I just finished reading The Green Mile by Stephen King yesterday, and I have a few takeaways.
First of all, I see how powerful it is for a reader to be continually asking, “what happens next?” I was asking this continuously until I finished the book.
Part of the reason is the structure of the book itself. It was originally a serial novel. One new section was released each month, beginning in March of 1996 and continuing until August of the same year.
All six sections made the New York Times Bestseller List. I think it’s safe to say that King was doing something right.
With that in mind, here are 3 takeaways to hook your readers.
A quick note: All of these hinge on questions. That’s very important.
1. You must have Deep Hooks
Deep hooks are questions that are only resolved at the climax of the book. Will Robert Jordan blow up the bridge? (For Whom the Bell Tolls) Will Walter White be able to save Jesse Pinkman? (Breaking Bad) These are the questions that are going to hook you reader until the bitter end. They absolutely HAVE to know how it all ends.
2. You must have Shallow Hooks
Shallow hooks are questions that are resolved chapter to chapter. Will William Wharton strangle Dean Stanton with Paul Edgecombe watching? (The Green Mile) Will Harry Potter make it to Hogwarts on time in the Weasley’s flying car? (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
3. Flash Forwards are your friend
Flash forwards are very effective when it comes to deep hooks. If you give glimpses into the future, the reader will naturally ask, how do we get from where we are now, to there? This is brilliant because it does that same thing. What happens next? It’s a connecting of the dots, ratcheting up tension and suspense. TV shows are masters at this nowadays. You have the different things within each episode that keep you watching, but you also have the flash forwards at the beginnings, so we know where we’re headed, and that keeps us guessing at how the dots connect.
The two key terms here are tension and suspense. If these are in place using these tips, readers won’t be able to put your book down.
In the words of Joss Whedon: “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.”