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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: pacing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Pacing Problems

How can you speed up or slow down the pacing of your book when needed?

http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2014/12/craft-of-writing-dealing-with-pacing.html 


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2. Pacing: Space out the Tense Moments


PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


Tension on every page is the mantra for fiction writers. But what if your tension is spread unevenly throughout the story? That may be fine, because stories need a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow of action, thoughts, dialogue and reflection (inner dialogue). Some scenes may be crammed with small actions, while others pace steadily through the setting. Sometimes, though, I find that I’ve packed a scene with too many MAJOR revelations or actions, creating a top-heavy scene; that scene is usually matched by another scene that lacks enough tension.

My current WIP was in that position this week. One scene had two major confrontations. So, I decided to see if I could lift one Major Complication and put it elsewhere. The actual text, a revelation that someone was searching for the main character, took about 20 lines of text. Not so bad to move elsewhere, I thought.

But every part of a story is intertwined with every other part.
Puzzle
Timeline. First, there’s timeline issues. EventA happens before EventB. The RevelationEvent was originally the EventA, but I moved it to an EventC position, which meant that I had to go back and clean up the time line. There could be no mention of the RevelationEvent before Event B, of course. This is tedious work. You have to reread chapters thinking about what a reader should know at this point in the story, and make sure there’s no hint of the RevelationEvent that will spoil the surprise. Of course, I can hint at it; that’s called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing’s role, though, is to make the reader slap his/her forehead and say, “Duh! That’s exactly what should happen. Why didn’t I see it coming?” The reader should still be surprised, but the surprise is believable. Cleaning up the timeline is hard work, and if you slip up with even one half-sentence, you’ll be nailed on it by some alert reader.

Fitting it in. Unfortunately, you can’t just pick up the 20 lines and insert them where Event C occurs. Much of it may be salvaged verbatim, but much of it needs to be worded differently at the new place of the story. Keep the core of it, the meaning, but be willing to rewrite to make it seamless. The goal is to make it seem that the story was originally written this way.

As a revision exercise, I required my freshman composition students to write eight different openings for their essay. Often, the third or fifth or eighth opening was dynamite, and the writer chose to start his/her essay with it. Too often, though, it was stuck on the front and had no relationship to the rest of the story. I modified the assignment: students still wrote the eight openings. But then, in class to make sure they did it, they had to start writing the essay again from that starting point and keep writing for a timed period. I made sure the writing time was long enough to carry them into the body of the essay. That resulted in strong openings that were integrated into the whole essay. That’s what you want here, too.

One caution: keep a copy of the original version, because you may not like moving the event to a new place. In Scrivener, take a snapshot. In word processors, make a backup copy or a versioned copy; or use track changes to make the preliminary changes and then decide if you want to make them permanent.

The strategy of moving events is easy on the imagination. I don’t have to think up new events or complications; instead, I just need to use what I’ve already written in a stronger way.

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3. Pacing

When should you speed up or slow down your story? 

http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2014/09/pacing-when-to-slow-it-down-and-when-to.html

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4. Pacing Tips

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, let me give a hearty shout out to all of you doing NaNoWriMo. *POM-POMS*  I’ve never been able to NaNo with the rest of the world, since November is such a crazy month for me, but I have so much respect for all of you in the trenches right now. KEEP IT UP! You’re halfway there!

Even the Dark Side needs motivation

Kenny Louie @ Creative Commons

So, I mentioned that November is insane, right? My son’s birthday falls just before Thanksgiving. This year, we’re throwing his first party. He wanted a Darth Vader theme, and I may have gone a teensy bit overboard. Regardless, his birthday party, combined with his actual birthday, followed by my father-in-law’s birthday, and then Thanksgiving for the family at MY HOUSE THIS YEAR… Well. Let’s just say that it’s all about planning and pacing right now.

Advice that is so often true of writing, too.

And I just happen to have this nifty post on the subject, which originally aired at Lisa Hall-Wilson’s excellent blog. So, in homage to the difficult topic of pacing, and in an effort to maintain my natural hair color through yet another November, here it is, for your viewing pleasure…

I’d like to start this post by stating an opinion that I think pretty much everyone shares: Pacing Sucks. When you get it right, no one really notices. I mean, how many times have you read a 5-star review that went on and on about the awesome pacing? On the other hand, when the pacing’s off, it’s obvious, but not always easy to pinpoint; you’re just left with this vague, ghostly feeling of dissatisfaction. One thing, though, is certain: if the pacing is wrong, it’s definitely going to bother your readers, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to keep the pace smooth and balanced.

1. Current Story vs. Backstory. Every character and every story has backstory. But the relaying of this information almost always slows the pace because it pulls the reader out of the current story and plops them into another one. It’s disorienting. And yet, a certain amount of backstory is necessary to create depth in regards to characters and plot. To keep the pace moving, only share what’s necessary for the reader to know at that moment. Dole out the history in small pieces within the context of the current story, and avoid narrative stretches that interrupt what’s going on. Here’s a great example from Above, by Leah Bobet:

The only good thing about my Curse is that I can still Pass. And that’s half enough to keep me out of trouble. But tonight it’s not the half I need because here’s Atticus, spindly crab arms folded ‘cross his chest, waiting outside my door. His eyes glow dim-shot amber—not bright, so he’s not mad, just annoyed and looking to be mad.

Bobet could have taken a lengthy paragraph to explain that certain people in this world have curses that are really mutations, that Atticus has crab claws for hands and his eyes glow when he gets angry. But that would’ve slowed the pace and been boring. Instead, Bobet wove this information into the current story—showed Atticus leaning against the door, showed his crustacean claws and his freaky, glowing eyes so the reader knows that he’s a mutant and, to the narrator, at least, this is normal. This is an excellent example of the artful weaving of backstory into the present story.

2. Action vs. Exposition/Internal Dialogue. Action is an accelerant. It keeps the pace from dragging. Granted, there will be places in your story that are inherently passive, where characters have to talk, or someone needs to think things out. The key is to break up these places with movement or activity. Characters should be in motion—smacking gum or doodling or fidgeting— while talking. Give them something to do during their thoughtful moments, whether it’s peeling carrots or painting a picture. These bits of action are like an optical illusion, fooling the reader into thinking something’s happening, when really, nothing’s going on. This is one scenario when readers actually prefer to be fooled, so make sure to energize those narrative stretches with action.

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Oliver Kendal @ Creative Commons

3. Conflict vs. Downtime. On the flip side, you can’t have a story that’s all go and no stop. One might think that since action is good, more action is better. Not true. Readers need time to catch their breath, to recover from highly emotional or stressful scenes. A good pace is one that ebbs and flows—high action, a bit of recovery, then back to the activity again. Even The Maze Runner, possibly the most active novel I’ve ever read, has its moments of calm. When it comes to conflict and downtime, a definite balance is needed for the reader to feel satisfied.

4. Keep Upping the Stakes. We know that conflict is important—so important that every single scene needs it. But for conflict to be effective, it needs to escalate over the course of the story. To keep the reader engaged, each of the major conflict points needs to be bigger, more dramatic, and with stakes that are more desperate. One of my favorite reads of 2013 was Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, a historical fiction novel about the deportation of a Lithuanian family during World War II. It starts out ominous enough, with the family being forced from their home. Over the course of the story, they’re moved by cattle car across the continent, relocated to a forced labor camp, and eventually reach their final destination—a camp in the Arctic Circle where they’re expected to survive the elements with whatever resources they can scrounge. Clearly, lots of other conflict is interspersed, but when it comes to the major points, each one should have greater impact than the last.

5. Condense the timeline. When possible, keep your timeline tight. If it gets too spread out, the story will inevitably drag. It’s also hard, in a story that covers a long span, to keep things smooth; there will be time jumps of weeks or months or even years between scenes. Too many of these give the story a jerky feel. So when it comes to the timeline, condense it as much as possible to keep the pace steady.

For sure, pacing is tricky, but I’ve found these nuggets to be helpful in maintaining a good balance. What other tips do you have for keeping your story moving at the right pace?

The post Pacing Tips appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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5. Novel Craft: Picture Book Lessons

Hi folks, a brand new shiny year! Love it! I hope that you are making goals and opening up to new possibilities. Fold up all those disappointments and failures. Take anything you learned from these experiences and move on. Look forward. Huzzah!

In January, I always explore one of my great passions and that is novel craft. I'm a novelist at heart. My first published book was PLUMB CRAZY.  It was out from Swoon Romance in June 2014, but is going away soon. Cancellation--just like so many fantastic TV shows that get cancelled (cough, Firefly), so goes my book. C'est la vie.

Don't despair, you who hunger for a paperback of PLUMB CRAZY to hold. I am going to self-publish the book for anyone who is interested. It's going to take a little time to put that together, but the book should be ready to be a summer read again. :) Thanks to all the people who have supported this first novel publishing effort of mine!  Galaxies of stories are ahead!

Anyway, onto to novel craft. I am an extremely visual person. I see three dimensional landscapes in my head. I also write in many genres and find that the skills I use in one genre inform me as I approach a different genre. These skills serve me well.  Writing picture books helps me write novels.

When I write a picture book, I write the text and then I write what is going on in the picture. From an absolute telling perspective, I write what is going on in the scene before I actually write the text for the picture book.  I do this for every page. It turned out that this is an effective technique to write novel scenes, especially ones I'm stuck on.  I just tell what is going down in the scene in a fat paragraph. When I'm finished I write the scene with that word picture I created in the back of my mind. Writing the scene rolls out a lot more smoothly.

Picture book structure helps me plan the structure of my novels. Picture books have the same beats as a novel but they come much faster. I make sure that my novel has clear beats that echo picture book structure.  What is a beat?  Plot points, turning points, plot twists. If you are having a tough time figuring out if your novel has a decent story arc. Study a few picture books. What launches the action? How does the mc react? What happens at the midpoint? How does the action rise? What is the climax? How long does it take the story to resolve? All these questions and a picture book in hand should send you on your way while writing a novel.

Well, there is a tea cup of usefulness for your creative journey. I hope you come back next week for more Novel Craft.

Here is a doodle. :)  PINK



Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. Robert F. Kennedy






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6. Novel Craft: Screenplay Lessons

Hi, folks! I am an artistic person, and I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft.  This week I'm going to talk about screenplay lessons.

I've written a few screenplays. This experience has helped me with novel craft.  A screenplay is a working document, it is not the finished product: the film.  I've learned about writing novels by writing screenplays. Here are three useful bits that I've learned:

First, screenplays force you to think about scenes and pacing.  A screenplay has a tight structure. It is much more compact than a novel and rarely has any room for internal thoughts. Becoming more aware of scenes has made me more aware of what to cut in my novels. Every scene in my novel must argue for its right to be there.  Novelists tend to be in love with the beauty of the words, and sometimes that is at the expense of storytelling. Each scene in my novel must move the plot forward, develop the journey of the main character, offer serious conflict, offer a glimpse of the internal working of the main character, have laser focus on the goal of the story, and offer some beautiful language and deep internal thought. If I can't achieve this with a scene, I toss it on reject pile.

Second, screenplays can help you move forward when you are stuck.  Like picture books, screenplays are a visual medium. Sometimes, I reach a place in the novel that I'm not sure how to proceed forward. I break open Final Draft or Celtx and move forward with my novel in a screenplay format.  My first drafts are now always a mix of screenplay sections and narrative. Writing a screenplay is analogous to sketching. A rough draft is a sketch of the novel. All the needed scene pieces are broken apart: opening with setting, dividing the dialogue, dropping in an emotional tag, and then describing the action can keeps me from bogging down in a first draft.  Next time your draft grinds to a halt, try writing the next scene in screenplay format.

Finally, screenplays can help you beat the static parts out of your novel. Screenplays do not welcome big chunks of dialogue, must keep action swirling on screen to entice the film goer, and must be aware that the person who plays the character in the screenplay is paramount in making that character come to life. I avoid prosy dialogue. Screenplays have made me aware of this. No one wants to read about nothing happening. It's surprising how easy it is to write about a character watching the sunrise or swimming in the lake, or reading a book.  Blow up that sun, fill that lake with piranhas, and have the heroine  toss that book into that arrogant so-n-so's face.  Also characters must be nuanced. I really cast my characters now when I write. I learned this from screenplays. Character on a great journey is still a working document, the character in the screenplay vs the character in a film. It's the little things that set characters apart and make them spring from the page. You have to know if your character loves chocolate, scream when she is angry, or bite her fingernails.

Novels need to breath with life. Screenplays have helped me achieve that.

Hope something here is helpful. :) I will be back next week with more novel crafty lessons.

Here is a doodle: Clown


Finally a quote for your pocket:

When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. George Orwell

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7. Timelines: Plotting


START YOUR NOVEL

Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
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  • 29 Plot Templates
  • 2 Essential Writing Skills
  • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
  • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
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  • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
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The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

When you are deep into plotting a new novel or especially, a series, timelines are your friends. It’s a tool that will help straighten out the details and create order.

Obviously, a time line lays out the time period of your novel. Does it take place in 24 hours or does it span 24 years? Within that time span, you’ll want to slot events, reactions, and characters.

Backstory. Using a time line to plan a story probably means you’ll want to include back story events. You can do as much or as little as you need here. Maybe you want to include a character’s birth, baptism or bar mitzvah, high school graduation, or other major life events. You’ll also want to include other major events: parent’s divorce, house burned down, moving to a new school or city, first job and so on.

You can choose to do a separate time line for each person, but I like to have a master timeline where each character’s events are included. If you like, you can get fancy with this and do it on a spread sheet with each character getting a column or a certain color row.

Plot Events. When the events reach the story’s opening, it’s time to start imposing some structure. Dividing the time line into Act 1, 2 and 3 (and 4, if you use that paradigm), makes sense. You’ll want to make sure the story’s time line provides characters a great stage entrance, then introduces events that keep the story rolling. Here’s a great place to start tweaking the pacing of your story.
TimeLine

Ticking Clocks. Speaking of pacing, try introducing a ticking clock: some event must be completed by midnight or unspeakably bad things will happen. If Sherlock Holmes doesn’t solve the crime by midnight, beautiful Aurelia will be the victim of Poe’s pendulum (to mix up a lot of things!).

Edit and Revise. This is also a place where you should edit drastically. If you think up a scene, but can’t decide where to put it–cut it. It’s probably not important to the story anyway. Each scene or event should serve a definite purpose that pulls the reader toward the climactic ending. Some events will have a quiet purpose like characterization or setting p the next scene. OK, as long as there’s some purpose to the scene. Time enough later to Kill-Your- Darlings when you revise the novel.

Messing with the TimeLine. Now that you have the time line laid out, you can actually mess with it, if you like. You could present scenes out of order, with back story coming in as a flashback or even more drastic manipulations of time. The movie, Memento, is about a character with a short term memory problem, which lead to strange time manipulations. If you want to do this, be warned: the younger the audience, the more likely you are to confuse them. Telling a story with a jumbled timeline makes it harder for your reader to understand and enjoy. So, if you decide to go this route, use your best storytelling techniques. Read about flashbacks here or here.

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8. The Lion and the Bird

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThe Lion and the Bird (Enchanted Lion, 2014)

by Marianne Dubuc

A lion and a bird are not the most obvious of friends. One big, shaggy, and growly, and one small, sleek, and flit-about-y.

But not these two.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThis lion has rosy cheeks which are insta-endearing and wanders out to his work. Just a lion, working in the garden. That’s when he spots an injured bird.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucSame insta-endearing rosy cheeks.

The lion springs to action. The bird smiles, but the flock has flown away.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucMarianne Dubuc varies the art on the page. Some spot illustrations, some full-bleed. This paces the small, quiet action of the story – the spots create sequential scenes on one spread, moving us forward in time, a full-bleed image slows us down into one moment on the same physical space.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThe Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThe two spend the winter together, ice-fishing and fire-watching. It’s cold. But:

Winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

No more spots, no more full-bleed. Only white space.

We slow way down. We worry about what’s to come.

But Spring has to come. The flock has to return.

The page turn here is filled with emotion. We see the lion saying a bittersweet goodbye. (How he’s holding his hat in honor is just the most beautiful thing.)The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThe Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucAnd then, as if we are the flock, he gets smaller. Farther away. Lots of white space.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucTime goes on. (Sometimes the seasons are like that.)

But then.The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucA flock of birds. A single note in the white space.

Winter returns, and so does his friend.

In this book, white space moves the story and white space is the story. The moments that seem the most like nothing might actually be the moments that are the most something.

That bird’s solitary trill piercing the air reminds me a bit of this art installation. It’s a combination of movement, music, and art that leaves room for the story in the space left behind. This reminds me of the lion, waiting and listening and hoping.

ch

 

PS: I’m heading to Las Vegas this weekend for ALA. Will you be there? Would love to say hello!

 Review copy provided by the publisher. All thoughts my own.


Tagged: enchanted lion, full-bleed color, marianne dubuc, pacing, page turn, picture book, spot color, the lion and the bird, white space

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9. The Gap

Make your book a page turner by taking advantage of the moment in your characters' lives when the world acts in a way that surprises them. 

http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/the-gap-how-to-make-your-story-a-page-turner/

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10. Pacing

Get your story moving and keep it moving. 

http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2014/06/pacing-in-your-book-get-us-moving-and.html

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11. Pacing: Listen to Your Gut

By Julie Daines

I'm not much of an outliner. I've tried it before, and it just doesn't seem to work for me. I wish it did because it seems like a much better way to write. But no. For me, I just can't.

So, I'm constantly asked, how do you work out the pacing of your novel?

Good question.

I am now going to divulge my secret and never-before-spoken-out-loud trick.

I listen to my gut.

Here's how it works:

I'm writing a scene. It's going great. The dialogue is fun, the action intense, and the conflict building. Then suddenly, I get this wrenching, panicky feeling right in the middle of my stomach. It says, "Oh my gosh, this is getting too long. You're dragging it out. Something new has to happen. You've got to move on." My blood races and my fingers shake unsteadily on the keyboard.

"MOVE ON!" it screams.

I listen. I wrap it up and move on. On to the next scene and the next plot point.

Is this a scientific method? No. Will you find it on Blake Snyder's Save the Cat beat list? No. But it works--for me.

Our guts--our writer's intuition--can often be our best friend if we take the time to listen. Feed back from critique partners, from beta readers, pacing, character names, character reactions, almost any part of our novel will speak to us.

Take a moment, consider carefully all sides, and listen to your gut. It is your friend.

When have--or when do--your writerly instincts kick in and help you?


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12. Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel

We all want to write an engaging, page-turning story. But that’s harder said than done, as is proven by the number of times I leave a movie complaining that it was one long bull crap moment. There are tips and tricks to successfully writing a can’t-put-it-down book. Eileen Goudge is here today to share some of them with us…

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Courtesy: Sam Beckwith at CC

If you’ve watched the hit TV show “24”, you know that every day in the life of hero Jack Bauer is a really, really bad day. When he’s not hunting terrorists he’s saving a major city from total annihilation. Is any of it remotely believable? Hell no. But we watch anyway.  Why? Because the action moves at such a rapid clip, we don’t pause to reflect on the gaping plot holes until the credits are rolling.  (Seriously, a middle-aged guy singlehandedly taking out a dozen armed terrorists?)

It’s the same reason authors like Stephen King have legions of fans. King is a master of plot and pacing.  He knows that to create a novel that’s addictive you have to “kick it up a notch,” in the words of chef Emeril Lagasse. King’s current bestseller, Mr. Mercedes, had me at page one. It was off and running when I still had one foot on the ground climbing into the passenger seat. (It contains some Jack Bauer-like heroics, is all I can say without being a spoiler.) Is it the kind of stuff that would ever happen in real life? Doubtful. But who cares? We get enough real life in our own lives, and it’s usually pretty tame compared to a day in the life of Jack Bauer. Whether it’s a novel or filmed entertainment, fantasy or reality-based, we all want the same thing when reading a book:  to be swept away.

So how do you accomplish this when you’re writing a novel? How do you take a low-octane plot and kick it up at notch?

Don’t be afraid to be over the top. Your plot doesn’t have to be in the realm of the probable, just believable enough to keep readers from rolling their eyes in disbelief. The only rule is that it has to make sense in the context of the story so it doesn’t seem out of character.

When I first started out as a writer I made it a practice to keep up with what was selling by reading at least one book by each of the authors whose titles frequently appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. If you want to understand the perennial popularity of a Danielle Steel, check out Palomino. The heroine is not only dumped by her cheating husband, an anchor on the local news channel, she then has the torment of watching him and his now-pregnant girlfriend/co-anchor on TV every day. And that’s just the first chapter. Before she’s paralyzed in an accident.

You may roll your eyes at this plot line, but in the hands of a skilled writer like Steel, it’ll have you turning the pages too fast to think, “Please. Like this would ever happen!”


In my first novel, Garden of Lies, which was a New York Times bestseller, my doctor heroine is faced with an unwanted pregnancy as a first-year intern. She agrees to end the pregnancy only if her doctor boyfriend will perform the abortion. She wants him to know it’s a big deal, not the minor procedure he seems to think it is. In ending a life they’re both scarred for life. And that’s just one of the subplots. The main plot is the classic tale of babies switched at birth with a twist: It’s the mother of one of the babies who consciously makes the switch.

Create high stakes. It’s one thing to have the protagonist lose his job or have the bank foreclose on his house. We read about this sort of thing every day in the news, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary; we feel for the person crying on TV because they lost their house and wish him or her well. With fiction, we want the exact opposite: more pain and suffering. If the protagonist is thrown into hot water, we want that water to be scalding.

Take The Firm, for instance—the novel that launched the mega-bestselling John Grisham’s career. The protagonist, Mitch, not only suspects there’s something fishy going on at the law firm that’s just hired him, but he notices the mortality rate among junior partners is unusually high. Soon he’s on the hit list and being chased, not only by the crooks, but by the mob and FBI. Who cares if that’d likely never happen in real life and you wouldn’t survive to tell the tale if it did? It makes for a compulsively readable novel and was made into a film that was a box-office hit.

Make us care before you toss your hero into hot waterThere’s a reason you don’t see a dead body in the opening pages of my newest title, Bones and Roses (Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series). I wanted readers to first get to know my amateur sleuth Tish—a recovering alcoholic who lost her mom at a young age—so when the corpse does turn up, they’d understand and appreciate the impact it has on her.


In opening scenes, suspense should come from the protagonist himself (or protagonists if it’s a multiple-viewpoint novel). Readers will want to know more about this character, so they’ll keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. If the author fails to create reader sympathy for the protagonist before he or she is put in a tight spot or a tight spot becomes even tighter, the reader won’t care whether or not he or she finds a way out.

Take The Shining, by Stephen King. King foreshadows the horrors to come in an opening scene in which down-on-his-luck protagonist Jack Torrance is interviewing for the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. You care what happens to Jack and his wife and son, and you suspect it’s not going to turn out all hunky-dory when he gets the job.

In short, if you haven’t developed reader sympathy for your protagonist, the sledgehammer blow on which the plot hinges won’t have as much impact.

Keep up the pace. Remember when you were a kid and your big brother would twist your arm behind your back until you cried “uncle”?  There’s no crying uncle in a taut, fast-paced novel. As you build toward the climax, it needs to be fast and furious with no letting up. In Michael Kortya’s masterful suspense novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a wilderness guide is leading a group of at-risk youths—among them, a kid who witnessed a murder and is being hunted by killers. Throw in a former U.S. marshal who has her own reasons for finding the kid, a forest ranger with a tortured past, the hero’s plucky wife back at the ranch, and a couple of really scary psychopaths, and you have a potent blend that’ll get the reader’s pulse pounding like a triple shot of espresso.

You write romance? Same rule applies as with horror and suspense novels: keep those pages turning with memorable characters and a compelling plot. Will Scarlett find happiness with Rhett?  Will Bridget Jones get over herself and get with Mr. Darcy? These questions keep the plot bubbling and the protagonist stewing to perfect, delicious done-ness.


These are just a few of the basics. For more about how to write a page-turner, I recommend Writing the Blockbuster Novel, an excellent how-to written by my former literary agent and ex-husband, Albert Zuckerman. As someone who’s published a novel of his own and shaped countless others (including those of bestselling author Ken Follett), Al really knows his stuff.

Eileen authorNew York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, “Secret of the Mossy Cave,” at the age of eleven. She went on to pen the perennially popular GARDEN OF LIES—which was published in 22 languages around the world—and numerous other women’s fiction titles. BONES AND ROSES is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Online, you can find her at her website.

The post Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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13. Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel

We all want to write an engaging, page-turning story. But that’s harder said than done, as is proven by the number of times I leave a movie complaining that it was one long bull crap moment. There are tips and tricks to successfully writing a can’t-put-it-down book. Eileen Goudge is here today to share some of them with us…

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Courtesy: Sam Beckwith at CC

If you’ve watched the hit TV show “24”, you know that every day in the life of hero Jack Bauer is a really, really bad day. When he’s not hunting terrorists he’s saving a major city from total annihilation. Is any of it remotely believable? Hell no. But we watch anyway.  Why? Because the action moves at such a rapid clip, we don’t pause to reflect on the gaping plot holes until the credits are rolling.  (Seriously, a middle-aged guy singlehandedly taking out a dozen armed terrorists?)

It’s the same reason authors like Stephen King have legions of fans. King is a master of plot and pacing.  He knows that to create a novel that’s addictive you have to “kick it up a notch,” in the words of chef Emeril Lagasse. King’s current bestseller, Mr. Mercedes, had me at page one. It was off and running when I still had one foot on the ground climbing into the passenger seat. (It contains some Jack Bauer-like heroics, is all I can say without being a spoiler.) Is it the kind of stuff that would ever happen in real life? Doubtful. But who cares? We get enough real life in our own lives, and it’s usually pretty tame compared to a day in the life of Jack Bauer. Whether it’s a novel or filmed entertainment, fantasy or reality-based, we all want the same thing when reading a book:  to be swept away.

So how do you accomplish this when you’re writing a novel? How do you take a low-octane plot and kick it up at notch?

Don’t be afraid to be over the top. Your plot doesn’t have to be in the realm of the probable, just believable enough to keep readers from rolling their eyes in disbelief. The only rule is that it has to make sense in the context of the story so it doesn’t seem out of character.

When I first started out as a writer I made it a practice to keep up with what was selling by reading at least one book by each of the authors whose titles frequently appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. If you want to understand the perennial popularity of a Danielle Steel, check out Palomino. The heroine is not only dumped by her cheating husband, an anchor on the local news channel, she then has the torment of watching him and his now-pregnant girlfriend/co-anchor on TV every day. And that’s just the first chapter. Before she’s paralyzed in an accident.

You may roll your eyes at this plot line, but in the hands of a skilled writer like Steel, it’ll have you turning the pages too fast to think, “Please. Like this would ever happen!”


In my first novel, Garden of Lies, which was a New York Times bestseller, my doctor heroine is faced with an unwanted pregnancy as a first-year intern. She agrees to end the pregnancy only if her doctor boyfriend will perform the abortion. She wants him to know it’s a big deal, not the minor procedure he seems to think it is. In ending a life they’re both scarred for life. And that’s just one of the subplots. The main plot is the classic tale of babies switched at birth with a twist: It’s the mother of one of the babies who consciously makes the switch.

Create high stakes. It’s one thing to have the protagonist lose his job or have the bank foreclose on his house. We read about this sort of thing every day in the news, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary; we feel for the person crying on TV because they lost their house and wish him or her well. With fiction, we want the exact opposite: more pain and suffering. If the protagonist is thrown into hot water, we want that water to be scalding.

Take The Firm, for instance—the novel that launched the mega-bestselling John Grisham’s career. The protagonist, Mitch, not only suspects there’s something fishy going on at the law firm that’s just hired him, but he notices the mortality rate among junior partners is unusually high. Soon he’s on the hit list and being chased, not only by the crooks, but by the mob and FBI. Who cares if that’d likely never happen in real life and you wouldn’t survive to tell the tale if it did? It makes for a compulsively readable novel and was made into a film that was a box-office hit.

Make us care before you toss your hero into hot waterThere’s a reason you don’t see a dead body in the opening pages of my newest title, Bones and Roses (Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series). I wanted readers to first get to know my amateur sleuth Tish—a recovering alcoholic who lost her mom at a young age—so when the corpse does turn up, they’d understand and appreciate the impact it has on her.


In opening scenes, suspense should come from the protagonist himself (or protagonists if it’s a multiple-viewpoint novel). Readers will want to know more about this character, so they’ll keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. If the author fails to create reader sympathy for the protagonist before he or she is put in a tight spot or a tight spot becomes even tighter, the reader won’t care whether or not he or she finds a way out.

Take The Shining, by Stephen King. King foreshadows the horrors to come in an opening scene in which down-on-his-luck protagonist Jack Torrance is interviewing for the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. You care what happens to Jack and his wife and son, and you suspect it’s not going to turn out all hunky-dory when he gets the job.

In short, if you haven’t developed reader sympathy for your protagonist, the sledgehammer blow on which the plot hinges won’t have as much impact.

Keep up the pace. Remember when you were a kid and your big brother would twist your arm behind your back until you cried “uncle”?  There’s no crying uncle in a taut, fast-paced novel. As you build toward the climax, it needs to be fast and furious with no letting up. In Michael Kortya’s masterful suspense novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a wilderness guide is leading a group of at-risk youths—among them, a kid who witnessed a murder and is being hunted by killers. Throw in a former U.S. marshal who has her own reasons for finding the kid, a forest ranger with a tortured past, the hero’s plucky wife back at the ranch, and a couple of really scary psychopaths, and you have a potent blend that’ll get the reader’s pulse pounding like a triple shot of espresso.

You write romance? Same rule applies as with horror and suspense novels: keep those pages turning with memorable characters and a compelling plot. Will Scarlett find happiness with Rhett?  Will Bridget Jones get over herself and get with Mr. Darcy? These questions keep the plot bubbling and the protagonist stewing to perfect, delicious done-ness.


These are just a few of the basics. For more about how to write a page-turner, I recommend Writing the Blockbuster Novel, an excellent how-to written by my former literary agent and ex-husband, Albert Zuckerman. As someone who’s published a novel of his own and shaped countless others (including those of bestselling author Ken Follett), Al really knows his stuff.

Eileen authorNew York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, “Secret of the Mossy Cave,” at the age of eleven. She went on to pen the perennially popular GARDEN OF LIES—which was published in 22 languages around the world—and numerous other women’s fiction titles. BONES AND ROSES is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Online, you can find her at her website.

The post Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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14. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014)

You know Mac and Jon. You love Mac and Jon. Now meet Sam and Dave. You’ll love Sam and Dave.

Don’t rush into the pages just yet. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long while. If we weren’t so aware that Jon Klassen (that insta-recognizable style!) is a contemporary illustrator, I would wholeheartedly presume that it was some vintage thing in a used bookstore. A find to gloat about, a find that makes you wonder just how you got so lucky.

The hole. The space left over. The words, stacked deeper and deeper. The apple tree whose tippy top is hidden. Two chaps, two caps, two shovels. One understanding dog.

Speaking of two chaps, two caps, and two shovels, check out the trailer.

(I’ll wait if you need to watch that about five more times.)

The start of their hole is shallow, and they are proud. But they have only just started. Sam asks Dave when they should stop, and this is Dave’s reply:

“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

Dave’s voice of reason is so comforting to any young adventurer. It’s validating that your goal is something spectacular. (Do we forget this as grownups? To search for somthing spectacular? I think we do.)

Perhaps the pooch is the true voice of reason here, though he doesn’t ever let out a bark or a grumble. Those eyes, the scent, the hunt. He knows.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And this is where Sam and Dave Dig a Hole treads the waters of picture book perfection. The treasure, this spectacular something, is just beyond the Sam and Dave’s reality. The reader gets the treat where Sam and Dave are stumped. Do you want to sit back and sigh about their unfortunate luck? Do you want to holler at them to just go this way or that way or pay attention to your brilliant dog? Do you root for them? Do you keep your secret?

The text placement on each page is sublime. If Sam and Dave plant themselves at the bottom of the page, so does the text. If the hole is deep and skinny, the text block mirrors its length. This design choice is a spectacular something. It’s subtle. It’s meaningful. It’s thoughtful and inevitable all at once.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And then – then! Something spectacular. The text switches sides. The boys fall down. Through? Into? Under? Did the boys reach the other side? Are they where they started? Is this real life? Their homecoming is the same, but different. Where there was a this, now there is a that. Where there was a hmm, now there is an ahhh.

Spectacular indeed.

I like to think that the impossible journey here is a nod to Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration, A Hole is to Dig. That’s what holes are for. That’s what the dirt asks of you. It’s not something you do alone or without a plan or without hope. Sam and Dave operate in this truth. They need to dig. There’s not another choice.

AHoleIsToDig

(image here // a first edition, first printing!)

Sidenote: I’m pretty thrilled that these scribbles live in my ARC.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Look for this one on October 14th.

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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15. Novel Revision: 4 Goals to Polish Your Story

It seems like all I am doing is printing out my WIP right now. Of course. Revising a novel is always a circular process.

Get it Right the First Time

Some authors get it right the first time; others claim to get it right the first time. For experienced writers, who are used to editing, it may be possible for a first or an early draft to be near perfect. Lucky you!

Creep up on Right

I am fairly experienced at novel revision and editing a text. But editing my own work is a matter of circling back, round and round, in a seemingly endless circle. I make changes here or there, but it’s hard to keep track of the flow of the story. Do those changes really do what I hope they do? Have I gone too far or not far enough?

The only way to know is to read the story again from the beginning. Or later in the novel, I can pick a chapter to read from, but it needs to be 2-3 chapter ahead of what I just edited.

Consistency. I am looking for consistency in voice and tone, and those can only be assessed when you look at longer passages.

Holes. I am also looking for holes in the story. If I indicate in Chapter 8 that a beggar is one-legged, does he suddenly grow a leg in Chapter 12. Again, I need to look at longer passages for these types of details.

Tension. I am always checking to make sure the story’s tension is as high as possible. Maybe a stronger verb will evoke stronger emotion, or maybe slight rewording will help. I’m at a fairly late stage of revising (it’s gone through several major revisions already and I’m confident of the overall structure by now) so I doubt it will need major re-structuring. Instead, this is probably some early polishing.

Pacing. I am also monitoring myself: do I get bored at any point? Where did I stop paying attention to the words? If I bore myself, then I will bore the reader. Yes, I realize that part of the boredom is that I’ve read this novel upteen times. But there are parts that I happily read multiple times; and there are parts where I struggle to read it again. It’s those places that I evaluate for pacing issues: can I omit something to speed up the story? Can I reword it to speed it up?

These are not conscious, check-off-a-list things I do, just what I try to keep in mind as I endlessly print, read, edit, print, read, edit. . .

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16. Trinity Faegen: 2k11

Random Acts of Publicity DISCOUNT:
$10 OFF The Book Trailer Manual. Use discount code: RAP2011 http://booktrailermanual.com/manual

Debut Novel: Spreadsheets Used for Plotting and Revising a Novel

Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. I featured Revision Stories from the Classes of 2k8 and 2k9 and this feature returns this year with the Class of 2k11.


Trinity Faegen, THE MEPHISTO COVENANT, YA, Fall 2011

Revisions: Literary Fast Forward

Guest post by Trinity Faegen

Ironically, I’m writing this just after receiving the editorial letter and line edits on my first YA novel. The editor has an issue with my timeline and asked me to extend it.

How long is your story from beginning to end? A day? A week? A year? Mine is about a week, and he feels this is too short, that I need to extend it to ten days or even two weeks, but how can I lengthen the timeline without adding extraneous scenes that read like filler?

The answer is the literary equivalent of fast forward.

First, I’ll find one or more areas within the manuscript that are already transitional, such as the end of a scene that draws a subplot to conclusion, or one that ends a dramatic confrontation. I’m fortunate because one of my plot elements involves a character’s need for information, which can’t be had quickly. I will find a scene ending that lends itself to a lapse of dramatic action until things begin to happen again. I’ll add a few paragraphs to the beginning of the next scene, in the appropriate point of view, to let the reader know time has passed, but nothing happened off-screen. The characters ate, slept, went to school, lived their lives, until now, when we are picking up the pace again.

The paragraphs might read something like this:

“After her miserable first day at Telluride High, Sasha didn’t think it could get worse. She was wrong. As the lie Brett told about her spread, it morphed into something even he, in his twisted, pervy little mind, couldn’t have dreamed up. Not only did everyone believe she had sex on the Internet, they now thought she did it for money. She was like a leper, always alone, everyone avoiding her as if she was contagious.
By Friday, her fifth day in Hell, she’d had enough. Somehow, she had to turn the tables on Brett, and since she had not one single friend to help, she’d have to do it alone.
First period began like always, Mrs. Redmon calling on another victim to read from The Metamorphosis. Sasha could feel Brett’s eyes staring at her, knew he was smirking, smug and pleased with him

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17. KM Weiland on Reverse Outlining + GIVEAWAY

I am THRILLED to feature writing guru K.M. Weiland on the blog today to discuss Outlining. As a reformed panser, I have seen my writing evolve by embracing outlining techniques. And while I'm not a full outliner yet, it is a tool that helps me at certain stages during the writing process to form stronger story structure and character development.

Katie's book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success guides writers with a step-by-step approach to developing and writing a novel. One of the story mapping techniques is Reverse Outlining, a creative approach to help writers build a strong, cohesive timeline in their novels. Read on for an excerpt straight from the book!

Reverse Outlining

When you think of outlines, you generally think about organization, right? The whole point of outlining, versus the seat-of-the-pants method, is to give the writer a road map, a set of guidelines, a plan. An outline should be simple, streamlined, and linear. An outline should put things in order. So you’re probably going to think I’m crazy when I tell you one of the most effective ways to make certain every scene matters is to outline backwards.

During the outlining process, we have to create a plausible series of events, a chain reaction that will cause each scene to domino into the one following. But linking scenes isn’t always easy to do if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be linking to. As any mystery writer can tell you, you can’t set the clues up perfectly until you know whodunit. Often, it’s easier and more productive to start with the last scene in a series and work your way backwards.

For example, in my outline of a historical story, I knew one of my POV characters was going to be injured so badly he would be unable to communicate with another character for almost a month. However, I didn’t yet know how or why he was injured. I could work my way toward this point in a logical, linear fashion, starting at the last known scene (a dinner party), and building one scene upon another, until I reached my next known point (the injury). But because my chain of events was based on what was already behind me (the dinner party), more than what was away off in the future (the injury), my attempts to bridge the two were less than cohesive.

Had I outlined these scenes in a linear fashion, squeezing in the injury might have become a gymnastic effort instead of a natural flowing of plot. Plus, the fact that I had no idea what was supposed to happen between the dinner party and the injury meant I was likely to invent random and inconsequential events to fill the space.

My solution?

You got it: work backwards.

Starting at the end of the plot progression—the injury—I began asking questions that would help me discover the plot development immediately preceding. How was the character hurt? Where was he hurt? Why did the bad guys choose to do this to him? Why was he only injured, instead of killed? How is he going to escape?

Once I knew these things, I knew how I needed to set up the scene, and once I knew how to set up the scene, I knew what to put in the previous slot in the outline. Eventually, I was able to work myself all the way back to the dinner party. Voilà! I now had a complete sequence of events, all of w

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18. 5 Things You Don’t Need To Include When Writing Summaries

novel writing techniques | laura whitcomb authorOne of the challenges writers face when writing a novel is balancing scene with summary. Today’s tip of the day focuses on what you should not include when summarizing a scene or event. Plus, try your hand at writing summary with a free exercise from Novel Shortcuts.

When To Write Summaries Versus Scenes

Writing summary does not mean starting at the moment the last scene ended and covering everything that happens up to the moment the next scene begins. You only need to include those things that are significant to [the story]. There is a lot the readers will assume.

5 Things You Don’t Need To Include When Writing Summaries

  1. Uneventful travel. People walking out of rooms or riding, walking, or flying to a new location. Unless there’s something important about the way they got to the next place, leave it out.
  2. Home-life maintenance. If you don’t say what happened the rest of the night, readers will assume that normal things took place: sleeping, reading, and watching television.
  3. Workday maintenance. We know that the lawyer will probably have meetings, take phone calls, and read briefs. We’ll assume the teacher will give lessons, grade papers, and have coffee in the staff lounge. No need to even skim over that stuff unless doing so helps your story.
  4. Relationship maintenance. If you skip how your hero kisses his wife and kids when he gets home, what he says to them, and the look on this face during dinner, readers will assume that his relationships are rolling along as before.
  5. Ongoing emotions already stated. If you describe your protagonist being depressed and skip telling us her frame of mind between breakfast and dinner, readers will assume she continued to act depressed. No need to repeat or fortify this idea unless it helps the story.

Try This: A Summary Writing Exercise

Take a year of your life and try summarizing it into one paragraph. See if you find the most significant aspects to highlight. What changed that year? What would someone need to know in order for the next year of your life to make sense? Read it to someone else and see if they get a sense of that shortened journey through time. If you have trouble with a year of your own life, try summarizing a year of someone else’s life, a season of your favorite TV drama or comedy, a season for your favorite sports team. Repeat until ease sets in.


This excerpt comes from Laura Whitcomb’s book, Novel Shortcuts. Learn more about her book on novel writing and read an exclusive author interview. Plus, don’t miss out on these online writing workshops that focus on the novel:

19. Critiquing? Revising? 10 Writing Style Elements to Check

Yesterday we looked at nine elements to check when doing a critique of your own manuscript or someone elses.  Today we are going a step further by reading with Writing Style in mind.  I want to thank Anita Nolan for writing these ten writing style elements up, so we can refer to them while critiquing a manuscript.

• Voice: Strong? Too passive?

• Any problems with point of view? If there are multiple points of view, are the POV changes handled well?

• Does the dialogue sound natural? Is the dialogue of each character distinct, or does everyone sound the same?

• Does the dialogue move the story forward?

• Were there too many “he said” dialogue tags, or awkward substitutes for “said?” (snarled, hissed.)

• As to back story: Is it woven into the story, or are there any info dumps or “As you know, Bob”s (use of dialogue to dump information into the story.)

• Is there too much narrative? Too many flashbacks?

• Are the sentences clear, or do they need to be reworded to improve clarity?

• Is the story well-paced, or does it slow in places?

• Is there plenty of white space, or is the writing dense? (In other words, are the paragraphs short and interspersed with dialogue, or are they long blocks of type running a half page—or more.)

Tomorrow, we’ll go over what to check, when reading a synopsis.  You can find Anita Nolan at: www.anitnolan.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, demystify, need to know, Process, revisions, Tips Tagged: Flashbacks, Manuscript Critiquing, Pacing, Voice, Writing Style Check List

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20. Building Suspense: Meeting Readers In The Middle

When thriller author Donna Galanti contacted me about guest posting here at The Bookshelf Muse on building suspense, I was all over it! As a writer on the dark side of Middle Grade and Young Adult, suspense is as alluring to me as the scent of bacon in the pan. And suspense isn't only about Thrillers and Who-dun-its...every book and genre has it's own brand of suspense, meaning catching and keeping the reader's attention requires some serious skill. Donna has 8 great tips for building suspense...I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!

Writing Suspense: Meet Them in the Middle and They Will Come

I’ve learned so much about suspense since writing my first book. One thing I’ve learned in fiction, and movies, is that surprise can be over-rated.

Surprise is the two-seconds of “Boo!” Suspense is the ten-minutes of “Oh, No! Will she die or not?” We’ve all heard go for suspense when you can–and for a reason. It keeps the reader turning pages.
This means the reader needs to know a few things (without giving it all away) so they can predict things, and feel smart. Readers love feeling smart. Don’t we all?

I’ve discovered that if we meet the reader in the middle and let them feel smart, that they will stick with you. 

But how can we, as writers, meet the reader in the middle to create suspense?

Tease them with only a few descriptive details

In Harry Potter we all know what Hogwart’s Castle looks like, don’t we? But if you go through the book there are very few descriptions about it. It’s introduced only as a vast castle with lots of turrets and towers. When Harry enters it we’re teased with brief images of flaming torches and a magnificent staircase. That’s it. The reader must fill in the rest with imagination.

By giving the reader flashes of the setting here and there we involve the reader, take them along for the ride, and…build suspense.

Introduce questions early on

Not just one, but many. Drop them here and there. Don’t make it tidy. Make it mayhem with meaning. But make sure those drops do have meaning.

If a knife appears hanging on the wall in the beginning, the reader will question why its there and believe that the knife has importance down the road. (So make sure you show its reason…later.)
Make the reader ask: What happens next? In Watchers by Dean Koontz we witness a depressed man who goes off to a canyon to commit suicide. Will he go through with it? Then he meets a highly intelligent dog and fears for his life from an unknown stalker. Through the dog he meets a timid woman he is intrigued by.

Now we have more questions. Who is this dog? Who is this stalker? How are they connected? Who is this woman? Why is she so shy?

Provide readers with knowledge

New novelists can often be afraid of revealing their best stuff early on. I used to feel the same way. There are tons of pages to fill, after all. That fear can make a writer hoard their best stuff for a surprise–later. But the reader can get bored with waiting, and surprises are overestimated.

Hitchcock, the master of film suspense, used this to build his tension in his movies. He gave the audience information the characters knew and didn’t know, such as the bomb located under their desk.

Tick tock.

Will the character die? Yikes! Maybe, if we’re given all the information we need to suspect death is looming. What makes this suspenseful? Because we spend ten minutes hoping beyond hope the character we love doesn’t die! In the movies or on the page.

Look at the big picture

Movies can provide great visuals for how writers can create suspense. Multiple setups can lead to one big suspense payoff. It’s the knowing what’s about to happen, and then it happens.

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone plans to kill the two mob leaders he meets for dinner. We see the murder planning. The discussion of where to meet. The finding of the gun in the bathroom as a weapon. The wondering of whether Michael will or won’t do it. The knowing that his life will be forever changed if he does.

Creating suspense with a big picture buildup can also create surprise. Here is where surprise can work if everything that led up to the surprise is exposed in a new way.

The big moment at the end in The Sixth Sense isn't just a surprise–it re-arranges everything we know about the events we've seen beforehand in a new way. Did you guess it coming or were you totally surprised?

Set the mood

Provide a suspense setting that creates feelings of heightened anxiety. Give the reader the portent of doom. The setting of a scene can make a large impact on its mood. Use sensory details to build on those feelings–a sudden wind, a stormy sky, a rising stench, a jarring noise. Use world building to create suspense.

Here’s an example of how I aimed for this in my suspense novel, A Human Element:

The sky darkened suddenly. She looked up. Black clouds, thick and angry rolled overhead. Her heart raced faster. The bad feeling screamed again inside her. 

"Let's go inside for now." Laura tugged on her mother's sleeve. They would be safer in the house. She just knew it. 

"But we can't let our chores go." Fanny's fingers flew across the peas. Slit. Pop. Slit. Pop. Wind whipped around the corner of the house. It knocked over Laura's basket.

Do you think something bad is coming?

Go slow

You’re saying whaaat? Yes. Slow down real time to show the full 360 degrees of the scene. In real life action happens fast. But it’s our job as writers to not show real life. That would be boring and over with in a flash. Show all the angles of the scene to build suspense. Use all the senses. Add complications.

I just read Robert Goolrick’s, A Reliable Wife. In it he moves achingly slow to build suspense. In the beginning scene a man waits at a train station. Nothing is happening. But so much is happening. And so much is to come.

His first paragraph tells us:

It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet. The world stood stock still, four o’clock dead on. Nothing moved anywhere, not a body, not a bird; for a split second there was only silence, there was only stillness. Figures stood frozen in the frozen land, men, women, and children.
Oooh, right? Look at his words. Bitter. Electric. Dead. Still. Frozen. Besides going slow he’s also setting the mood with his word choices. These are not soft words. We have a sense of doom. For eleven pages at the train station Goolrick goes slow to build suspense and tension all by focusing on one man’s thoughts and the people who flow around him.

Think that’s going slow? The master of suspense, Dean Koontz, builds suspense over seventeen pages in Whispers with an attempted rape scene.

And don’t forget to create characters to care about

This doesn't mean they shouldn’t be flawless. Giving them flaws makes them more appealingly human, but you won’t create suspense if nobody gives a hoot about your characters.

Suspense is emotional. It’s about revealing some, but not all.

And if the reader cares they’ll go out on that limb and meet you in the middle. Build it halfway to create suspense, and they will come.

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense novel, A Human Element, called “a riveting debut that had me reading till the wee hours of the night” by international bestselling author M.J. Rose.

She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs but sadly no ghosts. Visit her at her website, and on Twitter!

About A Human Element

One by one, Laura Armstrong's friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her special healing powers, there is nothing she can do to stop it. The killer haunts her dreams and leaves cryptic notes advising her to use her powers to save herself...because she's next.

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Your turn, Musers! What techniques do you use to build suspense? Is there an author you love because of their skill at drawing the reader in and keeping them guessing? Let me know in the comments!

ALSO, I hope you'll sneak over to the ever-awesome Shannon O'Donnell's  Book Dreaming where I'm chatting about Staying Motivated. I promise you will LOVE some of the links I'm sharing at her blog!

35 Comments on Building Suspense: Meeting Readers In The Middle, last added: 9/22/2012
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21. Master Plot for Pacing, Characterization and Action

Somewhere in your writer’s head is a Master Plot, an idea of what a story or novel should be like, how it should progress. For writers who don’t outline–the write-by-the-seat-of-their-pants writers–the Master Plot is hard-wired into their brains.

For the rest of us, the idea of a Master Plot is helpful.

Hero’s Journey. The hero’s journey can be used for anything from Star Wars to the middle grade classic, Bridge to Terabithia.

Christopher Vogler’s explanation of the Hero’s Journey is excellent. The basic stages, along with the corresponding character arc are these:

  • Ordinary World – Limited awareness of problem
  • Call to Adventure – increased awareness
  • Refusal of Call – reluctance to change
  • Meeting the Mentor – overcoming reluctance
  • Crossing the First Threshold – committing to change
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies – experimenting with 1st change
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave- preparing for big change
  • Supreme Ordeal – attempting big change
  • Reward – consequences of the attempt
  • The Road Back – rededication to change
  • Resurrection – final attempt at big change
  • Return with Elixir – final mastery of the problem

You write comedy or humor and want a plot for a novel?
John Vorhaus, in The Comic Toolbox adapts the hero’s journey into a Comic Throughline.

Similar to the Hero’s Journey is Peter Dunne’s adaptation to a story in which two main characters influence each other, or one character drastically changes a second. The Emotional Structure details how the characters interact. This could be a sort of Rivalry story, a Love story, a Forbidden Love story, or even one of Pursuit, Rescue, or Escape. The main thing here is that two characters act upon each other. Dunne suggests that Acts 1 and 3 are about the outer plot, while Act 2 is the inner journey.

There are other “master plot” ideas, but in discussing the idea of master plots, I like one strategy that Jack M Bickham discusses in his book, SCENE AND STRUCTURE. His “scenic master plot” includes a three-chapter self-contained subplot in the middle of the story, something exciting like a chase scene.

“Chapter Seven. Hero viewpoint. He is embroiled in his three-chapter quest. . . an action sequence, preferably physical: a car chase, a face-to-face confrontation with violent words and emotions, perhaps even an attack on the hero’s life. . .The end of the chapter is at a new disaster which will allow no time for sequel [evaluating what just happened], or at some turning point in the middle of the ongoing scene. This chapter hooks instantly into the next.”

I’ve always thought this was brilliant. Right when the novel is in danger of lapsing into a sagging middle, you insert a subplot of action that resolves over three chapters, while keeping the reader engaged. Of course, it must feed back into the main story after those three chapters and be integral to the story. But it solves so many pacing problems.

Do you have a sort of “Master Plot” that you write by?

Where would you insert a 3-chapter, self-contained subplot that is mostly an action sequence?


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22. Ticking Clock

One of the best ways to increase suspense in a novel is to add a deadline. 

http://childrenspublishing.blogspot.com/2012/11/using-ticking-clock-to-add-suspense.html

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23. Momentum

There are many ways to speed up or slow down your book's pace. 

http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.ca/2012/11/increasing-your-books-momentum-by.html

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24. Tension on Every Page

Here are some tips to put tension, even if only a little bit, on each page of your manuscript. 

http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.ca/2012/12/ten-techniques-for-getting-tension-on.html

0 Comments on Tension on Every Page as of 12/26/2012 10:43:00 AM
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25. Tighten Your Writing

Improve the pacing of your manuscript by cutting out unnecessary words. 

http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/the-clock-is-ticking-5-tips-for-tighter-cleaner-writing/

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