We’ve probably all heard the advice to end our scenes and chapters on a hook. At the end of every scene or chapter, readers might put down our book and decide against picking it up again, so it’s important to know how we can keep readers interested. Hooks can ensure readers desperately want to stick around to see what happens next.
In that post I linked to above, I shared how we can make the last sentence of every scene stronger. Today, I want to build on those ideas and see what we can learn for our writing by looking at how TV shows build hooks into the end of every act.
How Is TV Writing like Novel Writing?
Just as readers might put down a book at the end of every scene, every commercial break in a TV show can prompt viewers to change the channel. So TV writers structure their stories into acts, one between each commercial break.
TV acts are different from novel acts, which are usually a simple beginning, middle, and end three-act structure. TV-style acts are closer to how we write scenes. (In fact, ad-free shows often still feel like they should have commercial breaks because of this structure.)
Whether for TV or written stories, hooks are an opportunity to make our readers sit up and take notice. While not every scene should end with a “dun dun dun” twist, we should make sure we have enough hooks throughout our story to strengthen the narrative drive, increase the pace, and keep readers engaged.
What Hooks Do TV Acts Use?
Let’s take a look at the types of hooks found in TV shows—some that are commonly used in novels and some that aren’t—and see if they give us ideas for our stories:
- Appearance of Imminent Failure: Hooks that leave the characters facing an immediate threat of failure: knocked unconscious, notification of another serial killer victim, etc.
These are one of the most dramatic types of hooks, so we want to save them for when our story deserves it—such as the major beats, especially the Black Moment or Climax—or else our writing can veer too close to melodrama.
- Reveal that Changes Perception: Hooks that change everything the characters (or audience) thought they knew: mistaken identity, surprise answer, etc.
These are also very dramatic hooks that we don’t want to overdo. They’re especially good to use when we want to drastically change the direction of our story.
- Vow to Move Forward: Hooks that show the moment after the “imminent failure” sense of doom or the “reveal that changes everything,” when characters throw caution to the wind because they have no other choice: ignoring orders, taking a risk, etc.
These hooks are great to use when we think showing characters bonding or making sacrifices will be more emotionally resonant to readers than the “dun dun dun” of the moment before.
- Reminder of Stakes: Hooks that focus on the consequences lying in wait for the characters: someone needs rescuing or they’ll die, find the bad guy or be attacked, etc.
The “ticking clock” aspect of these hooks helps escalate the stakes and increase the pace with less of a risk of melodrama (usually).
- Jump to Another Point of View: Hooks that are the literary equivalent of zooming out to show the killer stalking the characters.
Transitioning to another point of view wouldn’t help us end a scene, but this style of hook can be used like a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, with just a snippet after the end of the main scene.
- Hint of an Epiphany: Hooks that show a character’s had an epiphany but doesn’t yet show what they’ve discovered: answer to the mystery, figured out their feelings, etc.
These hooks are good when a story question is about to be answered, but we want to drag it out through one more chapter break. These are typically a no-more-than-once-a-story type of hook, however, as they can feel “cheap.”
For each of those different hook categories, we can also change up the style, depending on our focus, such as:
- Emotional: the hook leaves them reeling, distraught, worried, determined, etc.
- Countdown: the hook escalates the tension, worry, dread, etc.
- Opposites: the hook plays out opposite from expected—can also be played for humor: a vow of “I won’t do X,” and jump to them doing X, etc.
- Bling: the hook is written in a flashy (often fragment and punctuation-heavy) style: “She wouldn’t let it happen. Not. A. Chance.”
While TV writing is different from novel writing, we might be able to find inspiration for our stories from the TV side. Next time you watch a TV show, pay attention to how each act ends and see if it helps you with ideas. *smile*
Do you have any questions about hooks—or have other TV-style hooks to share?
Jami Gold put her talent for making up stuff to good use, such as by winning the 2015 National Readers’ Choice Award in Paranormal Romance for her novel Ironclad Devotion.
To help others reach their creative potential, she’s developed a massive collection of resources for writers. Explore her site to find worksheets—including the popular Romance Beat Sheet with 80,000+ downloads—workshops, and over 1000 posts on her blog about the craft, business, and life of writing. Her site has been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest. Find out more about our RWC team here and connect with Jami below.