Hello everyone, I thought today I would share an article on creating fantasy characters. I love reading and writing fantasy. It literally will let my mind go to this creation of fantastic times, people, and creatures.
I’ve written one fantasy book, Princess Adele’s Dragon, which is a medieval adventure story, but I couldn’t count how many books I’ve read in the fantasy category. I love to read those three to five book series that continue to lead you down those wild and wonderful paths. I have to admit I have read all of Harry Potter and the Outlander series which are far more than three to five books.
You have thought of a subject for a new fantasy book. The first thing you have to do is ask yourself if your protagonist is better suited to a series or a stand-alone novel. In Princess Adele’s Dragon, I have two protagonists, Princess Adele, and Prince Anthony. This book could very easily be made into a series because of the storyline I used. The main conflict is resolved but other conflicts have been brought up that can be carried forward.
Secondly, figure out what kind of story arc you want for your series. Do you want to focus on one problem or mystery per book, along with overarching character development? which means that the characters have more to tell. When you are writing book one you really don’t know how many books will be in the series.
Third, Carry character traits and quirks consistently from book to book. This is true of both your protagonist as well as the support characters in the story. If you can keep all your character details in your head, that is wonderful, but if you can’t make a cheat sheet. Your readers will catch the mistakes you make.
Fourthly, write characters and books that you enjoy. Just as readers love characters they can get to know and see, again and again, so do authors. My favorite books have characters that I can either identify with or would like to have a drink with. All accept Hairy Potter, of course, he is too young. I just want him to teach me magic. Write about what you like to read.
If you would like a free ebook of Princess Adele’s Dragon, just let me know along with your email and I will send you a gift code from Amazon. http://amzn.to/25lUOYM
I hope you have a great week ahead. Blessings to all. Shirley
Hello, everyone. I hope all of you experienced a great week. Today I’m giving you a blog that discusses how you can broaden your story and your readership from an article by Bharti Kirchner. This was originally published in the Writer magazine.
Why venture into unaccustomed territory when it comes to characters? In a globalized world, re regularly meet people.e very different from us in race, class, ethnicity, religion, politics or ideology. Modern novels and memoirs, as mirrors of a society, increasingly depict this heterogeneity.
In addition to expanding our readership, a diverse character, whether the protagonist or a secondary character brings a broader voice to a story. In the case of the novel Tulip Season, protagonist Mitra meets a mysterious German man, and the contrast between the two adds an element of tension. With dissimilar actions, attitudes and world views, backgrounds and upbringings, their interactions spark a great exploration of Mitra’s world.
Creating Authenticity: How do you get started writing about a person foreign to you? By immersing yourself in that particular culture of community through direct contact and by building relationships. Armchair travel can also help, as can books, videos, movies, art, and the Web. Remember, in the end, it’s your story and it’s fiction. You’re facing challenges no matter what. “If you’re going to write fiction, you’re going to write about people who aren’t you,” says David Guterson, author of 10 books, including Snow Falling on Cedars. “You should feel some healthy trepidation about that.”
Respect, openness, and empathy are keys to depicting an unfamiliar culture or perspective. Here are additional tips and techniques.
First Impressions: What a reader first notices is how the character looks, dresses, sounds and behaves. Bring the character alive with physical descriptions, but not too much and not all at once. Allow readers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Pay special attention to the rhythm of the spoken language. A foreign born person might speak with an accent and fall back on native words as necessary.
A Character from Inside Out: You’re writing about individuals, and the methods you usually employ to develop a character of any kind still applies. Remember that all cultures have hopes, fears, and dreams, and it’s your job to portray that.
Does a diverse character have to be sympathetic? Peter Mountford, the author of two novels, including A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, says no. “Actually, I’m not sure he is very sympathetic because of the choices he makes,” Mountford says of Gabriel do Boys, the 26-year-old, biracial protagonist in his novel. “He builds a lucrative career instead of abandoning it for love. I feel for him, definitely, but a lot of readers struggle with him, and I suppose that is the key to writing “the other,” for me.”
Beliefs and Conflicts: Every culture or community holds common beliefs about marriage, family, money, status and friendship. A character is likely to suffer moth internal and external conflicts when going against these beliefs and sometimes even when conforming to them.
Showing Universality: By wrestling with choices and obstacles, a diverse character, like any other, grows and changes. In the process, he or she displays common human characteristics as fear, anger, joy and love. Although I’m different, I’d feel much the same in the same situation, the reader realizes, and perhaps gets more involved in the book.
You can make a character accessible in other ways. Show how he or she relates to friends. Let him or her grapple with everyday issues like traffic. An element of humor can also help. We gravitate toward people who lighten our days with a joke or a funny situation. It is in those moments that we let go of our differences and embrace our common humanity.
I hope this article helps to make your writing this week easier. The more knowledge we have the better writers we are. Blessings to all.
Hello, everyone. Today it’s my great pleasure to introduce to you a fellow writer from Rave Review Book Club, Gordon Bickerstaff. We are both members of this great club and today he is their “Spotlight Author”. It’s my privilege to be part of his Blog tour. He is introducing you to his main characters and providing you with a short synopsis of his book. Enjoy
Gavin Shawlens and Zoe Tampsin – DoomWatchers
Who is Gavin Shawlens?
Gavin Shawlens is an academic in his mid-thirties. He’s not a fitness freak but he keeps trim with occasional visits to the university judo club and jogging up the three flights of stairs to his top-floor flat. He has a thick mop of hair has a light straw colour in summer that darkens in winter. He is single, and has had on/off relationships, but he’s haunted by a previous relationship that ended badly.
He has a secret part-time job. Gavin has gained a great deal of experience over the past six years on a number of major investigations for the Lambeth Group. In fact, Gavin has a UK security clearance of Top Secret Level D, which means he has knowledge of the highest category of official state secrets. He knows where some of the nastiest Government skeletons are buried. He’d been present at the burial of two of them.
Who is Zoe Tampsin?
Zoe Tampsin, Senior Field Officer with the Security Service. On temporary secondment to the Lambeth Group. Based here in London, Zoe is five-eight, slender, athletic-looking, intelligent and ambitious. The forty-three-year-old ex-army captain had joined the OTC at her university and went on to receive the coveted Sword of Honour at Sandhurst as the best officer cadet.
Captain Tampsin had served with the SAS in Bosnia and more recently on Special Forces operations for MI5 and MI6 at home and abroad. Her CO wrote about her – Zoe Tampsin protects her troop like a lioness protecting her cubs, powerful, determined, and completely ruthless.
Zoe had proved herself in combat, and she was accepted as combat hardened. She was powerful in dealing with the stress of imminent danger, and her concentration over long periods was second to none. Many times her troop had faced the white of the opposition’s eyes, and she had led them through hell and back.
Zoe had smashed the hardest glass ceiling, and showed the pencil generals the unique skill set that women have to offer, in the multi-dimensional fight against 21st century terrorism. She formed and led a special operations unit of women, W Troop. Still a small attachment, compared to the number of men in Special Forces, but against a strict background of no drop in standards, her select group of female troopers had proved themselves worthy of the badge.
Who are the Lambeth Group?
The Lambeth Group is a covert organisation formed when a group of twenty-six university vice-chancellors from elite universities met secretly with Home Office mandarins at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London. After prolonged discussion, they agreed on the need for a doomwatch strategy to discover and manage research and technology disasters that can happen when top researchers push past the boundaries farther and faster than they should.
Working with CPNI (Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure) a branch of MI5, and the Home Office, the Lambeth Group had successfully prevented the most damaging university and private research disasters from becoming public knowledge.
The Black Fox
Zoe Tampsin is resourceful, smart and Special Forces-trained, but she has been given an impossible mission. She has to protect scientist, Gavin Shawlens, from assassination by the CIA, and discover the secret trapped in Gavin’s mind the CIA want destroyed.
As the pressure to find Shawlens escalates – the CIA send Zoe’s former mentor to track her down, and her fate seems sealed when he surrounds Zoe and Gavin with a ring of steel. With each hour that passes, the ring is tightened, and the window for discovering Gavin’s secret will shut.
Zoe is faced with a decision that goes against all of her survival instincts. If she is wrong – they both die. If she is right – she will discover the secret, and become the next target for assassination. Run for your life…
We all made mistakes as beginner writers and I still do even though I’ve been writing a number of years now. It’s always nice to get reminders of what type of mistakes top writers and editors find consistently. It’s even better to find out how to fix them. The craft of writing is a continual learning process. When you stop learning. lay down your pen. Have a blessed day. Shirley
Today, one of our most experienced editors on Reedsy shares some invaluable advice for first-time authors! Lourdes Venard specializes in crime fiction, science fiction, Young Adult, memoirs, and other nonfiction. She also teaches for the University of California, San Diego’s copyediting certificate program.
When it comes to writing, every writer is unique. But mistakes made by first-time authors are not as unique. In a very unscientific poll, I asked fiction editors which errors they come across the most often. Not surprisingly, the culprits were the same.
Below are the six most common writing mistakes identified by fiction editors, with simple fixes that can be done in the revision stage.
Wordiness can come from overdescription, overexplanation, and redundant language. Those of us who are editors see this all the time in descriptions, especially in the use of adjectives and adverbs. Many first-time writers believe they need to bolster their nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs, but this often marks the writer as an amateur. Instead, writers should focus on using strong nouns and verbs. Take the simple phrase “a small river rushing by quickly.” A river that is rushing will naturally be doing so quickly, so eliminate the adverb.
The fix: When revising your manuscript, look through your descriptions—are there unnecessary words? Are you relying on adjectives and adverbs, rather than strong nouns and verbs? Look to cut as you revise.
“Telling”, rather than “showing”
“Telling,” rather than “showing.” This comes from explaining too much and not trusting the reader to understand—or not giving the reader the opportunity to fill in the spaces with his own imagination. A subset of this, as one editor said, is having characters discuss things in dialogue that no rational person would: “Did you know, Ian, that the agricultural sector in England was transformed by the Black Death, which arrived in England in 1348 and killed many laborers, and by the Hundred Years’ War, which was actually a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453, as well as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381?” If this sounds like a Wikipedia entry, it’s because it was indeed cobbled from Wikipedia—not from an actual conversation.
The fix: Dialogue can be used to effectively impart information, but is it believable and natural? Use dialogue to move the story ahead, to add tension between characters, and to impart—but not dump—information. Break up the information in conversation-sized tidbits.
Laundry list of description
A character is introduced and immediately a description, head to toe, is given; hair color, eye color, glasses, what the character is wearing are all covered in depth. The author may repeatedly mention those “liquid brown eyes.”
The fix: It’s much more effective to describe a character through their behaviors, actions, body language, and dialogue. Here, crime fiction author Ian Rankin gives a description that skims over a character’s looks, but manages to give us plenty (because our mind’s eyes fill in the rest): “He was twenty years younger than Rebus, and a stone and half lighter. A bit less gray in his hair. Most cops looked like cops, but Fox could have been middle management in a plastics company or Inland Revenue.”
You want to keep your point of view to one protagonist (maybe two, if the story lends itself, as in a romance or a story with two strong characters whose paths cross, as in the award-winning All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr).To have more POVs dilutes the bond that a reader forms with the protagonist. Even worse is to have a point of view bounce from character to character in the same scene (we start out in the head of one character, only to hop into another character’s head).
Many new writers have a fear of reusing the same dialogue tags—“said” or “asked”—and so editors see an abundance of incorrect dialogue tags: he yawned, she growled, he laughed. These dialogue tags mark the writer as inexperienced. Someone doesn’t “yawn,” “growl,” or “laugh” dialogue and, besides, they are clichéd ways of marking speech. Dialogue itself should show the reader whether a character is angry, happy, or sleepy.
The fix: Stick to “said” or “asked,” which become invisible to the reader, or avoid dialogue tags when it’s clear who is speaking. If you must indicate that a character has missed his naptime, then write, “he said, yawning.” Or even better, use a dialogue beat: “He stretched and yawned, putting down his coffee cup.”
This is one of the most common grammatical errors. These are phrases or clauses that are not clearly related to what follows. This not only makes for awkward sentences, but often unintentionally funny ones. For example: “After making some repairs, the pigs soon found their way to the fixed trough.” If pigs could fly—or repair their own troughs!
The Fix: Locate the modifier and relocate it to the appropriate place, or rewrite the sentence with the missing information. “After the farmer made some repairs, the pigs soon found their way to the fixed trough.”
Finally, there’s one other “fix” that may catch these and other errors. Read your manuscript aloud (some writers even go as far as reading it into a recorder, then playing it back). You’ll be surprised at what you find—portions that are dull, dialogue that goes on for too long, and awkward constructions that trip up the tongue. Simply delete or rewrite these!
I wanted to share a short story out of my book Shirley’s Short’s and Flashes. It is a fantasy/mystery story. It’s not long and I hope you enjoy it. Shirley
“I swear it’s true, every single word.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Giorgio, I’m unable to accept your statement. What made you think a story so far-fetched, would be believed?”
“Why would I lie about something that could cost me my life, Detective Johnson? That man died just as I said he did. I’m an honest man, and I do not lie.”
Detective Johnson got up from the table and walked from one corner of the room to the other. He couldn’t get his brain around the story that Mr. Giorgio was telling. “Do you care if I smoke, Mr. Giorgio?”
“No, I don’t care, Detective.”
“Thank you. Now let’s stop the formality. I’ve known you all of my life. You call me Peter, and I’ll call you, um, um. I don’t know your first name. I’ve never called you anything but Mr. Giorgio.”
Mr. Giorgio smiled as he listened to Peter. “Peter, my first name is Tony. Actually, it’s Antonio, but everyone calls me Tony. I guess it’s easier to remember.”
“May I call you, Tony? I’m sure I will fall back into old habits and call you Mr. Giorgio, but I’ll do my best to call you by your name. Ok, let’s start from the beginning, once again. Don’t leave anything out.”
“I haven’t left out anything, yet. Peter, there is more to this world than what’s here in Summerton. Things people have no idea is happening in this world. Have you ever heard of Darius Figgaro?”
“No, I can’t say I have. Is that the guy’s name we found in your shop?”
“No, I don’t know who that man was. Darius was from the third century BC and a shoemaker as I am. He lived in a small village, in Armenia. He was known everywhere for his excellent shoes. In fact, he was so talented he was chosen to make shoes for the God’s as an offering, when the festival happened, in a few months. Aramazd, and his attendant, Grogh were made boots. For Aramzd’s son, Mehr, he made the softest, kid, leather shoes, and finally for the Goddess Anahit, he made slippers from a new shiny material from China created by worms. Nothing was finer in the entire world.”
“If anything was going to bring the town prosperity, it would be Darius Figgaro’s shoes. The God’s would certainly think of Artashavian as their favorite place. The village leaders were so confident in their plan, they already had a sign made for outside of town. In large red letters, it read: Artasavian, home of the God’s shoes.”
“You’re kidding, towns back in the third century BC didn’t put up signs.”
“How do you know, Peter? Were you there? People are remarkably resourceful, no matter when or where they lived. Think about the pyramids in Egypt, or the great lighthouse in Alexandria. All through the ages, people have accomplished exciting and beautiful things. Now back to my story. Are you going to interrupt me anymore?”
“I’m not planning to,” remarked Peter.
“The time for the great festival of the gods arrived in Artashavian. You could palpate the excitement in the air. Everyone was happier and looking forward to the three days of fun and homage to their gods. Darius’s excitement ended abruptly when he went to gather his offering and found the shoe cupboard empty. I know I put those shoes in this cupboard. What am I going to do now? Darius sat on his cobbler’s bench and prayed to the gods to help him find his offering. A loud booming voice sounded in Darius’s head.
“Darius sweep the floor using your new broomstick.”
Darius stood as he thought a moment where his new broom was located. Once he thought of the location, he walked to his back porch and grabbed the broom. “Ok, god, I have the broom, and I am obeying you even though I don’t know what good sweeping the floor will do.”
Sweeping the dirt floor was not an easy thing to do. You had to sweep but not stir up the dust and yet sweep aggressively enough to remove the debris on the floor. Sometimes Darius would place a course woven material down on the floor is he could buy the yardage at a cheap enough price. It’s been awhile since he purchased any, so his floor was bare.
He swept the center out of the floor but then decided he’d best do the corners. There’s a box here. I don’t remember this. When Darius looked inside the box, he yelled aloud, “Thank You, thank you.” There were all of the god’s boots and shoes. Tomorrow I will present them as my offering to the gods.
Before sunrise, the next morning, Darius gathered his box of shoes and headed to the temple. He felt fantastic and had extra energy. It was a glorious day. There were other people gathered at the temple also. Sunrise was the appointed time for giving of gifts. If your gift was accepted by the gods, you received a special blessing. Darius was hoping they would give him continued good health so he could continue to make his shoes.
Just as the sun was coming over the horizon, Darius placed his offering on the altar. The ground shook and lightning streaked the sky. Woman were screaming and running away, but Darius stood his ground. He looked at the altar, and his offering was gone. Everyone else’s was still there. What does this mean? Have I displeased them with my offering?”
“You have not displeased us, Darius. You have used your talents to make a personal offering to us. Because you have pleased us so much, we are going to bless you for each pair of shoes you made. Kneel Darius facing the sun.”
Darius was on his knees with the sun shining brightly on his face. He heard a female voice call his name. “Darius, my slippers are magnificent and feel glorious on my feet. For this, you shall have eternal life. You will continue to share your shoes with all you meet. Everyone will want a pair of your shoes. My child’s feet are protected with the soft leather of his shoes. Because you have given him protection, I shall keep you safe.”
“Thank you, Goddess, for your blessing. I could not ask anything more. I will continue to work and make my shoes”, Darius said.
“You shall prosper through your work,” Grogh commanded. “You shall never go without food or beautiful housing.”
Aramazd asked Darius if there was anything else he desired. Darius declined. “Then go, Darius, knowing you will be protected, have a long life and will be sharing your shoes with the world for all time.”
Darius bowed his head as the bright light was removed from his face. He stood, not quite believing what occurred. “I’ve been blessed. What more could I want in this world.”
When Tony finished his story, he looked at Peter and asked, “Do you understand now?”
“Understand what? You told me a fairy tale that has nothing to do with the man’s body in your shop.”
“You are no different than the thousands of other people I have told my story to. You go through this life thinking you know everything, and you actually don’t know anything at all. I can’t explain it any further than what I already have. You have to open your mind, and actually listen to what I said.”
“I don’t have enough evidence to hold you for the man’s murder. I’m going to let you return home but do not try to leave town.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Peter. I will be at my shop working on some shoes. I have a particular order from the Pope. He likes his kid, soft leather shoes.” Tony left the room, heading back to his shop.
Peter kept running Tony’s story around in his mind. Maybe when I hear from the Coroner’s office everything will fall into place. Returning to his office, Peter pulled out the evidence folder on the dead man. It was empty, not one thing to go on so far.
“Peter, the Coroner’s Office is on line 1.”
“Thanks, Sam. Hello, Doc, what do you have for me? You are kidding me, not one thing. What was the cause of death? Heart failure, so it’s natural causes. Sure, I’ll let the prosecutor know about the findings. Thanks, Doc, for the info.” Shaking his head, Peter couldn’t believe it all meant nothing. He knew he wanted to talk to Tony again about the Legend of the shoemaker and to tell him about the findings.
When Peter opened the door to go into the shop, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The room was empty. Not one shoe or even a sign anyone had been in the building. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling corners, with thick dust on the windowsill. A desk sat up against the wall. It was polished to a brilliant shine and had a paper lying on top. When Peter walked over to the desk and looked down at the paper, it made him take in a deep breath, before reaching down to pick it up. His name was printed on the folded paper. He opened the document, and he knew his world would never be the same. It read I am Darius.
This article by James Scott Bell was first published in the Writer’s Digest. I read it this morning on Books Go Social Authors Group ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialauthors/?fref=nf ) and thought it was worth sharing. Even if were not writing a thriller we may want to add a touch into whatever we’re writing. Enjoy. Shirley
Remember when Tommy Lee Jones holds up the empty shackles in The Fugitive and says, “You know, we’re always fascinated when we find leg irons with no legs in ’em”? It makes me think of readers who pick up thrillers and find no thrills in them. Or at least not as many as there could be.
I’m not just talking about plot here. It’s possible to have guns and bombs and hit men and terrorists and black helicopters and still not have a novel that grips the reader in the gut.
For a healthy, fully functioning thriller, try some literary vitamin C. Dose your book with these five Cs and it will stand strong, chest out, ready to give your reader a run for the money.
The first place to fortify a thriller is its cast of characters. A critical mistake made here can undermine even the best story concept.
Is your protagonist all good? That’s boring. Instead, the thriller hero needs to struggle with issues inside as well as outside. She’s got to be a carrier of flaws as well as virtues. These roiling conflicts make her survival an open question.
When we first meet Detective Carol Starkey in Robert Crais’ Demolition Angel, she’s flicking her cigarette ash on the floor of a therapist’s office, “pissed off” because it’s been three years and her demons are still alive and well. Quite an introduction, especially for someone on the LAPD bomb detail. We know she has a short fuse. And we want to watch to see if it goes off.
Brainstorm a list of at least 10 inner demons your hero has to fight. Ten. Get creative. Then choose the best one. Work that demon into your hero’s backstory, and show how it is affecting him in the present—and could hinder him even further in the future. Give him actions that demonstrate the flaw.
Move on to the rest of your cast. Avoid the “stock character” trap, which can be especially perilous in this genre—e.g., the cold, buttoned-down FBI agent; the police detective with a drinking problem. Here’s a good habit: Reject the first image you come up with when creating a character. Entertain several possibilities, always looking for a fresh take.
Then, give each character a point of potential conflict with your hero as well as with the other characters—especially those who are allies. Look for ways friends can become enemies or betrayers. Short of that, create more arguments.
To help you add complexity, make a character grid like this:
Mary Steve Cody Brenda Julio
Now, fill in the blank boxes with possible relationships, secrets and areas of conflict. For example:
Hates him because he abused her sister
Steve Knows that Mary had a child by Julio
If possible connections are eluding you, try running this exercise for each of your main characters: The police come to the character’s residence with a search warrant. In his closet is something he does not want anyone to find, ever.
What is it?
What does this reveal about the inner life of the character? Use the secrets and passions you discover to add another point of conflict within the cast.
Standout thrillers need complexity and webs of conflict, so that every page hums with tension.
I call the main action of a novel the confrontation. This is where the hero and antagonist battle over the high stakes a thriller demands.
When it comes to the antagonist, writers can easily make the opposite of the “all-good protagonist” mistake: They make their bad guy all bad. Worse, they make him all bad because he’s crazy.
More interesting confrontations come from a villain who is justified in what he does.
You mean, in doing evil things?
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean—in his own mind, that is. How much more chilling is the bad guy who has a strong argument for his actions, or who even engenders a bit of sympathy? The crosscurrents of emotion this will create in your readers will deepen your thriller in ways that virtually no other technique can accomplish. The trick is not to overdo it—if you stack the deck against your villain, readers will feel manipulated.
Start by giving your antagonist just as rich a backstory as your hero. What hopes and dreams did he have? How were they dashed? What life-altering hurt did he suffer? Who betrayed him? How did all of this affect him over the course of his life?
Write out a closing argument for him. If he were in court, arguing to a jury about why he did the things he did in the novel, what would he say? Make it as persuasive as possible:
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Hannibal Lecter. You’ve heard a lot of lurid tales about me from the prosecutor. Now you will hear my side of the story. You will hear about a world that is better off without some people being in it. And you will hear about the conditions I endured inside the horror of a place called the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane …”
It can feel a bit disturbing to try to understand someone you might hate in real life. Good. You are a writer. You go where angels fear to tread.
Now take all of that material and use it to strengthen the antagonist’s position in the story. A stronger confrontation can only result.
There’s nothing like a stunning twist or shock to keep readers flipping, clicking or swiping pages. Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.
Harlan Coben is one of the reigning kings of the art of surprise. “I’ve rarely met a twist I didn’t like,” he has said. His method, if it can be called that, is to write himself “into a lot of corners” and see how things work out.
That’s one way to go. Forcing your writer’s mind to deal with conundrums is a great practice.
But there is another way. Pause after every scene and ask yourself: “What would a reader expect to happen next?” Create a list of at least three directions the story might take.
Then discard those three and do something different. I call this unanticipation.
Another method is the old Raymond Chandler advice: When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun. It doesn’t have to be an actual man with an actual gun, of course. It can be anything that bursts into a scene and shakes things up. Here’s the key: Get your imagination to give you the surprise without justification.
Make a quick list of at least 10 things that just pop into your mind. For example:
A woman runs in screaming.
The lights go out.
A car crashes through the wall.
SWAT team outside.
Marching band outside.
TV announcer mentions character’s name.
A baby cries (what baby?).
Blood drips down the wall.
Justin Bieber comes in with a gun.
Some things on your list will seem silly. That’s OK. Don’t judge. Look back and find the most original item, and only then find a reason for it. In this case, No. 8 creates the most interest for me. I have no idea where that came from or what it means. But I can make it mean something.
And so can you.
The best thrillers stab the heart, throughout. They do it by getting readers to experience the emotions of the scenes.
How can you do that? First, by experiencing them yourself. Sense memory is a technique used by many serious actors. Here’s how it works: You concentrate on recalling an emotional moment in your life, and recreate each of the senses in your memory (sight, smell, touch, sound, etc.) until you begin to feel the emotion again. And you will. The actor transfers that to her role; the writer, to the page.
When I was getting to the heart of one of my own thrillers-in-progress, a story of two brothers, I needed to feel what the younger one was experiencing when the bad guys came. I recalled a time when I was 6 or 7, and some bullies were holding me hostage on a hill. Terrified, I finally made a break for home and sobbed to my big brother about what had happened. He left me at the house.
I never saw those bullies in our neighborhood again.
When I wrote the scenes with the younger brother, I focused on feeling those moments again, and transferred those emotions to the page.
They’re going to kill Chuck and they’re going to do the same thing to me. That’s why they have me tied up and they put another thing in my mouth and they won’t let me talk. … They hit me. I’m in the back of some truck. They’re taking me somewhere. I hope they take me where Chuck is. If they do anything to Chuck I will bite them. I will do anything I can to hurt them. Maybe I’m going to die but I will not die until I hurt them because of what they’re going to do to Chuck.
Another way to tap into your character’s heartbeat is the run-on sentence. Interview the character at the height of an emotion. Write down his reaction for at least 200 words without using a period. Then explore that text to find gems of emotional description. You might actually use some of it, as Horace McCoy did in his 1938 noir thriller, I Should Have Stayed Home:
All Dorothy’s fault, I thought, cursing her in my mind with all the dirty words I could think of, all the filthy ones I could remember the kids in my old gang used to yell at white women as they passed through the neighborhood on their way to work in the whore houses, these are what you are, Dorothy, turning off Vine on to the boulevard, feeling awful and alone, even worse than that time my dog was killed by the Dixie Flyer, but telling myself in a very faint voice that even like this I was better off than the fellows I grew up with back in Georgia who were married and had kids and regular jobs and regular salaries and were doing the same old thing in the same old way and would go on doing it forever.
The original storytellers spun thrillers. When heroes went out into the dark world to confront monsters and demons and great beasts, the tribe vicariously lived the tale. But there was something more—they learned how to fight, act courageously and survive.
The first thrillers carried a message and helped bring a local community together.
Readers still seek that kind of story. So you ought to spend some time asking yourself what your thriller is really about. Does it offer hope for justice? Does it end with justice denied?
In short, what will the reader take away from your book?
Many aspiring thriller writers, perhaps seeing the genre as action-driven, avoid thinking about theme (or meaning, or premise). They prefer to let the characters duke it out, and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you realize that you will be saying something. Why not be intentional about it?
Here’s an exercise I call “The Dickens” (named for Charles and his time-traveling story A Christmas Carol): Go forward in time 20 years after your story ends. Your lead character is now 20 years older and has had time to reflect on all that happened in the story you told. You’re now a reporter, and you track down the character and ask, “Looking back at everything that happened to you, why do you think you had to go through that? What life lesson did you learn that you can pass on to the rest of us?”
Let the character answer in a free-form way, for as long as possible, until you sense that it’s right.
Now use all your skills to demonstrate that lesson at the end of the story itself, without necessarily using words. Give us Clarice Starling sleeping at last, the lambs of her nightmares silenced. Or Harry Bosch in Lost Light, holding for the first time the hands of the daughter he never knew he had.
Those are the moments that will take your thriller from entertaining to unforgettable.
Although it is often used to denote any objectionable word, profanity literally means words that are considered profane—that is, words proscribed by religious doctrine. (Proscribed generally means forbidden by written order.) In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this primarily means taking the Lord’s name in vain (that is, not in prayer).
For the love of God, stop complaining.
Jesus Christ, look at the size of that thing!
In writing as in life, profanity can seem gratuitous or, worse, a thinly veiled shock tactic. And it can offend. All of which might jolt the reader out of the unfolding action. As a result, it’s important to use profanity only when it’s adding something essential.
I have to admit that when a book has so much profanity and obscenity that it’s the only thing that I keep seeing instead of the story, I quit reading the book or watching the movie. I was raised in a time when four letter words and obscenity were insulting and crude. They were used, but not in mixed company. People used clichés as, “cussed like a sailor.”
Obscene means something disgusting or morally abhorrent, often connoting sex. The f-word is considered the most objectionable of these. (Adding “mother” as a prefix ups the ante.)
Non-objectionable variants of the present participle form of the word—besides “fugging”—include “fecking,” “freaking,” “flipping” and “fricking.” (To be honest, I really don’t know why that “u” is so important.)
“Screw” is a milder word. Notice that both the f-word and “screw” are used not just too literally describe the act of intercourse, but to connote “taking advantage of”:
Don’t go to that repair shop—they screwed me out of $500 for a brake job I didn’t need.
Words referring to the pelvic area, male and female, are also considered obscenities.
To help you understand why I think like I do let me tell you a personal story that I remember as if it were yesterday instead of the 1950’s. I was a small child maybe five at the most. My father and my uncle were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking. I can’t say they were drunk because I was not old enough to really be aware, but I do remember a bottle setting on the table. I was sitting in the kitchen floor by our refrigerator watching and listening to what was going on.
My dad was talking and gesturing with his hands. I heard my father say that four letter word and the next thing I knew my uncle knocked my father out of the chair to the floor. My uncle then told my father not to say that another time in front of me.
I asked my mom about what happened and she told me that daddy had used a word that he shouldn’t have. That one event impressed my five year old mind so strongly that anytime I hear it, I see my dad hitting the floor.
It seems to me that today’s language is filled with four letter and curse words, and is accepted as norm by mostly young people. Truth be told, I still find it offensive no matter how much I hear it.
In writing language choices should stay true to the character; however, the narrative isn’t riddled with profanity. Using restraint allows one to achieve voice effectively and maintain authenticity while avoiding the likelihood of profanity’s potential pitfalls. Such language can seem be a departure for a character, and that contrast can also be revealing.
When profanity influences characters or becomes pertinent to the unfolding action, it can be necessary. In the autobiography Black Boy, Richard Wright uses strong profanity and racial epithets to show the ways in which white characters try to intimidate and terrorize him.
When used incorrectly, profanity can be a shortcut to emotion and the reader is bound to remain unconvinced. Try to convey emotion through action, gesture or different dialogue for a more nuanced effect.
Before we get into the meat of the blog of just wanted to say that I hope all of my Christian family and friends had a wonderful Christmas and have a great New Year. As I say every year, “its hard to believe that 2015 is here.” The time we have been given passes very quickly. When you’re young it drags and you know you will be young forever, but that is just a smoke screen. When you get past 30 the time starts increasing at a rapid rate. Before you know it the majority of your life is behind you and Christmas seems like it happens every two weeks. Enjoy your life and make it mean something to someone or a lot of someones.
Now onto the blog. If there’s one issue writing students worry about more than any other, it’s point of View. What is it? they ask. Am I doing it right? Am I in omniscient of third? Should I be in omniscient or third? Many times the confusion over point of view overwhelms the writer. The key thing to keep in mind is that choosing the right point of view will help you tell your story. That’s all. No one will come out and arrest you if you got it wrong. You’re just likely to confuse the reader.
Consider the differences between these two paragraphs. In the first: Cinderella longed to go to the ball. She dreamed of finding true love because no one ever loved her. She looked at the rose bush in front of her, inhaled its delicate bouquet, and hoped that someday she would hold a bouquet like this when she married.
In the second: Cinderella wanted to go to the ball. Prince Charming hoped he would meet her there. She put on a dress. He wanted to find some slippers. There was a pumpkin in the window.
In the first example, (which I hope you think is better), we’re seeing the world through Cinderella’s eyes. We’re identifying with her. In the second example, we don’t know whom we’re rooting for: Cinderella, Prince Charming or the pumpkin. Finding the right POV helps helps the reader understand what the story is about.
We all want to be done. We all want to see our book in stores, our story in the magazine, our screenplay made into a movie. Oh, and we’d like the money, too. Ten thousand dollars would be nice. Right now.
One of the very first things I did as a writer, when I had written no more than three paragraphs of my first story was look through a reference book for places that might publish it. My list had more words in it than my story. And I’m, embarrassed to say that the minute I finished the first draft, I sent the story out. To 20 places. Each of them rejected me with a form letter. I actually called up Redbook to ask why there was a problem, and I believe I got someone in the circulation department.
Unfortunately, some things can’t be rushed. You have to take time with your story; writing a first draft isn’t enough. You need to go through a couple of drafts. You need to deepen the character, intensify plot, tighten the dialogue, and flesh out descriptions. You need to proofread. You need to take enough time to do it right.
Many, many writers they that if they get good enough idea on the page and send it out, some insightful editor or agent will read it, recognize its inner value, take the writer under her wing, and fix it for her. This worked for Thomas Wolfe, but I don’t think you can count on it as a career path. Although there are lovely agents and editors out there, they are not really looking for extra work. They want you to finish the job yourself.
There are however some things you can do to give your ego a boost before you’re ready to send that story out. Try joining a writing community. A positive critique can make you feel great. You can also try writing some shorter work, which may be easier to get our quickly. Seeing your name in print on a flash fiction piece may give you the boost you need to finish that novel. Read literary journals and consider volunteering. some of the smaller ones need people to help read submissions. Sighing up can be a fun way to become part of the literary world.
This is a story that I’ve entered into a flash fiction contest. Tell me what you think about it or how I can improve it. Remember you have to get a beginning, climax and ending within 400 words. The instructions were to write no more than 400 words concerning a secret. I hope you enjoy.
“Are you going to tell him?” Mattie asked.
“Heavens no, this is my secret. I told you because you’re my best friend, and I know I can trust you.” Angie sat at the table with her cup of tea.
She was pale around the eyes and mouth. “I am doing this on my own. I’m thirty-four years old, and I know this is the right thing for me.”
“It may be right for you, but girl you look like crap. Do you want another cup of tea?”
Mattie went to the stove and brought the teapot back to the table. She asked Angie if she eats enough food.
Angie replied, “Yes, I am. I can take care of myself. Stop worrying about me.”
“How do you think you’re going to pull off leaving, when he barely lets you out of his sight?”
Angie thought of the days ahead with John, as she sipped her tea. Her excitement showed.
Mattie looked at her, seeing the smile, said, “Ok, girlfriend, spill the beans. I want to know what’s making you smile.”
“I have to go home.”
“Angie, remember, no matter what, I’m your friend.” Mattie grabbed Angie hugging her tightly.
“I’ll be in touch, and don’t worry,” Angie said as they broke apart. She walked back to her house. Her bedroom light was on. Crap, he must know I’m not in my room. I’ll walk through the front door as the grown woman I am.
After she entered the house, she almost made it to the stairs before she heard her father’s harsh voice.
“Angie, is that you?”
“Yes, father, it’s me.”
“Come here immediately,” her father bellowed.
Angie walked into the library ready for battle. Her father, kicked back in the recliner with a drink in his hand, asked “Where have you been?”
“I went to Mattie’s for tea. I left your dinner on the table.”
“It was cold. You are one lousy cook.”
“Yes, Father. I’m going to my room, goodnight, Father.”
The clock advanced slowly, but two a.m. arrived. She pulled her suitcase from beneath her bed, took one last look at her room and left. Her father appeared to be asleep when she opened the front door. As she stepped out into the night air, she took her first deep breath of freedom.
I started a new book yesterday. Now every time my mind is not specifically thinking about something else, plots and scenes keep running through my brain. I find the creative process very interesting. My muse, (I’m going to call him Andy,) works overtime when I’m writing. Most of the time it is a very good thing, but sometimes I would like for Andy to stop talking to me. I like being quiet at times, but not Andy. I can safely call him a motor mouth.
I have an advantage this go around that I didn’t have before. I know my main characters very well since they were in The Tower. Sam (shortened from Samantha ,) has a twin brother, Allan. They share a psychic connection and are very close. Sam works for Allan at IDEA (International Diagnostic Environmental Agency). Allan’s company investigates and recommends fixes for any environmental problem that affects people anywhere in the world.
Right now Andy is helping me to decide on what kind of character I want my protagonist to be. It is being said today that publishers are not only wanting a book with good, strong characters and strong plots but they also want a story with a hook (Whatever that means.) I will have to do some reading and find out more about that hook business.
I want to write the best book I can, which means Andy and I will be spending a lot of time together of the next few months. Hopefully he will continue to talk to me as much as he does now because if he doesn’t, I may be in trouble. I may gripe about his constant talking but I know I need him to help me accomplish what I want to do.