Conversations: Keeping your Reader Hooked through every chapter.

Sally came into the coffee house dressed in a pair of jeans, an old sweatshirt and a baseball cap. “Don’t laugh. I told my husband I’d go fishing with him today. He has the day off and just got a new boat.”

I handed over her cup of coffee. Apparently Ann has figured out our weekly meetings and the sustenance required. “This is good. You can spend the day in the boat, thinking about your next chapter. It’ll give you a chance to think like your reader.”

“See your reader will eventually go fishing as well – at least metaphorically, which means they can’t read your book through in one sitting. And, just like you as the author need to keep the momentum going between chapters as you write, you also need think about keeping the momentum going between the chapters for the reader. You do this buy using, just to keep with the fishing theme, a “bait and hook” technique. Or better…a Hook and Bait technique.”

Sally raised an eyebrow.

“Think of it like this – every chapter – every scene, really – has to start with a hook, something that will make the reader continue to read through the chapter. Think if it as something at stake, or something the character is risking in the scene. We talked about this over the past month as we talked about Scene tension and rhythm. But in essence, the magic of the character setting a goal and then the author threatening that goal through the conflict. This is what hooks the reader through the scene/chapter. However, when they get to the end of the chapter, the tension is over….and the reader has a choice. Put the book down or keep reading.”

You want them to keep reading. You do this by baiting them on to the next scene by raising a new problem. Giving them a glimpse of trouble. Think of a soap opera for a moment. They end the scenes – even the happy ones – with a sense of, “Uh Oh! If Jane only knew, Or, wait until she realizes that Bob is a serial killer, Or Joe is still alive, Or that’s Rachel’s evil twin he’s kissing!” Something that whets our appetite for more. We talked about this a few weeks ago when we addressed Scene Rhythm. The Action scene must end with a disaster that contributes to the overall black moment, and causes the character to have to make a decision about their next course of action. We often call this the Y in the road for the character, but it’s also the key to keeping your reader turning pages.

“Again, think of the ending as Bait. How will you make the reader hunger for more? It’s not just about ending with a new problem, but it must be a compelling and preferably timely problem that needs to be addressed…well, RIGHT NOW by the reader.”

“I promised my husband if he let me read the Hunger Games this weekend, I’d go fishing with him,” Sally said, looking out the window as if she hoped for rain. “I stayed up for two days straight.”

“Exactly my point. Every chapter ended with something that baited us for the next one. It’s a great lesson in a page tuner.” I picked up my coffee. “Hence my third coffee of the day.”

She got up, taking her coffee, sighed. “I’m off to catch me a walleye.”

Truth: A great page turner not only hooks the reader at the beginning of the chapter, but baits them at the end with a compelling problem forces them to turn the page.

Dare: Look at your endings. Have you created a new problem for your character, or are all their problems solved? Don’t let your reader fall asleep!

Tomorrow, In Quick Skills, I’m going to post my Chapter Creation Checklist that gathers all these “to do’s” in one place.

Have a great writing day!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling Novel. A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for! Sign up at:

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Conversations: What is Scene Tension?

“Happy Mother’s Day, Sally,” I said, while holding a plate of basil mashed potatoes and beef medallions. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that broccoli salad – the house specialty – and eyed it as another patron of the Sunday Brunch dived in.

Sally looked up as she spooned smoked salmon onto her plate. “Hello.” She glanced behind me, and I saw one of her children, the six year old, heading into the buffet line.

“How’s the writing going?”

“Good,” she said as she reached around me, handing him a plate. “Don’t spill.” She stepped out of line. “I don’t know if we can meet tomorrow. I have a school field trip.”

“No problem, I said, we’re just going to talk about Scene Structure.”

She made a face. “Okay, I lied. The writing is not going well. My scenes just feel so…boring. I keep trying to add some action, even obstacles into the scene, but it just ends up looking like a lot of activity – James, that’s enough olives!” She made an apologetic face as she turned back to me. “Sorry. He’s like a football player – could eat you out of house and home.”

I laughed. “No problem. But I know what your scene is missing – Tension. It’s that sense that something could go wrong, that the character isn’t going to meet their goal.” Another patron bellyed up to the broccoli dish. Shoot. Maybe I could elbow my way in, take out that woman and her walker.

Sally, meanwhile, edged toward the buffet table, reached in and righted her son’s plate before his gravy could hit the floor. “But I can only put up so many obstacles before the scene seems silly.”

Obstacles aren’t tension. Tension comes from the inside, from fearing something that will – or won’t –  happen, or even wanting two different things. For example, right now you fear James dumping his mashed potatoes and gravy onto the person in front of him.”

“You don’t know James. Last month, he managed to spill Kool-Aid across three plates at the church social.”

“I understand. You want to allow him independence and for him to succeed at getting his own plate of food, and yet you also don’t want to make a scene. Those two goals, and the obstacle that your son is young and you’re trapped talking to me is causing you great tension.”

She gave me a wry smile.

“Creating more obstacles doesn’t create more tension. Tension is created in two ways:

  1. By fearing something and trying to keep it from happening.
  2. From wanting two equally valuable things, and the inner dissonance that creates.

“In your case, you have both issues and right now, you’re just about to grab your son’s plate and tell him to go to the table, which could possibly create a huge scene, which is a fear, also.”

“You’re a mom, aren’t you?”

“Of three big sons who had their share of buffet moments. But every scene has tension embedded it in, you just have to figure out the fear that looms over the scene, and how to create some inner dissonance.” Oh good, the servers were adding more broccoli. I turned my back on it to focus on Sally.

“You do this by figuring out what your character wants, and why, and then using your obstacles to keep your character from achieving it. Or, if they do achieve it, by making us believe they won’t achieve it until the very end.”

She smiled as her son walked past her, a slab of roast beef draping over his plate. He made it all the way to their table. “So tension in a scene doesn’t have to be bombs blowing up, or people getting shot.”

“No. It can be simply a mom trying to keep her son’s Sunday shirt clean in the buffet line. The key is, it has to be something that matters to the character, something they want, for a good reason. The obstacles simply threaten that thing they want. And it’s this fear of failure that creates the tension. You can also increase the tension by having your character want two different things, and have an inner battle about which one is better.”

“Like standing in line talking to my mentor, or helping my son navigate the buffet line.”

“Right.” I smiled.

“So, instead of meeting tomorrow, how about if I figure out what my character wants and why, and what might stand in her way.”

“And stop by Tuesday’s blog and I’ll post an equation I use for creating tension in a scene.” I headed back into line to grab the broccoli spoon. “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Truth: Obstacles in a story are not Tension. Obstacles in a story CREATE tension by standing in the way of what the character wants. To create strong tension, start with what the character wants, and why, and then add the obstacles. This combination will create a fear of failure. And that fear is what causes Tension.

Dare: Do you have a fear of failure in your scene? How about two different things your character wants to create inner tension? If your story lacks this, go back and ask, “What does my character Want, and Why?” 

Happy Writing!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling Novel. A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for! Sign up at:

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Conversations: Building your story through the rhythm of scenes

The sun tugged at the irises peeking from the dirt edging the coffee shop. Another month in the northland and spring might actually arrive, cascade into summer. I found Sally at our table, grinning at me.


“Now that I know my characters, and my story structure, I think we’re coming to the best part – the scenes.”

“You’re right. At least, that’s my favorite part about writing. Because we can talk big picture and characters all day long, but when you create scenes, you are bringing the story to life. Think of every book as live action that we can observe, like a movie. In fact, for me, writing is not unlike viewing a movie…I close my eyes, see the scene and walk through it with the reader.”

“That’s what I see too. A movie in my head.”

“And people laugh when we say we hear voices. They’re real people talking to us.” I winked at her, and she laughed.

“There is a rhythm to storytelling with scenes, however, that is important to learn that will help you craft a book with the right motivation and pacing. And that rhythm is achieved by the right combination of Action and Reaction Scenes.

“See, an Action scene is something with activity, a scene where something happens. A Reaction scene is just that – the reaction to what just happened. I often use the example of the shootout at the OK Corral. The shootout is the action – the reaction is the part where they hide behind the haystack, reload and figure out what to do next. Then, after they figure it out, they jump out and start another action scene.”

“An Action scene has three parts – a goal, conflict and a disaster. For every SCENE, the pov character will have a goal (as will the other characters,). It must be specific and clearly definable, and it must be a proactive goal, something that makes our character alive and interesting.

“However, standing in front of that goal are obstacles your POV character faces on the way to reaching his goal, which causes conflict. You must have conflict in order to make the scene interesting, and ultimately to help your character grow.

“Your Action scene must end with a disaster that contributes to the overall black moment, and causes them to have to make a decision about their next course of action. We often call this the Y in the road.”

Sally nodded, her gaze past me, as if she might be thinking. “So, falling in love with the hero in the beginning of the book might be a disaster because we know he has a secret that will break her heart.”

“Exactly. Which bring us to the Reaction scene, or the emotional and physical follow through to the disaster. A reaction scene has three parts also – a reaction, a dilemma and a decision.

“Your POV character, and the other characters affected by the disaster, are reeling and will need to process and hurt and panic and be afraid. This scene gives your reader a chance to react to the situation along with your character.

“Then, your character must take stock of his situation, look at his options, worry and think through the what-ifs. This is the dilemma. Eventually, the character will come up with a decision.

Once he makes a decision about what he will do next, your character establishes a new goal – one based on his values and his motivations, and most of all his Noble Cause. A Reaction scene ensures that you have the right motivation for every proactive decision and action your character makes.”

“Now, you’re back to a scene. This is the rhythm of a well-knit story, and is a powerful tool in creating a page turner.  Think about your book as a collection of scenes, and you will be able to draw your reader into the moment and create a book that will imprint on a reader’s mind.”

“So, would you suggest that I go through my first scenes and make sure they are Action or Reaction scenes?”

“Yes. Up until now, you’ve been writing by instinct. But if you want to make sure your pacing is right, you need to build the right rhythm into the story. Next week I’ll teach you a combination Action/Reaction scene, something you’ll use as you get into Act 2. But for now, identify each scene and make sure you have the basic components.

As you start writing your scene, being with the question:  Is this an Action or Reaction scene?  Once you know this, you’ll know what components to build into the scene.  In later weeks, we’ll add to these components to help you build tension in either kind of scene.”

Sally closed her notebook. “I’m a knitter.  And when I start a project all I need to know is how to knit or purl. Then I start looking at the blueprint and begin to knit. Pretty soon I have knit an entire slipper. I feel like I’ve finally figured out how I might write this story all the way to the end.”

Truth: The rhythm of Action and Reaction scenes ensures that you have the right motivation for every proactive decision and action your character makes, and keeps your story moving along at a consistent pace. 

Dare:  Can you identify the Action and Reaction scenes of your novel?  Do they have the three components necessary in each scene? If you story lacks the right pace, or your characters lack the right motivation for their actions, try identifying the scene and do a realignment.

Tomorrow, in Quick Skills, we’ll touch on tips on how to build the three components in each scene as well as ideas on how to end your scene with a disaster.

Have a great writing day!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling Novel.  A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for!  Sign up at:


P.P.S.  As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class.  For more info, check out:  Hope to see you at practice!


Quick Skills: The 3 Acts Chart

Hello! For all you visual learners out there, here’s a chart of the Three Acts summarized. (if you are a Team Member, you can also find this in the Team Member Locker room!) (We call it the Lindy Hop at MBT!)

Lindy Hop diagram

Or, here it is below, summarized.

Act 1 Plotting Diagram

  • LIFE (Home World…their wants, desires)
  • Inciting Incident
  • The Great Debate
  • Noble Quest

Act 2 Plotting Diagram

  • (Noble Quest)
  • Attempt…and Failure
  • Cost Consideration
  • Desire (Motivation)
  • Reward (taste of what will they get if they continue?)
  • (Disappointments & Y’s in the Road)
  • Training for Battle
  • (1) Bad
  • Y in the Road
  • (2) Badder
  • Y in the Road
  • (3) Baddest
  • Y in the Road
  • Attempt…and Victory (This can occur any time during the Training phase)
  • (HELP!) Black Moment Event!

Act 3 Plotting Diagram

  • Black Moment Effect! (Lie Feels True!)
  • (OVERHAUL) Epiphany!
  • FINAL BATTLE (what can your character do at the end that he/she can’t at the beginning?)
  • Perfect/Happy Ending Snapshot


Next week we’ll start working on Scenes!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May