the beginning of the scene to get the reader "hooked" into reading all of the following pages
- As the story begins moving. Often the “inciting incident” is considered a hook.
- At the end of the chapter -- this is where they are used most often in order to keep the reader from putting the book down.                  

Hooks can come in lots of forms. Perhaps your heroine suddenly discovers a family secret such as the fact she was adopted.  Maybe your hero learns the wife he thought was dead is still alive. Put those discoveries at the end of a scene or a chapter and your reader isn’t going anywhere.

 They are going to want to read on to the next scene or chapter. Best selling author Joan Johnston suggests using hooks at the beginning of a chapter  to get the reader into it, and again at the ending of the chapter to keep the reader going. She says a hook can be as simple as a question or a provocative statement.

A plot twist is another way to keep the reader turning the pages. Most plot twists will be considered hooks because they keep the reader wanting more but not all hooks are going to be plot twists. As we’ve noted the hooks are surprises that hook the reader into reading more. Twists, on the other hand, only come several times in a story and they will turn the entire story around. In some cases authors may use only two or three twists -- one at the beginning of the story and another a third of the way in and one two thirds of the way in.

A twist is that moment when the characters change direction.  Twists are also a good way to show your characters. Imagine the meek hero who suddenly turns out to be an excellent marksman. Why? Because he was a sniper in the war. But it’s something he regrets or he doesn’t like to mention. Maybe he killed someone by mistake.  Look at that—we’re getting backstory as we learn about the hero and advancing the plot. Using hooks and twists can do that in your current plot.

These are just some of the sorts of turns in your story that must keep happening as the plot rolls along. Twists and turns can make the story go in new directions and to show who your characters are as they grow so look for ways to use them to keep that plot rolling along.

For more writing tips and ideas, please visit my website: or to check on my fiction work, please visit, or please email me with your writing questions at or

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