Friday, 30 December 2011
PAT NEWCOMBE, Thriller Writer's blog, (aka writing saved my life): The Last Post!: So - here we are - at the end of another sometimes great and sometimes not so great year! And this will be my last blog post of 2011! I want...
However, I will say to all and sundry, that I intend to keep my postings relatively short as I know how precious time is to all of us. One of my bug bears in 2011 was trying to keep up with blogs I have said I would follow, only to discover that some wrote such long missives that I could not devote the time reading to the end! I hated this as the blogger concerned had probably worked long and hard on their post... But time is precious when you have a million things to do and WIP demanding time and attention.
May I make a plea to all bloggers - KISS - 'keep it simple and short'??? I, for one, will then come back frequently...
So grumps done - bring on 2012 and let the blogging world rock and roll!
Happy New Year to all fellow Bloggers!
Friday, 23 December 2011
The best lie ever...
The origins of Santa and the stories surrounding Christmas are buried beneath layers of popular cultural belief. I am, of course, for the moment, putting aside the religious meanings of Christmas – it’s not that I am anti Christian or anything, simply that the notion of telling children the story of Santa and his reindeer has got to be one of the greatest and most enduring stories of all time ( next to the bible and religious teachings). It is also the biggest lie that parents happily enthral their children with.
I mean, when you think about it the image of a big fat man in a bright red suit sliding down your chimney (breaking into your house), eating your food and drinking your wine and then going into a child’s bedroom when they are asleep, ought to be pretty scary for most children. But, hey, it’s okay for this intruder because he’s bringing a sack full of presents! Right!
It just struck me that in other circumstances you could possible write a reasonable paranormal thriller story around the notion of this superman character who can get his reindeer to pull a sledge around the heavens and visit every child in the world in the space of just one night!
But hey, who am I to spoil the kiddies’ fun? I believed it myself for a fair few years… And enduring and endearing it still is – especially when you watch their little faces light up with the wonder and the thrill of it all because they’ve listened hard on Christmas Eve and heard the sleighbells…
A very Merry Christmas to one and all and here’s hoping we all have a peaceful 2012!
Sunday, 18 December 2011
Every now and then I am reminded why I love reading so much and why I still aspire to being a better writer than I am!
One of my all time favourite horror writers is Stephen King and I am sure there is not a single person who loves books who has not at least heard of him. Dennis Wheatly before him and then Mr. King were the two authors (in my misspent youth) responsible for my fascination with tales of the supernatural and paranormal. Later I also became a huge fan of many of Dean Koontz’s books too. Ah, but that was when I was younger and more impressionable…
No, wait, I am still impressionable if the right kind of story comes along!
The reason I am reminiscing about my early sojourns with Stephen King and horror writing is that I am at present reading his latest offering. And what a delight it is too. I have to admit that one or two of his books over the last few years have been rather too rambling for me and did wonder if this would be the same. But, no – this is King at his best! The main thing for me is the absolute attention to detail and the quirky bits of imagery that transport the reader back to an age that has long since gone. I was around in the late fifties and sixties but only as a child so the detail has me totally hooked. For those not familiar with this book it is all about time travel and changing the course of history. Fascinating stuff, anyway, but Mr King handles it so well… But then he would – he has many years of successful writing under his belt and the largest number of best sellers so he should know what he is talking about.
I only wish I could write the same!!
Oh well, onwards and upwards!
Who do you aspire to as a writer?
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Christmas is almost upon us and the frenzy of shopping and socialising is building day to day like a good, page turning, suspense novel!
But before I get into my post proper I need to apologise for my ‘no show’. My blog has been on hold for the last two weeks because I have been away on holiday and not within reach of a decent internet connection. BUT now I’m back - so it’s full steam ahead from here on in!
So, back to a Christmas Carol, of sorts…
At this time of year I always enjoy reading (or watching an adaptation) of Dickens Christmas Carol. As ghost stories go, it’s got to be THE classic. I often wonder if writers like Dickens ever had any idea just how time-honoured their writing would become. Every school child has heard of the story and most have watched a version of it on TV. If you ask people who Bob Cratchett was, I think most would associate the name as synonymous with a poor working class family man who was bullied mercilessly by his penny-pinching employer. And the word ‘scrooge’ (from Ebenezer Scrooge) came into common parlance after Dickens wrote his story. The word has come to be used to describe someone who is mean and miserly.
The story is of course a morality tale and Dickens meant it as such. But the scenes with the ghosts must have been pretty scary to readers and listeners of the day and even today it ranks with many as an all time favourite and goes with Christmas tide nicely as we should all be more aware of those less fortunate than ourselves. I know it made a lasting impression on me when I first heard it as a child and alongside believing in Santa Claus, I also believed in the ghosts of Dickens tale.
Since Dickens’s time many have tried to write similar stories but none, in my opinion, come close to capturing the sense of fear about the hereafter that “A Christmas Carol” did.
Happy Christmas and happy writing everyone!
Do you have a favourite Christmas story?
Monday, 28 November 2011
Coming from a medical/science background as I do, I do not really believe in Ghosts but, like many people do accept that there are some things (the hereafter for instance) that we know little about. Ghosts and the belief in all things spiritual is one area that fascinates most people even though the common sense part of their brains tell them it’s so much bunkum. The existence (or not) of ghosts has been the subject of many research projects dating back as far as anyone can remember and yet the phenomenon continues to confound experts as the reality cannot be proved beyond doubt one way or the other.
For me, as a writer, humanity’s belief in ghosts is great fictional material and I unashamedly use it in my stories – when appropriate.
Some things you may not have known about ghosts:
Ghosts are universal and (with different names) exist in every culture in the world. Belief in their existence goes back centuries to pre-literate culture. Indeed the great poet Homer talks of the ‘spirits of death’ standing about in their thousands, in the Iliad.
Ghosts are considered unnatural and undesirable as they are seen to come from a place we know nothing about so we are therefore naturally fearful. However not all ghostly encounters are threatening as ghosts can sometimes be viewed as benign guides with messages for the living and/or unfinished business in this life.
Ghosts can sometimes be known as revenants. A revenant comes from folklore and is a visible ghost or animated corpse (un-dead) returned from the grave to seek revenge or terrorise the living.
The airy, ethereal apparition which is usually associated with visible sightings of ghosts may have emanated from the belief that the soul or spirit of a person resides within them and at death leaves the body from the mouth as a breath-type mist. In the Bible, God animates Adam with a breath.
The appearance of ghost or spirits is often seen as a bad omen or portent of death.
In a recent survey it was found that approximately one third of Americans believe in spirits or ghosts.
Finally, many classical writers and poets since time immemorial have used spirits or ghostly apparitions in their works - from Homer to Shakespeare, Dickens, Wilde, Milton and Coleridge. Never mind Poe and other actual horror writers. So, to my mind those of us who occasionally use ghosts and spirits in our stories are in good company – even if we can only aspire to the lofty heights our predecessors rose to.
Do you enjoy a good ghost story?
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
By the Pricking of my Thumbs...
I just love that word. It conjures up images of witches and wizards for me and I always think of Ray Bradbury‘s brilliant novel “Something wicked this way comes”. He took his inspiration from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, of course.
Nowadays it is used by young people as a replacement for the word ‘brilliant’ or something similar. It is also associated with the word ‘cool’ – as in something or someone being ‘hip’ or current. Language is definitely a living, breathing, changeable entity!
Anyway, I digress. What I mean to talk about is the original proper use of the word. When I looked it up in my dictionary it said it meant evil or sinful. But then there was a whole host of harsh words from ‘abominable’ to ‘abased’ to ‘shameful’ and ‘vicious’. In fact over fifty similar words! Many of which I have used time and again in my own supernatural thriller writing.
But nothing says evildoer quite as succinctly as ‘wicked’. It goes best with villainous characters and horrific deeds. A good word like this can be as helpful in horror/thriller writing as love is in romance writing. But it can equally be much overused and abused.
Do you have favourite words that you feel inclined to use more often than not?
Friday, 18 November 2011
|Who 's out to get you? Are we all hiding yet?|
Conspiracy Theory or Paranoia Gone Mad…
“ Whenever God prepares evil for a man, he first damages his mind, with which he deliberates”, (Anonymous)
So – have the lunatics taken over the asylum or are we all simply paranoid?
This, of course has been the fascinating subject matter of many a good novel and/or film. My all time favourite was ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’.
When it works well, I think this type of tale is pretty clever as the reader is never quite sure what is happening or even who is the goody or who is the baddy. I suppose this is the ultimate ‘twist in the tale’ story. Indeed, I have been toying with an idea of this kind for my next book.
The main character who thinks certain people are out to get him even though those people appear to be doing everything in their power to help and assist him, is often the hapless victim who everyone thinks is paranoid. He faces an uphill battle (often against the perceived powers of the establishment) and can be the architect of his own downfall if no one believes him. He trusts no one and the reader is carried along by his inability to see the world as a half-decent place. The antagonist (or baddy) is often the kind of person who, by the very nature of their job or calling, is someone all reasonable people would trust but who, in reality, is the villain and the so-called ‘paranoid’ character is finally proved right!
Of course, if this simple plot idea is applied to whole organisations or even to world politics then you have the makings of a pretty good conspiracy thriller. Enter James Bond and countless other spy stories...
So, do you use this kind of double jeopardy in your stories?
Saturday, 12 November 2011
Phobias – The Fear Factor
“There is nothing to fear if you refuse to be afraid.” Ghandi
One of the most useful plot devices I’ve found is to give a character a phobia. It doesn’t have to be a major phobia – although many premises have used the more common phobias such as agoraphobia, (fear of open spaces) claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) or arachnophobia ( fear of spider.
Everyone knows and understands that a phobia is simply an irrational fear of something. But when a phobia is applied successfully to a character, it can lift that person right off the page and make them seem so real and relatable and it gives them a ready-made flaw. Sympathy is easily engaged – as most of us have some irrational fears at some point.
That is not to say we are all irrational but - depending on circumstances - we all have the ability to act irrational under extreme duress. If a phobia is something that a main character is struggling with then that raises the stakes as it is yet anouther obstacle for the protagonist to overcome and it heightens tension and supense and makes the reader want the character to win that battle as well as succeed in the main story goal.
Phobias also give the writer the opportunity to twist and turn with the plot and have largely unexpected outcomes. In my first book, my main character had a phobia of mist, steam, fog etc. Mainly stemming from the fact that she was scared what the mist could be hiding… I had great fun with that one!
Although we talk about irrational fears, they are not truly irrational to the sufferer - only to other people who look on. Phobias do not just pop up from anywhere. A phobia may well be rooted in a character’s past. Sometimes so deeply hidden that the person has little insight as to where it came from in the first place. But dig a little and it will come to light. For instance my protagonist (as a very young child) discovered her mother dead in a steam filled bathroom – hence her abiding fear. But she barely remembered the incident as being in a steam filled room as she had been so traumatised by discovering her dead mother that she had suppressed the memory.
So, phobias – big and small - can definitely add spice to your story and can even help to bring your characters to life on the page.
Have you ever thought about using a phobia in your stories?
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
When I was writing my last book I thought it would be interesting to play around and use this Paranormal-type phenomenon. I was quite surprised when my research turned up the fact that it was not strictly true that it is entirely a paranormal/supernatural occurrence.
My dictionary defines an aura as “an atmosphere or quality of air considered as indicative of a person or thing” but I think that meaning is not quite the same thing. After all, I think we can all recognise that an angry person can exude a certain aggressive-kind of vibe. This person could be said to have an aura about them.
The other meaning of auras is to forewarn of impending epileptic attacks or migraines etc. These auras indicate the brain is signalling to the sufferer that it is about to happen. These auras can take different forms such as certain smells, sounds or tastes that are experienced by the individual. So an aura in this case can be an important early warning system.
But the kind of aura I am talking about in supernatural thriller writing is the kind of aura where a person is said to have a luminous radiation of light or energy around them that can actually be seen by people who have special powers. There is lots of controversy about this phenomenon but in the land of the paranormal it is exactly the kind of thing that adds flavour and mysticism to a story. And allows a great deal of license in designing credible plot line… I think I used it to good effect when my character – who had a measure of supernatural power – could see a very dark aura around a character.
There are said to be 7 layers to an aura with each layer relating to different human characteristics, and each layer has different colours and different frequencies. So the light wavers and changes colour. Attributing characteristics or using the aura to highlight true motivation is also a useful plot device. For instance an aura could be red signifying suppressed anger or blue signalling calm and rationality. It could be orange for health and vitality or yellow for inspiration and intelligence. Black, of course, would be about evil intention or death… These are simply suggestions but I’m sure you can see how it could be used for good effect. Or maybe not…
In real terms, it seems that we all have an aura – even worms and insects have them – for they are simply magnetic energy fields. It’s just that most people cannot see these fields with the naked eye.
Makes for juicy story lines, though… Don’t you think?
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Premise - a promise in disguise!
Like many writers, when I am fired up by ideas and excitingly plotting a story, I tend to go overboard at first, and the kitchen sink can end up in there – not literally, of course. But I do, however, find I can very easily veer away from my main plot if I’m not careful and end up stumbling around, disenchanted and confused as to where my exciting first ideas have disappeared to.
This is where I find story premise a most helpful guide if used properly. It took me a while to fully understand this important tool but now I use it, quite easily, as a road map to stay on course during the working out of my plot and then the actual writing of my story. The very last thing a writer wants, I think, is to end up piling up thousands of words but wandering so far from the original plotlines that you end up having to cut much of it or, worse, changing the plot to fit what you’ve written! In my opinion that’s a recipe for a mish-mash that even the most astute reader cannot fathom.
Premise comes down to thinking about what the story is really all about? And that takes some figuring out sometimes. It’s about deciding what you are trying to say with your story – what is the message? For instance, is it about strong human emotion? Are you trying to say that no matter what, love can overcome all obstacles and lead to happiness? Or that hate leads to self destruction? Or that jealousy can lead to obsession and loss? (Just a couple of examples – I’m sure you can think of many of your own!).
The job of the thriller writer then, is to prove that premise by working out a plot, with all the pitfalls, obstacles and setbacks for the main characters as can be imagined. Not forgetting rising tension and suspense and adding subplots where necessary - these can all enrich the story… But, ultimately, the premise must rule and everything that happens in the story should contribute in some way to the premise being unequivocally proved at the end of the story.
You cannot start a story by deciding it is about love conquering all and end up with it being about a vengeful deed which succeeded. The reader will feel cheated because you promised one thing at the beginning and then delivered something else.
For me, reading James N Frey’s book (‘How to write damn good fiction’), in which he talks about premise, has been the most helpful regarding this important, in my opinion, aspect of writing fiction.
Do you agree that premise is important or not? Many writers do have a premise which is unstated but nevertheless they instinctively do stick to it. Are you one of these? Or do you just write and see where it takes you?
Sunday, 30 October 2011
All Hallows Eve
As a supernatural thriller writer, I could not let Halloween pass without making some kind of blog post so here goes.
For those not aware of the fact, Halloween is short for All Hallows Eve or 'All Saints' Eve, meaning it is the day preceding the 1st November which is celebrated in the Catholic church as the day when the Saints in heaven are remembered and prayed for. The following day, 2nd November is 'All Souls' day when the Catholic church prays for all souls, even those in purgatory. Halloween is also linked to the Celtic feast of Samhain, which was celebrated at that time. back in the annals of time, Samhain was originally a festive gathering and the setting for supernatural encounters.
No one is quite sure of the origins of the custom of Halloween itself but it is inextricably linked with ghosts, spirits, monsters and the like and is enshrined in folklore as the one night of the year when supernatural entities thrive.
As a horror/thriller writer I cannot imagine a better night to read a supernatural novel with all the suspense and scary stereotyping it may bring. Great fodder for the imagination, even if it is all hokum! Of course, it also helps that it keeps the notions of good and evil, ghosts, monsters and things that go bump in the night truly alive in readers’ imaginations… And it doesn’t hurt to know the next generation of horror readers are keeping the tradition alive with their scary costumes and trick or treating on that one fright night of the year.
So Happy Halloween everyone!
So Happy Halloween everyone!
Do you enjoy the customs and traditions of Halloween?
Monday, 24 October 2011
“There is no fear in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Alfred Hitchcock.
That is sooo true! But how do you build that anticipation?
Why, by creating the best suspense and page turning quality that you can. This is the basic ingredient of all good thriller stories and certainly the foundation for any scary story.
I have to say that scaring people is one of the satisfying aspects of my writing life!!
Sorry about that uncivil statement but it is true… I get a real kick when people tell me they were scared reading my stories. It is such a difficult thing to get right, I think. After all you want definitely want readers to be scared a little - but not so much that it overcomes their inclination to read on.
Raising the hairs on the back of my neck or causing me to break out in goosebumps is scary enough for me. Blood and guts kind of scary is not my cup of tea – although I know it does it for plenty of other readers… So how scary is scary for readers of paranormal thrillers?
For me, it is setting the imagination in play. A few well placed suggestions can get readers wondering and if they wonder then all things are possible. Witness a group of people quietly playing cards late at night. One says, “shush - did you hear that?” Everyone stops and listens carefully. Then another person hears a noise and someone else says it sounds like the creak a coffin lid opening might make…. Suddenly everyone’s heart beats a little faster. Then the lights go out… Now one of the players screams as he imagines something touched him…
But what has actually happened here? A fuse has blown and a door creaked slightly as it moved in a draught. But what has really happened is the imagination has exerted its full force and - as perceptive as we humans are – such things as atmosphere and sensing fear from another person is as infectious as laughing and yawning. We are all victims of our own imaginations in the right circumstances. It is this fact that all paranormal thriller writers trade in and has given rise to some of the scariest stories ever without spilling a single drop of blood!
I must apologise for the clichéd scenario but I’m sure you get my drift…
Do you use fear subliminally? Without being as clichéd as this, of course…
Can you be scared by the use of suggestions and atmosphere?
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Big Threats, small threats.
Threats make up the stuffing in all good thriller/suspense stories. And threats came in many sizes and many guises. (Sorry about the rhyme – couldn’t resist!)
When I am putting together a plot one of the first things I think about is what is the threat (or potential threat) and who it’s to. I once thought that all thrillers have to have a big threat – i.e. the end of the world, Armageddon or extinction of the whole human race but having read many of those kinds of books I have realised that a massive threat does not, on it’s own, make a good plot.
What makes a good plot work, for me, is strong emotion and high stakes. For example a man who stands to lose his entire family - who mean the world to him - if he doesn’t overcome what is threatening him is, in my book, a big threat story. If, on the other hand, he is about to lose his job, that might be tragic for him but not necessarily a big thing for a reader to worry about and be emotionally invested in. But if losing his job meant he couldn’t pay his creditors and they were threatening to harm his wife and children then that would raise the stakes and readers would be concerned and worry about that.
Empathising with fellow human beings is the vital ingredient that allows readers to care deeply about what happens to a character and keep them reading to the rewarding (hopefully) end.
So big threats it must always be but only in terms of emotional effect and empathy. However, if a plot to blow up the entire world is foiled along the way, so be it!
So what do you think? Do big threats figure in your stories? Or do you think otherwise – I’d love to hear, if so…
Friday, 14 October 2011
“A Haunting we Shall Go...”
As we are coming up to Halloween I thought I would post on something 'sort of' topical! Well, an intriguing word, really...
I looked up the word ‘haunting’ in my dictionary and found it could refer to many different things. For instance, the most obvious to me is a ghost-type haunting which I guess we have all heard of even if we don’t believe in that sort of thing.
Then there is the disturbing, provocative meaning of the word, such as in a ‘haunting melody’. Another meaning is when we say someone is possessed or jinxed – they may be ‘haunted by’ someone or something. Then again there is the expression we use when someone looks very worried or troubled by something – they may look ‘haunted’. My last offering is to use the word haunt when we mean a hideaway or den or even a normal place that we regularly return to.
All these words say ‘creepy’ to me - at least in the context of writing thrillers. Especially supernatural thrillers…
Even the notion of a haunting, sorrowful tune can be pretty sinister if it’s used in the right scenario. As for ghost haunting – well, we all know that can be scary, if handled properly… Haunting by other supernatural beings such as a demon/devil can be made to be pretty Spine-chilling too – witness the terrifying ‘Exorcist’ (for it’s time a brilliant movie) but these stories can equally be a lot like an old ‘b movie’ and they can be steeped in stereotypes and cliché.
Even the ‘haunt’ as a familiar place can be made to feel eerie with the addition of one or two strange and unfamiliar things. Even as I am writing this a few ideas have tickled my imagination and I am a little excited at the prospect of getting to my regular haunt ( in front of my PC) to jot a few words down!
So do you ever pause to think of intriguing words and allow them to whisper in the ears of your muse?
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
|The Stuff of Nightmares|
Nightmares, Darkmares and Demons
What a wonderful, fascinating place the world of dreams appears to be. But an even more extraordinary place is the world of nightmares.
For the stuff of nightmares - or night terrors, as they are often called in children - is where many horror/supernatural stories appear to emanate from. Of course, the scientists amongst us know perfectly well that nightmares or bad dreams are simply the subconscious mind making sense of scary, worrying things that happen to us. They are no more a precursor of bad things to come nor an evil sign of impending doom than dreams about fairies or paradise are harbingers of marvellous happenings. Ah, but here’s the rub – no one can actually prove that and so the workings of the subconscious mind remain a wonderful fertile ground for paranormal thrillers.
Nightmares in and of themselves are basically bad dreams that often can and do cause much distress. But the nightmare has it’s origins in folklore. The night part is easily explained but what of the other word mare? What is that? In Norway the Mare is a female shape shifter who can take the form of an animal or dwarf and who can change into a wind that can slip through windows and keyholes to get to intended victims whilst they are sleeping. By day the Mare is a normal woman but at night the urge to find and control victims is strong. The Mare enters a person’s bedroom and sits on their chests, causing tightness, troubled breathing and horrible dreams. In American folklore this Mare spirit eventually became the nightmare of which we are all familiar.
For myself, I used this motif in my latest unpublished book but called the nightmare a ‘darkmare’ as the character was not only troubled at nighttime.
Have you ever used folklore/mythology to garnish or deepen your stories? Have you ever used nightmares as a major part of your story?
Friday, 7 October 2011
No, I am not giving up putting words on paper ( or keyboard as it seems nowadays) but rather trying to evaluate on where I'm at and where I want to go in the future.
I have written four complete novels of which I am immensely proud and I have absolutely loads of articles and shorts on my computer as well as the skeletal beginnings of more novels - one of whcih is my current WIP. The issue is whether I want to give up on the dream of having my work published by a large traditional publishing house or not. I do believe ebooks are the way to go and my last published tome is, in fact, an ebook as well as a paper book.
This is perhaps, where I do a bit of a plug for this latest ebook - 'The Witcheye Gene' The back cover blurb is reproduced here to hopefully interest one or two to take a peek at it.
|The Witcheye Gene|
by P J Newcombe
The Witcheye Gene
Kendal MacIntyre has fought long and hard to overcome the emotional scars of an unhappy childhood to create the successful boutique business she now has. Having lost her husband to cancer she is driven by one thing only – to see her daughter April have all the advantages in life that she herself was denied. So when someone appears to be snooping, she is terrified that her shameful secret will wreck April’s chances in life and she stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the hereditary trait of ‘special’ sight. But when an evil killer threatens the very existence of her family, she knows she must face her demons if she is to save the one thing she cares about.
Available on amazon kindle - £2.29
My latest unpublished novel is doing the rounds of agents and publishers but I, like many others, am considering simply publishing it myself as an ebook.
So have you had similar thoughts about your own writing? Do you think ebooks are the way to go?
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
|snakey, hissy, twisty, tricky!|
I do so love a sparkling, unexpected twist at the end of a novel, don't you?
However, reading it is one thing but writing it is quite another... And handling that surprise well - and let's face it, in real life twists rarely happen as they do in books - is as tricky as holding a slippery snake. But, when it works well, the twist ending lifts the story right off the page!
And I know it is much more difficult to do in a full length novel but relatively easy in a short story... So for me, the writer who pulls it off in a novel-length story has my total respect.
However, reading it is one thing but writing it is quite another... And handling that surprise well - and let's face it, in real life twists rarely happen as they do in books - is as tricky as holding a slippery snake. But, when it works well, the twist ending lifts the story right off the page!
And I know it is much more difficult to do in a full length novel but relatively easy in a short story... So for me, the writer who pulls it off in a novel-length story has my total respect.
Thrillers especially, I feel, benefit from a strong twist ending – as long as it is carefully done and arises naturally from the story. I don’t usually plan twist endings but they often occur to me a as I am writing the story and I get very excited at the thought of tailoring my story somewhat so they fit nicely. And there is no better comment from a reader than them saying they never saw it coming.
Of course, to work properly the twist must not be evident to the reader until well into the story - if not actually at the very end. In fact, if it is obvious early on, it can totally destroy the rest of the tale! So twists have to be handled with a great deal of care.
The setup for the twist must come well in advance so the ending is not suddenly manufactured for the express purpose of the surprise/twist. If the reader has to go back and figure out ‘how the heck did that happen?’ and they can then see that the story had not misled them, then that is quite acceptable but the author has to be very careful that it all makes sense to the reader. Confusion at the end is an absolute no no...
There are those who say a good thriller story ought to be one twist after the other from beginning to end with surprises coming by the bucket-load in order to escalate tension and increase suspense. Not easy if you are to hold it all together. But iIf you can do this then the story never stalls and is never dull.
In thrillers, the suspense must be maintained right up until the final moments of the story, so to have a twist right at the end and keep the reader on the edge of his seat, especially if it has been one surprise after another right the way through, is not easy. I guess that’s why they call a good thriller story a breathless read.Do you find twist endings easy to write in full novels? Have you ever read stories with twists that fail miserably?
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Killer Titles maketh a book?
|"Death" The Ultimate killer Title?|
Titles and names of characters have always been the bane of my life. In most areas of my life I find decision making relatively easy but names and titles kill me! I find it almost impossible and when I think I have decided on a title I have second thoughts and start contemplating more ideas and using even more precious time ruminating about them.
Why this should be such a problem I don’t know – except I am aware that the title and names are so very important for reaching out to Agents, Editors and finally readers. Whenever I choose a thriller, I am first attracted to the title and then the back cover blurb before I decide whether to read it or not. Simple really…
If a title (and maybe the jacket design) seems hard-hitting and/or brash and attention grabbing I will, at least, read the back of the book. I think the best thriller titles are short one or two word ‘headline grabbing’ sensations. Titles such as ‘Armageddon’, ‘Intensity’, ‘Velocity’ and ‘Vampire’ suggest an intensity of suspenseful action that you would find in most good thrillers whilst ‘Blossom hill’ ‘Five Days in Paris’ and ‘The Price of Love’ suggest quite a different read.
The Shortest title award and the most curious (until I read it) goes to ‘It’ by Stephen King.
So what kind of title attracts you?Do you think the title is so important?
Saturday, 24 September 2011
As a writer of paranormal thrillers, the world of the occult fascinates me. On looking at the dictionary definition of the word occult, I can see that it can mean esoteric knowledge, secretive mystery and supernatural.
To me the world of occult is mainly associated with the supernatural. It can include such things as Extra sensory perception, spirits, special powers, demons and devils, doppelgangers, possession and special powers ( such as telekinesis, telepathy etc). All these things are great fodder for the supernatural thriller writer. However one thing that is uppermost in my mind when I write is that, irrespective of the supernatural elements, the story must still hold together as a well plotted tale with good, believable characters. It must have the elements of a thriller with rising tension, conflict and suspense and a character in jeopardy.
I also do believe that stories centred on the occult world should grip readers and the supernatural element should be unnerving, scary and even a little terrible. Readers of these kinds of stories expect to be transported to an alternate reality where supernatural abound and yet are still pretty scary.
In the readers mind a little voice poses the question, at least for the duration of the story,”could this possibly happen?” Suspension of disbelief is what keeps horror and supernatural writers going, as well as the enjoyment of heightened sensations if the story scares as much as it should. The fear, I believe comes from the not knowing.
After all, we really don’t know what awaits us in the afterlife and the possibility of spirits, ghosts etc is not that unbelievable to many people. And lots of perfectly rational folk do indeed believe in the Devil and Demons (for that matter many religions do too). I guess it is this notion of belief and the outside possibility of these things actually happening that captures the imagination of so many supernatural thriller readers – including me!
So can you suspend disbelief to read a supernatural thriller? Does the occult world scare you?
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Fairy tales (and other old stories) recycled.
Ancient stories passed down through the centuries, and especially old fairy tales, fascinate me. They are the bedrock of our modern love affair with fiction of all kinds. The earliest stories were told by hunters who sat around campfires relating their tales of 'daring do' to other tribe members. This would be the evenings' entertainment for them. And the best stories would be repeated by story tellers - and enlarged upon, no doubt. But spreading a story would obviously all be by word of mouth. So, nothing much changed there, then? It's still the best way of selling fiction... But I digress...
When we think of fairy tales we think of children and yet some of the most loved stories are actually quite gruesome. For example ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ where a wolf actually eats the child’s grandmother, and Hansel and Gretel where two small children are abandoned in a forest to fend for themselves!
In plotting thrillers, we could occasionally consider some of the storylines used in fairy tales. There is many a suspense/horror story based on the child in peril theme and the early writers of fairy tales were not averse to a little bloodshed either. Many fairy tales are based on the general theme of a quest for something (e.g. Cinderella) and many are also tales of morality and heroic feats that transformed ordinary characters.
If we look even further back in history we can see many morality-type tales whose themes and subject matter have been used and re-used right up to modern day. The notion of the Trojan horse in the city of Troy has been used as a useful plot device in many a spy thriller and the ancient stories of Ovid in the Metamorphosis has given rise to thousands of classical tales including Icarus and Daedalus. Using these stories as inspiration for modern-day thrillers is nothing new and I, myself, used the Ovidian tale of Philomena and Tereus as the basis of a modern day rape and imprisonment story.
So, is it wise to use some of the basic plot devices of fairy stories as the basis for a good thriller? I once read a book, centred on the holocaust, that was basically the Hansel and Gretel story re-done as two children trying to escape the Nazis. It was an excellent thriller full of suspense and nail-biting drama.
As someone once said there are only a few master plots in the world and most novels are variations on a theme anyway, so why not utilise the revered stories of old?
Have you ever re-used the basic plot of a fairy story? Do you think it is a good idea to look to old fiction for inspiration for new fiction?
Saturday, 17 September 2011
A Perfect Hero?
In deciding on a /hero/protagonist in my thriller writing, I always try to go for a character who seems to be larger than life; in other words a memorable character. Whether I succeed or not is, of course, up to the reader but I do think long and hard about what he or she is - as a person.
The most memorable characters in classic literature are usually big, bold and maybe a little whacky. They are generally beset by inner conflict and most certainly have to deal with outward conflict/tension as befits the story. The hero is striving for something: He either desperately needs something or must accomplish something to save others. But he is thwarted by the antagonist (evil one) along the way. This may make certain character traits more inevitable than others. For example a willingness to persevere despite all the odds is often a trait that many story hero’s share. So that their persistence eventually pays off at the end of the story.
But I think it goes much deeper than that. If a character has a certain trait it must be believable and come from somewhere in their past. This is where I find doing background stories so fascinating.
For example, a hero may be dogged because he learnt early in life that staying the course pays off. Maybe his father was a patient fisherman and taught him likewise. Or he may have had to stand up to bullies over and over again in defence of a mild-mannered friend. All similar incidences go into my background memoire of the character and some may even end up in the story.
I try to make my hero/character imperfect, faulty and with some human frailties as well as admirable traits that my reader can root for. In this way I can make the transformation at the end of the story, much more realistic. I think this enables the reader to identify with and empathise with the main character. After all no one is perfect.
So how do you decide what kind of person your main character will be? Do you do background stories or wing it as you go along?
For samples of my fiction please visit http://www.patricianewcombe.webnode.com/
Or see my latest thriller novel:
|My book 'The Witcheye Gene' now available on Kindle at £2.99|
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Murderous Climaxes and Thriller Endings.
If there’s one thing that annoys me more than anything else when I’m reading, it is the climax that flaps about like a fish out of water and then a ‘so what’ stupid ending. I feel particularly disgruntled when I have spent many hours patiently reading (page by page and sentence by sentence) a book that seemed to promise a breathtaking climax, only to find the writer chickened out and produced a wet firework instead of an explosive high point.
Endings and climaxes are two different things, I do realise, but they should both produce a feeling of satisfaction if the reader is to feel the story was worth reading. In thriller writing the climax is the point at which you should feel excited (thrilled) to finally be getting to the high point of the story and you can’t wait to see how it all comes out! Steadily working your way to a building climax could also be compared to an exciting ride at the fair, I think. The roller coaster builds tension as it appraoches the very top of the ride and then plunges downward to produce thrilling gasps from the passengers. It seems to me that reading a thriller should be somewhat like this? ( Or maybe you disagree...)
In thrillers, one of the best (and most used) climaxes is when someone’s life is threatened or someone is about to be killed and the hero finally succeeds and overcomes the threats - often in some kind of high octane action scene. Building up to this point in a proper believable way, however, needs to be appropriately handled according to the story.
The ending is somewhat down river of this high point but it too should produce a feeling of satisfaction that all has turned out as it should. The ending should also fulfil and answer the original story question posed at the beginning of the book. All loose ends need to be tied up at this point and the reader should know it is the end of the story. Not turning the last page to see if there is any more…
So are your scenes properly built up so the reader is thrilled/excited ( like the roller coaster reaching the precipice then dropping headlong down to the ending)? Do your endings reward the reader and give a sense of 'no unfinished' business?
Visit my website http://www.patricianewcombe.webnode.com/ for samples of my own thriller writing or download my latest book 'The Witcheye Gene' from amazon kindle.
Saturday, 10 September 2011
“I shall not altogether die”, Horace 65-8 BC
In writing about death (yet again), I am aware that many may be a tad concerned at my fascination with the ultimate end game! (But there again, I am a thriller writer…) And as someone once said the two things you can depend on in this life are death and taxes!
In fiction writing, life extension or immortality has been a popular topic. It would seem that it is the ultimate goal of many a villain, one way or another. But immortality is one more step into the realms of fantasy. I guess it’s because none of us actually knows what lies waiting for us at the end and for lots of people it is still a fairly scary (if not taboo) subject. The origins of striving for immortality go right back in the annals of story epics – in fact in the Epic of Gilgamesh which dates back to 22 BC, there was a quest to become immortal.
Many religions have, as their foundation, a belief in the existence of an ‘Afterlife’ and it is a popular subject in supernatural fiction. Wraiths, Spirits, Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies all use the plot device of actually dying at a particular point and then returning to some kind of life.
The other interesting point with all these supernatural characters is that they all have a (according to their genre’s) a weakness. Otherwise they would have taken over the entire universe by now! So to make decent adversaries for our stories they must have an Achilles heel.
In the case of vampires, for example, they may be killed by sunlight, burning or decapitation. Their bodies have an absence of heart rate, breathing etc but somehow they continue living (although needing to imbibe blood to do this). This requires the reader to suspend belief to step into this vampiric world.
Wraiths and Spirits can pass between this world and the next but their weakness is that they grow weary and long for everlasting peace.
The Undead (Zombies) are similar to Vampires, in that they appear to be alive but are not. They have no soul so cannot experience emotions of any kind. Stakes through the heart seem to be the way to do for many of these – or basic dropping off of body parts!
All of these creations make for fascinating fiction and whilst the whole genre is make-believe there are certain rules that genre writers tend not to break. It is almost as if these beings were real ‘people’ in the first place!!
So , are you a fan of this kind of fiction? Do you expect the characters to conform to rules about immortality?
Saturday, 3 September 2011
Out of Body or Near Death Experiences
|Not quite ready yet?|
From time immemorial people have claimed to have had out of body experiences – many at the point of death (or almost dying). Having some kind of experience is acceptable to those in the scientific community but the significance of it and why or what is happening is the central argument.
It is an area that fascinates and confounds science and there are as many disbelievers of the ‘out of body’ part of it as there are believers. Amongst the disbelievers I count myself as one. I certainly had an experience of some kind when I a life threatening event happened to me some years ago but I put it down to my body shutting down at the time. See, I am a natural born cynic and do not believe anything that cannot be proved scientifically speaking. For a long time afterward I pondered the incident but my medical background came up with ways for me to dismiss what I experienced.
However I can and do use the phenomena in my writing. Because I am a writer and work in the world of story and suspension of disbelief! It is exactly the notion that one cannot completely dismiss these ideas that prove such fertile ground for thriller/horror writers. And there is no shortage of people who can attest to the fact that strange things have happened to them. The crazy truth is that we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of life after death – it is purely a belief thing – so we can never know whether the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is really what happens or whether distressed bodily functions are to blame for hallucinations.
But there is the essence of the dilemma and that makes for intriguing supernatural thriller writing!
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Step into my World?
|Intrigue and Supense - Chiller Plotting?|
All the steps in creating a plausible plot in thriller writing (in my opinion- but feel free to disagree!) must come from the premise of an antagonist (villain) wanting one thing and a protagonist (hero) wanting the direct opposite. This, I believe, creates the basic conflict that will drive the story to its final climactic end. Layered in and around this conflict may be more subplots and story lines that enrich the central story. In other words the story is multi-layered and thick with intrigue and suspense. As far as I can see, all the really good thrillers of recent times seem to be written this way. And it is this potent mixture of forces set one against the other that is the engine behind a rollicking good story.
The stakes in a thriller must also be very high so that menace and threat are around every corner. Of course, the greatest threat (and the one many successful stories have thrived on) is world domination or a catastrophic event that threatens the entire world. For example ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Alien’ and various James Bond’s epics. The plotting for a novel like this may start fairly worryingly but then the plot (or story arc) should rise to epic proportions and stakes go higher and higher as more danger and conflict is piled on and more people realise the gravity of the situation. A frantic race against time is also often used as a plot device to ratchet up the tension and create even higher drama.
But it doesn’t always have to be about threats to the entire world - it may simply be threats to a main character’s nearest and dearest. And in this case the best way to raise the stakes is for the reader to strongly identify with the characters in peril and so worry for their safety. Every thriller plot cannot be all about action. Suspense, good character development and rising tension can do the job of raising stakes equally well in even the most urban of thrillers. And engendering empathy is integral to the plot too.
In my writing, when I have a basic premise for a novel, I set about developing strong characters with a full back story and personal history that makes them the person they are in the story. The Protagonist and the Antagonist are compared side by side to ensure they will clash and want opposite things and that then sets the story in motion, I hope... I start to design the scenes with conflict and tension and maybe add subplots (which will eventually tie into the story line) to create more obstacles for the protagonist - many will come from the antagonist, of course - that he/she will need to overcome to succeed in their quests.
I try to see the story outline as a whole graph of rising problems which get ever worse until the final climactic scene. Then it is all downhill to the resolution and, hopefully, satisfying ending.
This is just a quick snapshot of how I go about plotting. But how do you do it? Do you do something similar or maybe not plan at all?
Friday, 26 August 2011
Disposal of a body
As a thriller writer this topic so intrigued me and fertilised my imagination (no pun intended!) that I thought I would investigate a further. In much the same way that there are numerous ways to commit murder (see previous posts), so there are many (sometimes ingenious) ways that murders try to dispose of their victims. I say ‘try’ because hopefully, a murder in fiction is eventually discovered. The popularity of forensic anthropology as in TV programmes like ‘Bones’ and ‘C.S.I – type’ programmes show it is a fascinating field for many of us.
Of course disposing of a human body in normal circumstances generally involves some kind of a funeral followed by burial or cremation and these have been the main means employed by many cultures for centuries. However there are still lot’s of variations in practise across cultures with exceptions due to religious beliefs about what happens after death. Mummification and taxidermy have also figured in some cultures and cryogenic (freezing) preservation is on the rise. Burial at sea, mass graves at times of plague and genocide, and even cannibalism all have been used too.
From a writer’s point of view these all give great food for thought when constructing plots but I suppose the most useful category of disposal is the way that an antagonist in a story might go about concealing his wicked deeds.
Amongst ways of clandestine disposal there could be burial in a shallow grave (used most often in crime stories), amateur cremation (which may not be complete) dissolving in Lye or acid (used by the acid bath murderer, John Haig in the 20th century!) Burial in cement or concrete under a building is also favoured by murderers (and, I believe, often used by the mafia!). Crushing, dismemberment and bodies stored in strange places like freezers have figured in many murder stories.
The old saying, that you can’t prove a murder without a body - not actually true, but difficult to pursue - means that murderers will continue to come up with ever ingenious ways of disposing of their victims.
Now to be different I should come up with something else?? Mmmm….Maybe the new thing could be Alkaline Hydrolysis… Reducing the body (in a special chamber) to a sludge which can be poured down the drain! Wonder how CSI would solve that one?
Have you any ingenious ideas for disposal of victims of crimes?