Tuesday, 30 August 2011

High Stakes & Potent Plotting

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

Disposing of victims!

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?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Demons, devils and other deadly spirits...

The Devil's in the detail.

“Willingly, I too say Hail! To the awful unknown powers which transcend the ken of understanding.” Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Demons are subversive spirits. They exist in the folklore of every society on earth so whatever your religious convictions there are many ordinary people who think that in the natural world there are things which defy explanation. What a rich source of material for a fiction writer to mine!
This unknown quantity (and a belief in greater powers we know little about) has led some to believe in all sorts of mythical creatures. In this scientific day and age, those beliefs are less common than they were centuries ago but they still thrive today on every continent in the world.
Fiction writers – and especially horror, supernatural writers - have used those beliefs to good effect in their writing. If you cannot disprove a belief then you have to acknowledge that there is always the slim chance that the belief is true! Enter the world of ‘what if’! A world of fairies, angels and demons.  These kinds of scenarios are common in tales of horror
A demon/evil spirit of some kind may be wreaking havoc in a story or it could even be that a demon is the main protagonist. Or perhaps a demon is simply a messenger - the henchman of the devil, carrying out his will. These kinds of scenarios are common in tales of the supernatural and, indeed, horror in general.  
Throughout the history of the world, demons have been held responsible for every natural disaster that ever befell humankind. Whatever a demon is or does there is a certain categorisation of them in folklore that may be worth looking at. Every demon has their own relevant characteristic according to patterns and habits and what they stand for. For example there are demons associated with water, mountains, deserts, buildings etc. They are as invisible as bacteria, slipping inside people’s minds and commandeering their will. They are full of trickery and deceit and can be vengeful and destructive.   They are also used as a signpost for morality – underlining the fight between good and evil.
In the traditional story telling of ancient times the demon was usually the villain of the piece. Nowadays, we are a bit more discerning and take a rather more cynical view of such things but if we appeal to the deep subconscious part of our minds the primal fear of demons and all things evil are still there.
In my opinion, to write about such things as demons, evil spirits or similar entities and to construct a tale so powerful that readers will suspend disbelief and enter your story world, is a thrill indeed. This is the challenge for writers of the supernatural thriller.
Do you read these kinds of stories? Do you find them a bit too much?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Write like a Film Director

Write like a Film Director?
Tension & Conflict

One of the things I found hard to get to grips with when I first started writing thrillers was the idea of tension or conflict on almost every page. ‘What, every page,’ I asked myself? Surely not…
But then I realised that the kind of reader I was aiming for wanted and expected a thriller to be a fast-paced page turning epic that took them on a roller coaster of a ride until they came to the satisfying ending. Okay, perhaps not always that fast, but it is definitely a different kind of read from a literary, Jane Austen - type story.
Nowadays readers are used to watching movies and TV that fast cut to the action and leave little inbetween. When I am writing I visualise every scene as if I am watching a film and I cut in and out as if I’m a film director.
I am not saying that all types of fiction should be like that – far from it - but if you are going to go with a genre you’d better give it due thought. To veer away from it is bound to disappoint readers who expect a certain kind of read with a certain kind of genre.
Seeing my story as a film may not always work out well but it gives me a way forward, at least. I try to infuse each scene with some degree of tension even if it's only a character’s inner thoughts - which may be in turmoil. There are, of course, other things that can add to tension such as setting, weather and bigger picture happenings (e.g. war, plague or world events) and it all adds to the overall effect.
Scene and chapter endings are also places where tension should be enough to ensure a reader continues to read - in other words, the cliff hanger ending. Not always easy, but one way is to leave a scene early in the middle of conflict (and sometimes switching to another point in the story) so that the reader must continue to read to find what happens. Page turners, indeed!

All ifs, buts and maybe’s you say… But that’s how I do it…
So what about you? Do you cope well with tension and conflict in your writing?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

To 'See' or not to 'See' - that is the ESP!

Second Sight

The Eyes Have it!

In supernatural thrillers and horror stories the parapsychologies will usually figure somewhere along the way.
Second sight or ESP is one of these ethereal subjects and it can be a particularly helpful plot device; remembering, of course, that we are talking about fiction and a willingness on the part of a reader to suspend disbelief.
The idea of being able to ‘see’ something that is not within the bounds of normal vision is not a new one. It has been used from the early beginnings of the written word and tales from the classics and mythology are steeped in them.
The main areas of second sight seem to be Remote Viewing, where a person can ‘see’ something that is happening a long way away, Precognition, where a person can ‘see’ and foretell something that is about to happen, and Visions where a person simply ‘sees’ something (it may only be a flash image) but has no idea if it’s from the future, past or present.
Telepathy, premonition and clairvoyance are also closely related to second sight.
Of course the scientific community does not accept any of this stuff as it requires proof that is just not available. The various researchers into the area are of the view that most of it is fraud, self-delusion and guesswork. But that doesn’t stop the believers and it certainly doesn’t stop the notion of second sight being fertile grounds for the imagination in fiction writing.
One does not have to believe these things to enjoy a good story that uses any these ideas. If you asked the population in general how many believed in the paranormal you would get a much lower number than those who read the fiction books and watch the films. This is what suspension of disbelief is all about; in that, just for the period that you are immersed in a good story, you are willing to step into a universe where all things are possible. This is the nub of all good plots and fiction in general. How else would we enjoy Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings?
The other interesting thing for me is that if you have one character who believes in the paranormal and one that doesn’t then that sets the story up for even more conflict and tension, quite naturally without having to work at it.
My recent book 'The Witcheye Gene' features a genetic anomaly (differing eye colour for each eye - called Heterochromia Iriditis - an actual recognised eye condition) which - fictionally speaking - allows the  character to have special sight and 'see' things in someone's future and present.
Admittedly this kind of story is not everyone's cup of tea but as it is a love story and a crime story too, I hope readers will suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the story.
What do you think? If you make a world ‘real’ enough for the reader, can you suspend disbelief?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Ta! Da! 'The Witcheye Gene' now in kindle form!

Hi everyone

Three cheers! I have finally got my book ( The Witcheye Gene' by P J Newcombe) into e-book form and it is released today on Amazon kindle. it is of course, still availble as hard copy on amazon but now you can download it too. Brilliant! The book is a supernatural thriller and it would be great if anyone feels they could take a look at the free sample or even, dare I say it, buy?

Here is the blurb to try and tempt you:

'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.'

Do let me know what you think? All comments - good or bad - are most welcome. 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Good, the Bad and the maybe not quite so Bad??

The Flawed Villain

To say a villain in a thriller story is flawed is like saying coal is black!
Of course a villain is flawed, I hear you say, otherwise he would be a pretty poor antagonist. A good villain has a personality that most of us would not aspire to as he may be capable of the most dastardly acts. I am however talking about a villain who may be flawed because he/she has some decent human traits that show us he isn’t totally bad. The only villain who could be said to be totally bad is the devil himself, I guess. Most others started out as innocent babies and children but maybe something happened to make them bad. Or maybe not – maybe they simply have more of the undesirable human traits in their genetic make up. Nasty traits do exist to some extent in all of us, but hopefully most people have control of those urges and anyway have more humanity and caring for fellow humans. 
How villainous a character is depends mostly on the type of story you are writing. If it is a love rival or a corporate executive he may not be so nasty in all areas of his life but on the other hand if it is a horror/supernatural villain he may have no redeeming features. For example a bad character may be wicked and malicious to people but may love animals! In this way he is a flawed character and not true to the caricature of evil which we may assume him to be. 
 Always, when using villains, a suitable adversary/hero is necessary and it is the juxtaposition of their characters that allow the most conflict and tension in a story.  The hero who has faults is a much more interesting character than the perfect boring type of individual. I think we can relate better to him because he is flawed – as we all are too. Similarly, we all know people who we consider to be horrible individuals but we know (maybe deep down) they will have some redeeming characteristics too.
For me, giving my villains one redeeming human trait, amongst all the vicious, nasty ones, makes them much more interesting ( and indeed fun) and if their malevolent ways came about because of something that happened to them – well, it just makes them all the more intriguing. Not nice and not worth rooting for but maybe a little more human?
So, what do you think? Should villains always be totally bad people with no redeeming factors?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

"I wants to make your flesh creep!"

“I wants to make your flesh creep”
(From Charles Dickens – Pickwick Papers)

The world of horror writing is tied up stoutly with the world of suspense writing. And, for me, every tale of horror should ultimately be about the struggle between the forces of good and evil. This struggle can be outside ourselves, as in the fight between the Devil and God (or whatever your beliefs deem him/her to be), or inside ourselves as in the fight between the good and bad in all of us.
In my opinion, this Manichean (between good and evil) tussle is the essence of all supernatural thrillers and not the gore and senseless bloodlust you see with many ‘horror’ tales.
Some of the best horror writers in the modern era have used fear and suspense so skilfully that readers go to bed with one eye on the curtains! And yet they use no actual violence. Because ultimately fear (emotion), is in the mind of the reader. 
Horror writing, I believe, is more than mindless violence based on screams and monsters. It is the human experience woven into fear of the unknown and fetched up from the darkest corners of our minds. The world of horror writing for me is essentially the world of the everyday but with twists (maybe paranormal?) thrown in that seamlessly take the reader on a journey of ‘what if’s’ and hopefully scare the pants off them because somewhere in the deep primal subconscious we wonder ‘could it be possible?’ 
First of all horror writers must aspire to produce good fiction with all the requirements that entails, i.e. conflict, suspense, good characters, rising tension, meaningful settings, and proper resolution. Then the curtain can go up and the terror can start…
So what do you think? Do you prefer blood and guts or more subtle tales of terror?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Mothering and Murder Most Foul!

Mothers who kill

Nurturing is Natural?
I have always been fascinated yet repelled by some of the classic narratives of mothers who kill their children. As a mother myself and possibly because of my child protection background I have always been interested in why some mothers murder their own offspring and why writers would want to write about it.
Writers who have used this theme litter the history of narratives and whilst child murder – indeed any murder - is unacceptable to society there is something so shocking about the phenomena that it has always had shock value and therefore been of interest to writers.  In classic literature there is the tale of Medea who murdered her children to exact revenge on their father. In modern literature there is the story of Beloved by Toni Morrison and countless stories which involve some measure of Fabricated Induced Illness (F I I). This can include mothers who smother their babies so making the death seem like natural causes e.g. cot death. These women are generally emotionally unstable or suffering mental illness but their concern for their children is very believable. These women appal people but maternal instinct is sometimes no match for deadened emotions or thwarted personal ambition.
But why are mothers who kill their children, seen as so much more repulsive than fathers who kill? The evolution of mankind has always required a mother or mother substitute and without that connection to a nurturing person during the defenceless time of infancy, the human race would not have survived. Jung says that the mother archetype is an inbuilt ability to recognise and form a certain relationship – that of mothering. The issue of trust and dependency therefore becomes an important one and I believe this is the reason why we are so repelled by women who go against the archetype and kill the very people they are supposed to be protecting.
I believe this theme makes for some of the most compelling drama and story telling I have come across. Modern day writers have used F.I.I. in their plots and there are many books and films depicting this condition although it is still a hotly debated topic.  Crime writer Patricia Cornwell uses it in her book ‘The Body Farm’ The murdered victim is an 11-year-old girl and the suspect is a serial killer but it turns out that she was killed by her own mother. The screenwriter M Night Shyamalan also uses a similar scenario in the 1999 film ‘The Sixth Sense’. Even ‘The X files’, ER and Law and Order have all featured episodes around women who kill their children (FII). These stories reflect today’s society where the awareness of mothers killing their children is both growing and yet controversial.
It makes for challenging drama but also reflects some of the darker corners of our society.
So, could you use controversial issues like this in your writing?

Friday, 5 August 2011

Dark Drama's?

The Dark - 'All Aboard for a ride to midnight'

I guess there is something so old and primordial about using night-time or darkness to enhance the fear factor in thrillers that it is hardly talked about as tool. Everyone knows that darkness can be a strange or anxious time, right? But is it really that scary? Darkness is, of course, the absence of the sun (light) and without light and heat, human life cannot exist. So darkness is stongly associated with death.
But it strikes me that the dark can be a source of so many fears that in and of itself it could be something to explore in depth in a novel.
Everyone is familiar with the notion that everyday familiar non-threatening things in the day time can take on a strong aura of menace at night. I know this can be attributed to something as simple as not being able to see well, but God ( or whatever you believe created us!) has equipped us with a certain amount of night vision. But there again, maybe it’s the fact that one can see in the dark to a certain extent (especially in good moonlight) but not with full acuity. This allows the imagination  to come into play to fill in the bits our senses are not able to pick up. And no matter how hard you try to neutralise it, the imagination it will have its day!
Many children are fearful of the dark as night-time/sleep-time is a time when they have to cope on their own, without the reassurance of others around them. No small wonder then, that they imagine bogeymen in the wardrobe and things crawling under the bed! 
So it is a well used vehicle in many horror/thriller stories where one wants to create an unsettling fearful atmosphere or simply to enhance the tension and fudge what’s real and what is not. There is always a feeling of relief for the reader when night turns to day and the plot can roll merrily along without the uncertainty of the dark interfering.
Dastardly deeds are also often committed under cover of darkness and it is easy to see how darkness is associated with evil and how day (light) with goodness. All extremely subjective, by the way, but that is how it is generally perceived.
I feel the dark is a very useful tool to use in supernatural, thriller stories and I use it frequently. In fact my latest book has ‘dark’ in its title and I notice that many more thriller/horror stories use the word in their titles too. It signals a certain kind of story to a read, does it not?
What do you think? Do thriller stories set in darkness conjure up feelings of fear and tension in you?

For samples of my novel writing please visit http://www.patricianewcombe.webnode.com/

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Modus Operandi - Ways to Commit Murder

Modus Operandi for Villains.

“Kill a man and you are an assassin, kill millions of men and you are a conqueror, kill everyone and you are a God.” So said Jean Rostand.
I love that quote but life is not sacred in the telling of a good thriller story!
How many ways can you kill a person? How long is a piece of string, you ask.
One of the most intriguing ways I came across was using an ice stalactite! Believable or not – it was written into a story. Of course as far as working out what the murder weapon was, the police had a hard time for there was simply a pool of water on the floor by the time the body was discovered.
It’s fair enough food for thought though. Thriller writers are having to come up with ever more ingenious ways to commit their make believe murders as we’ve all heard it all before.
In a seminar once, we were asked to look around the room and find ways to kill a person. It was just a bit of fun! But it was unsettling and yes, funny, what the imagination of 15 people came up with. Apart from the obvious ones like pushing guy through an upstairs window (we were on the 6th floor at the time), strangling and bashing someone’s head against the floor, there were some inventive scenarios. One chap suggested grinding up the board rubber and shoving it down someone’s throat. Another wanted to crush a person’s chest by piling all the furniture (which was very heavy) on top of him, whilst someone else suggested using the light fitting to electrocute!
Perhaps those are a bit far-fetched but you get the picture…
So have you any interesting ways a villain could commit a murder?