Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Do Killer Titles Make Best Sellers?

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

Things that go bump in the night!

The Occult Story World
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

Makeover Fiction or Metamorphosis

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

Big Bold and Whacky

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?

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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Write A 'Roller Coaster' Novel

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 for samples of my own thriller writing or download my latest book 'The Witcheye Gene' from amazon kindle.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

"To Be or Not to Be" - Immortality

Rest in peace or not?
“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?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Back to Work

Hi everyone! Sorry I'm a bit late with my post this week... Been back to UK for some routine appointments and only had my ipod to check email etc.
Had a bad flight back - delays galore! But finally arrived back here at 10 last night! Only three hours late... grrr...
Anyway normal service will soon be resumed so please bear with me. I'll also get to doing my reading roundup of everyone else's blogs ASAP...
At least it's nice and warm and soooo sunny here - better than in the UK.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Near Death Experiences

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!