—Mae West misquote
Yep, Mae West did it. So did Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Heck, even Scarlett did it with Rhett in Gone With the Wind when she dressed up in her mama’s velvet curtains.
Let’s face it—as human beings, we all “tease” at times. To persuade, to influence, to coax. Women do it when they doll up in their best dress, perfume and makeup to flutter their eyelashes at their boyfriends, hubbies or dates. Perfume companies do it when they offer handbags or umbrellas with the purchase of one of their scents, and Hollywood certainly does it when they entice us with movie trailers and previews of upcoming movies.
And guess what?? Writers do it too! Just like you need the perfect “pickup line” or hook to entice an editor or reader to pick up your manuscript or book The Perfect Pickup Line… Or How To Hook A Reader, you also need great scene and chapter endings to keep them reading on. To give them insomnia so they turn the pages far into the night. And to be honest, if there is one thing that bothers me as a writer more than a mediocre first line, it’s an ending line to a scene or chapter that tells me … yawn … it’s time to go to bed.
Case in Point—a few years ago I went to a writer’s retreat in Chama, New Mexico, where, incidentally, Mary Connealy was my roomie, an insomniac who not only writes far into the night, but also reads into the wee hours as well. So, there we were, the two of us in all of our nighttime glory, reading our books. I was just finishing up Twilight by Stephenie Meyer because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and I liked it well enough, but had NO earthly intention of reading book two in the series. None, zilch, nada.
So I heave a sigh and turn the last page and there, staring me in the face is chapter one of book 2 in the “Twilight Saga,” New Moon. Now, I wasn’t tired and I didn’t want to begin a new book that late at night, so I started reading it. And it was okay, but I still had NO intention of buying/reading it … until I got to the last paragraph of the first chapter, and sweet mother of Job, Stephenie Meyer pulled a tease like I’ve never read in a book before. I’m telling you, when I finished those last few lines of New Moon’s first chapter, I was SO crazed to read on, that if there had been a store open at one o’clock in the morning in little Chama, New Mexico, I would have been there in my PJs buying New Moon. So … ready to see that tease of a scene ending? Well, here it is—Bella is celebrating her birthday with her vampire boyfriend Edward’s family when the party goes awry …
New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer
I’d tumbled down to the floor by the piano with my arms thrown out instinctively to catch my fall, into the jagged shards of glass. Only now did I feel the searing, stinging pain that ran from my wrist to the crease inside my elbow.
Dazed and disoriented, I looked up from the bright, red blood pulsing out of my arm—into the fevered eyes of the six suddenly ravenous vampires.
To quote Mary Connealy—Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Stephanie Meyer cast her line, jerked hard, and reeled me in, hook, line and sinker. And, ladies and gentlemen—YOU can do the very same with just “a little bit of help from your friends” … your Seeker friends, that is, and a few others. Here are some samples of various types of scene/chapter endings that you can use to “lead your readers on,” but first, here’s a basic tip to adhere to:
When it comes to scene or chapter endings, think drama, drama, DRAMA!!!! It’s actually not much different than hook openings because you need to reel them in much the same way, but this time you’re propelling them into the next scene or chapter while neatly wrapping the scene/chapter up at the same time.
Keep in mind that ho-hum actions (i.e. Mary turned, waved and headed down the street.), flat dialogue, (i.e. Thank you for the lift home, Mitch, good-night.”) or comatose thoughts (i.e. This was a great day.) are NOT going to entice your reader to shorten their beauty sleep, so anything you can do to infuse DRAMA into your endings is imperative. BUT … here’s the catch—it MUST make sense with the flow of the prior paragraphs, it MUST wrap the scene up like a period at the end of the sentence, and it MUST promise the reader something—a foreshadow of what’s to come to keep them reading.
I’m pretty sure there are tons of ways to do that, but here are some that I came up with while browsing a lot of my own scene/chapter endings and those of Seekers and author friends. I apologize for using so many of my own, but obviously I have ready access to them, and PLEASE understand that these are not hard and fast rules, mind you, just suggestions of ways to add DRAMA to your scene and chapter endings. So … here we go!
1.) HUMOR: Humor keeps me reading every time, and Mary Connealy is queen of humor as far as I’m concerned, not only beginning her books with it, but often ending scenes and chapters with it too and even connecting last lines of one chapter with first lines of the next. Here are a couple of scene endings that made me smile and consequently, will (in the case of Mary’s not-yet-released book) and did hook me further into the book.
Out of Control by Mary Connealy, July 2011
End of Chapter Four:
She'd gone along believing a woman must. But that was before she’d met Julia and seen how brave and smart a woman could be.
Julia was stronger, smarter and more independent that any woman Audra had ever known.
Audra was changing right now to be like Julia.
Julia Gilliland was a half-wit, and no amount of Christian charity would change that one speck.
Love on Assignment by Cara Lynn James, January 2011
Supper in progress, Charlotte dropped into a chair to read desert recipes. Chocolate pudding with shipped cream was her favorite, so she examined the directions. Butterscotch also looked delicious. Perhaps when she returned home she'd surprise Aunt Amelia and try these out.
“Can I help?"
She tossed him a big smile. "No thank you, sir. I have everything under control."
"Are you sure you don't need a hand?" he asked again. "I smell smoke."
Single Sashimi, by Camy Tang
He reached out, grabbed her hand and held it, twining his fingers in hers, rubbing at dried flakes of mud with his thumb. “I’m glad you’re staying.”
“I am too.” She slid her eyes to his. “But let’s renegotiate my salary …”
The Healer’s Apprentice, by Melanie Dickerson
If, as an apprentice, Rose could impress Frau Geruscha with her skill, she would become the next healer—needed, respected. She could avoid the indignity of marrying someone out of desperation.
So she’d never experience love. Most married people didn’t, either.
2.) SUSPENSE/FEAR/ANXIETY: Anything that prickles or unsettles is a surefire way to lure the reader into the next scene/chapter. Notice in Pam’s example how she heightens the drama with separate sentences, and then both Pam and Laura make good use of short, terse sentences as well.
Terms of Indenturement, by Pam Hillman
Cold dread swooshed up from Connor’s stomach and exploded in his chest.
He’d been indentured to a woman.
He closed his eyes.
God help him.
The Frontiersman’s Daughter, by Laura Frantz
At last they were gone, slipping away into the wall of woods. Invisible, but ever present. Silent. Perhaps deadly.
Critical Care, by Candace Calvert
“I promise I’ll do as much as I can to help, and …” Her voice faltered as heavy footsteps came to a stop behind her. She fought an unnerving sense of déjà vu and impending doom.
“Help?” A man’s voice, thick with sarcasm, prodded her back like the devil’s pitchfork.
Claire turned, several pamphlets slipping from her fingers.
It was time to officially meet the newest threat to her plan, Dr. Logan Caldwell.
3.) FORESHADOW: Missy Tippens says she always try to end the third chapter of her books with the story question, which I found to be a pretty cool idea. In the example below, the heroine Sarah has come home for Christmas to try to heal from the recent death of one of her kindergarten students—a little boy whose parents worked all the time to provide material things they thought he needed, while all he wanted was time with them. In the story, Sarah sees that the hero Gregory is making the same mistake with his boys—trying to provide the perfect Christmas.
A Forever Christmas, by Missy Tippens
Thank you for bringing my mom and dad here. They even spent the night. We pretended we were staying in a tent. Peter had smiled at her from his hospital bed, happy even while needles and tubes stuck into his body, so sure she'd had something to do with his parents' change of heart. But, no, a terminal diagnosis had seen to that.
Hunter's sad, angry face flashed through her mind.
Yes, she had to do it. For Hunter.
Though she'd been powerless in Peter's situation, at least she had time to try to make a difference in Hunter and Chase's lives. To make sure Gregory spent time with his sons. Every single day. For the twelve days till Christmas.
A Passion Denied, by Julie Lessman
Brady strode into Eileen and Pete’s apartment and drew in a deep breath for the task ahead. An angel instead of a man. His lips quirked into a sour smile. That would certainly be nice. Especially at a moment like this. His jaw tightened. As if he could qualify.
Angels didn’t have his past.
4.) THREATS: Let’s face it, whenever somebody issues a threat, the tension ratchets up, whether it’s romantic tension or the suspense kind, and since I don’t have the “suspense” expertise of Debby Giusti or Camy Tang, I only have an example of the romantic kind. :)
A Hope Undaunted, by Julie Lessman
“Desperate for peace, huh?” Katie called after her, determined to end things on a much lighter note. She stood and rounded the table, following Faith to the door. “Well, come Monday morning, if that man so much as looks at me cross-eyed, you and he are going to have a lot in common.” She gave her sister a quick kiss and then flashed her a crooked grin. “And trust me, sis, when I’m done with Cluny McGee … ‘desperate for peace’ won’t even begin to cover it.”
5.) ROMANTIC TEASE: Now as a die-hard romance lover, I will be the first to tell you that nothing gets me through a book like romance, especially when an author uses it to end a dreamy scene. But, I don’t know … maybe that’s just me …
Dreaming of Home, by Glynna Kaye
Turning to face her, his free hand cupped her cheek. His eyes roamed her hair. Her eyes.
"My Dad says I'm dumb as a rock. I'm beginning to think he's right."
But before she could voice her confusion, he'd shifted slightly, head tilted, lips parting. His gaze still searching, questioning. Longing.
Meg's breath caught. He was—was he going to—?
Sushi for One, by Camy Tang
A whisper of breath at her cheek. Skin sliding against skin. Soft lips
on the corner of her mouth.
Her heart fluttered.
She turned her head into his kiss.
A Passion Denied, by Julie Lessman
Lizzie’s gentle sigh merged with one of his own, and suddenly a rush of love flooded his heart. His eyes moistened at the touch of her warm body against his, carrying his child. He clutched her tightly in his arms, and when he spoke, his voice was rough with emotion. “What did I ever do to deserve you, Lizzie?”
He felt the curve of her lips against the stubble of his skin. “Oh, not much, Brady, just love God with all of your heart.”
With a raspy groan, he kissed her hard, sweeping the curve of her body with his hands.
“And what did I do to deserve that?” she breathed, pulling back with a hint of a tease.
His palm stroked the full of her belly, then slid to her waist to gently shift her close. “Figure it out, Elizabeth,” he whispered in her ear, and proceeded to kiss the hollow of her throat … this time without interruption.
6.) REGRETS: When a character is sick inside over something they did or something that happened, I don’t know about you, but I’m sick inside, too, and I will actually continue reading just to try and alleviate that uneasy feeling.
Rancher's Reunion, by Tina Radcliffe, January 2011
“What exactly is the question, Will?”
“Annie,” he said softly. “Are you leaving?”
“I don’t know.”
“When they call back. What will you say?”
“How can I answer that honestly?” Her hands opened and closed in obvious frustration.
Without thinking, he reached out and stopped the agitated movement. His large hand held her small one and it fit perfectly. He stared into her dark eyes, lost for a moment. “I can give you a million reasons why you should stay.”
She exhaled a breath, and Will caught a glimpse of sadness in her eyes before she shook her head and stared down at the paper.
Had he imagined her whispered words?
“Yes, but not the right one.”
A Hope Undaunted, by Julie Lessman
He turned and walked into his office, slamming the door hard.
Katie stared, her body still quivering from his rage. Closing her eyes, she sagged against the wall, too stunned to move and too shaken to care. She pressed a trembling hand to her mouth, her lips swollen from the taste of him. She was doomed, she realized, and the thought shivered through her like a cold chill. She wanted a man she didn’t really want, and the very notion weakened her at the knees. He had called her one of the sorriest people alive. She grappled for her purse and put a hand to her eyes.
And God help her, she was.
7.) INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: As you know from my Seeker post on hook beginnings mentioned above, I LOVE utilizing internal monologue or thoughts to lead the reader on, as in these great examples.
Small-Town Hearts, by Ruth Logan Herne, June 2011
But he’d best be leaving sweet Megan alone, unfortunately. Here in Hometown, USA, his reputation was key to making this tribute store work, to building its success.
Being on his best behavior was huge and she seemed like the kind of girl who deserved nothing but the best. And Danny knew first-hand how he fell short in that category, so he’d avoided the temptation of happily-ever-afters, knowing they didn’t really exist.
Until now. With a woman completely off-limits. Didn’t it just figure?
The Silent Governess, by Julie Klassen:
Slowly I became aware of their hooded looks, their unconscious shrinking back from us. Now they would believe the traveler’s accusation that my ability had been a trick all along. All their applause and ale and wagers accepted dishonestly. In his eyes—in theirs—they had all been made fools by us. By me.
By my silence.
8.) REVEAL A TRUTH: I love ending a scene revealing a truth that heats things up considerably, raising the stakes not only for the hero and heroine, but for the reader as well.
A Hope Undaunted, by Julie Lessman
At his touch, her lips tilted into a dreamy smile. “Mmm … I love you, Luke McGee,” she whispered, and then rolled to her side with a soft, little snort.
He rose to his feet and stared, his heart comatose in his chest. Drawing in a deep breath, he bent to tuck the sheet tightly to her chin, finally exhaling shaky air. What he wouldn’t give to make it so. But he knew better. His lips tightened. Alcohol had a way of distorting the truth.
He bent to graze her cheek with his fingers one last time, then slowly lumbered to his feet. “I love you, too, Katie Rose,” he whispered.
And he was stone-cold sober.
9.) REVEAL SOMETHING ABOUT THE CHARACTER: Another thing that keeps me reading is when an author gives me a little deeper glimpse into the character, almost surprising me with something I didn’t expect, which is what I tried to do here.
A Passion Redeemed, by Julie Lessman
She lifted her chin. Let her sister have her God. She didn’t need Him. She would make Mitch Dennehy fall in love with her, and it wouldn’t take prayer to do it. She turned and kicked her skirt across the room, then slumped on the edge of her bed. In the flickering shadows of her dark, cold room, she put her head in her hands. And cried.
10.) SUSPICION: Another excellent way to “lead the reader on” is by ending a chapter with questions that stir the pot of suspicion as Janet Dean does so well in this chapter ending. As a bonus, Janet also uses “anaphora,” which Maggie Lawson pointed out in her excellent Seeker blog http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2009/10/margie-lawson-welcome-to-seekerville.html is using the same word or phrase to start three (or more) consecutive phrases or sentences.
Substitute Bride, by Janet Dean
What had driven his wife to switch places with his mail-order bride?
What was she hiding?
What other lies had she told?
11.) REVEAL A DECISION MADE: When authors reveal a decision a character has made that changes the course of the story, my interest notches up, which is what I was going for here to hook the reader further in, using “anaphora” to heighten the impact.
A Passion Redeemed, by Julie Lessman
She closed her eyes and lifted her head, hands clasped to her chest. Yes! A completely workable solution. A situation where she could win, no matter the outcome. She hugged herself tightly in the sanctuary of her grandmother’s kitchen, not even feeling the chill of the room from embers long since faded. No, she had a plan to keep her warm. A plan to stay in Ireland. A plan to be married. And at the moment, it didn’t really matter to whom.
12.) ANALOGY: Another way to infuse drama in a scene ending is the use of analogy, because in my opinion, it gives the reader a double word picture that adds punch to an ending.
A Passion Redeemed, by Julie Lessman
Faith closed her eyes and leaned hard against the sink, the rag limp in her hands. “Oh, God, help her to do the right thing. Please.” She sighed and wrung out the cloth one last time. Her lips tilted in a tired smile. Limp and wrung out. Funny. She felt exactly the same way.
13.) ACTION: Like humor and internal monologue, to me action propels the story forward, luring the reader along with it.
Myra Johnson, Autumn Rains
Healy looked up to see Connor unlocking the Paige family minivan. Panic spurred him into action. No way was the woman of his dreams getting away from him today. He sprinted toward the parking lot. “Valerie, wait.”
A Passion Most Pure, by Julie Lessman
Her mother’s voice was distant as Faith turned, staring as if she were a stranger. Somewhere in the room, she sensed commotion and the faint sound of voices, farther and farther away until they disappeared altogether. And in a final swirl of darkness, with all energy depleted, she gave way to the spinning of the room, her eyes flickering closed as she fell limp to the floor.
14.) WORD REPETITION: Being a drama queen, I LOVE to repeat words in the last line or so for extra pop and effect.
A Passion Redeemed, by Julie Lessman
In a ragged beat of his heart, she slipped inside, leaving him alone with a gloom in his soul darker than anything he’d ever known. He touched his hand to the ignition, then collapsed on the wheel, putting his hand to his eyes.
He’d had no choice. Not against her will of iron. No recourse but shame. And God willing, conviction. Tears stung his lids. God help her. He squeezed his eyes shut. God help him.
15.) CLIFF HANGERS: Of course, I saved the best for last—the never-fail “cliff hangers” like Stephenie Meyers did to me with New Moon. Here are some great examples of authors who did the same, and in Mary’s case below, literally:
Wrangler in Petticoats, by Mary Connealy
She pitched over the edge of the cliff and screamed as she plunged into nothingness.
Yule Die, by Debby Giusti
Hands jerked Joe away.
The stocky perpetrator appeared in charge. He pointed his gun at Callie. “Rocky needs medical care. You come with us.”
“What about the jock?” the short gunman asked. Deep voice. Latino accent.
The leader turned his eyes—piercing slits in the otherwise faceless mask—on Joe.
Rocky Mountain Hero, by Audra Harders, January 2011
Melanie slopped her foot around in the mud. “Jason, I doubt you’ll have time to play games with Mr. Davidson. We’ve got to get going, remember?”
A shadow dimmed his bright eyes as he worked the door handle. “Yes, Mom.”
“Mr. Davidson—” Her gaze darted between him and Jason.
“Gabe,” he corrected. He kept his eye on the boy. The ground at the edge of the road had become unstable. Tough telling what might happen.
Jason continued yanking on the jammed door handle, the entire truck rocking under the force.
Melanie turned toward Jason. The mud around her shoes acted like quicksand, keeping her glued in place. “Hey big guy, get back here before—” The crisp creak of metal filled the air as the truck shifted with a clunk, the front bumper pointing over the edge of the embankment.
Gabe swallowed the knot in his throat and sprinted toward the truck.
Surrender the Heart, by MaryLu Tyndall
Yet … she bit her lip. If he could risk his life for her, she could face her deepest fears. Crawling up on the ledge, she clutched the rope and swung one leg over the side.
Close your eyes. Don’t look down. Don’t look down.
Salty mist struck her face. The wind whipped her skirts. She gripped the rope and slowly lowered herself over the side. Her feet dangled like bait over the ravenous sea, and she tapped them against the hull until she found a foothold. Her sweaty hands slipped on the rope.
Boom! Another shot fired above her. The rope quivered like the string of a fiddle.
She opened her eyes to see the shot strike Noah’s boat and blow it to pieces.
No Place for a Lady, by Maggie Brendan
She watched in horror as the funnel cloud lifted the wagon with them in it off the ground, and then her sweet aunt flew through the air. “Oh, Lord, have mercy on us!” she screamed. “Help us, please!”
Crystal felt a sharp pain crease her brow, and then she was carried upward as a deep heaviness encompassed her like a warm shroud. For a period of time she was dreaming of her new ivory hat …
So, now it’s your turn—I invite you to share one scene/chapter ending with us to show how you do it or if you like, we’ll fine-tune it as well ... OR just a leave a comment. NOTE: Due to time constraints, please only select one scene/chapter ending per person for mini-critique of two or three short paragraphs in length or less. Whether you leave a comment or request a mini-critique, you will entered in our contest today where you have TWO chances to win your choice of a signed copy of one of my books, a 10-page writer's critique, or your choice of a grab-bag of three brand-new top CBA books!
THEN ... TOMORROW, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7 at 7:00 PM CST, join me at my Facebook party to CHAT and WIN prizes given away every ten minutes for a solid hour, including a KINDLE, Amazon.com, Netflix and Starbucks gift cards, and more!! The winners will be announced at the party, so here's to a win!! Now … how’s THAT for a “tease” to lead you on????
And remember, October is BIRTHDAY PARTY MONTH in Seekerville, so ALL your comments ALL MONTH LONG will be put in the hat for a drawing to WIN A KINDLE. So get involved, check back every day because we're havin' a month long BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR SEEKERVILLE!!!!!!!