Monday, August 13, 2012

Do Violence to Your Reader, Part II: Punch ‘Em on the Way Out! by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Happy Monday, dear writers. Annette here. Jill Elizabeth Nelson is back today with another meaty post. Last week she discussed hooking readers at the beginning of our chapters/scenes. This week, it's all about "hookouts" or hooking readers at chapter's end so they'll keep reading. She offers three key means of doing that. Read on!

Do Violence to Your Reader, Part II: 
Punch ‘Em on the Way Out!
by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

While the opening hook is vital to a story, the punch at the end of each scene and chapter plays a role of equal importance. During the editing process, our hooks and punches are among the first aspects of the story that we should inspect.

Hooks and punches can be subtle, with the action primarily mental or emotional, or they can be high action and overt. But subtle or overt, these elements must be relevant to the story and contribute to the novelist’s supreme goal—to provide the reader with an Emotionally Resonant Reading Experience.

I think of the punch as a “gasp moment.” If a writer leaves the reader sucking in his breath, naturally he must turn the page to find out what happens next—and that next thing should be a sharp, fresh hook.

How can a writer deliver that all-important closing punch?

One approach is a twist or a surprise. The reader is now knocked off balance by an unexpected, yet plausible, development and must keep on reading to find out how this turn of events affects the characters.

Another approach is “the resolution.” A scene concludes with a character forming a resolve that defies the odds, and the reader has reason to anticipate this resolve will be tested to the max. The resolution must be of the sort that keeping or not keeping it will dramatically impact the character’s well-being, as well as the lives of other characters.

Another type of punch is the cliff-hanger. The chapter or scene closes with a central character in a dire predicament, so naturally, the reader must turn the page to see how the character escapes—or not.

A more subtle and yet highly emotional punch could be called “the moment of truth.” This type of chapter or scene closing might depict the central character discovering a new realization that stuns her and sheds a different light on everything that has gone before and inevitably will impact all that is yet to come.

Here is a closing punch that does NOT work. Why not?

Tristan picked up his menu. “Let’s get some dinner. We could be here a while.”

Where is the tension and emotion? Let’s see if we can infuse these necessary elements into the mundane act of ordering dinner.

Tristan gripped his menu. Fine! If that’s the way she wanted to play it, he could be Mr. Cool-as-a-Cucumber. He unlocked his clenched jaw and sat back. “Let’s get some dinner,” he told his brother. “We could be here a while.” Tristan’s gaze cut to the elegant female seated at the corner table. He could wait her out. No sweat, right?

Now the reader has a conflict to sink their chops into. If the writer has set up the scenario properly, there will be valuable stakes involved in who waits out whom, and the reader will ache to find out who wins the contest of wills, and they will also feel Tristan’s internal conflict of determination edged with a suggestion of self-doubt.

Here is your assignment:

Pick up one of your favorite novels and find at least one scene or chapter-ending that provides the emotionally resonant experience for you. Then ask yourself why this particular punch steals your breath and compels you to turn the page.


Award-winning author and writing teacher, Jill Elizabeth Nelson, writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith. Jill is a popular speaker for conferences, writers groups, library associations, and civic and church groups. She delights to bring the “Ah-ah! Moment” to her students as they make new skills their own. Her handbook for writers, Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, is now available at Amazon (see links below).

Connect with Jill:

(print version)      (e-book version)


  1. Dear Ruth Axtell - I loved reading about your publishing journey!! Maybe because it is so similar to mine. I hope and pray these two new titles hit all the best seller lists!

  2. Thanks so much for hosting me! It's a pleasure to share what bits I can with other writers.

    1. I've appreciated your series, Jill. And your book on deep POV remains one of my favorite resources in fiction writing! Thanks again for visiting!


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