November 27, 2015

Remember the Meat Fork When Writing

By Barbara Lohr

One of the challenges writers face is how to keep readers turning the pages. The end of each chapter needs a provocative hook and for me, that's often added in the editing process. Some writers might automatically dribble enticing breadcrumbs. Not me. I have to work at those final words for each chapter. Enter the meat fork.

Since my novel Finding Southern Comfort involves a little girl with an eating problem, some pivotal scenes involve food. In her new job as nanny in Cameron Bennett's Savannah mansion, Harper Kirkpatrick attempts to cook Sunday dinner for her employer and his girlfriend, the insufferable Kimmy. But smoke sends Harper flying to her crockpot. When her charge Bella asks if Harper is going to burn the house down, Kimmy comments, "She just might, sugga." Was that enough to make readers stay with the story? Harper helped me out and picked up the meat fork.

Every chapter benefits from a compelling ending. Suspense writers know all about that. The main character of Into the Roaring Fork by Jeff Howe is hiking through the wild on a mission when he stumbles upon a horrifyingly riveting sight. "I blinked to check my eyes, which confirmed that I was wide awake and what was happening was real. Hauntingly real."

Now, what reader is going to turn off the light and go to sleep? But the POV changes in the next chapter. We keep turning pages. After all, our hero is haunted.

He's in good company. Cecelia in Liane Moriarity's The Husband's Secret is sleepless after she discovers a sealed letter to be opened only after her husband's death. Awakened by his bumbling around in the attic after she's asked about her curious discovery, she promptly slits the letter open and reads, "Left to right. Sentence by sentence." But we don't. Readers have to wait. How annoying and delightfully skillful.

Withholding information piques interest. In The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins ends a scene in which Rachel wonders if a ginger-haired man is smiling or sneering at her. What great ambiguity. Also known as foreshadowing, the ambiguity raises a question we want answered. To keep your readers reading, it helps to keep them guessing.

Probably the last thing we want is have the character go to bed at the end of the chapter. Sure, we've all done it. But if your character's calling it a day, your reader might also turn out the light. Let's not put characters to bed unless they have an interesting dream sequence or something else to ponder while they're lying there.

Brevity can be as effective as the meat fork for keeping readers engaged. If your scene runs long, break it. Short chapters keep readers reading. They figure they can handle five more pages, but not fifteen.

Do you have a meat fork in your writing arsenal? Keep readers guessing and they'll keep turning pages.
Barbara Lohr writes heartwarming romance with a flair for fun and subtly sexy love scenes. In her novels, feisty women take on hunky heroes and life’s issues. Family often figures in her stories. “No woman falls in love without some family influence, either positive or negative.” Her series include Windy City Romance, which includes jaunts to Savannah and Italy, and Man from Yesterday, which launched in 2015. Dark chocolate is her favorite food group, and she makes a mean popover. When she's not writing, she loves to bike, kayak or golf. She is a member of Romance Writers of America. Barbara lives in the South for most of the year with her husband and a cat that insists he was Heathcliff in a former life. For more information on the author and her work, please see , , @BarbaraJLohr

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