Monday, 26 November 2012

Satisfying Middles 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 breath-taking 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 (read thrilled) and can’t wait to see how it all comes out!
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 has to keep on fighting against all the odds until he finally succeeds and overcomes the threats. Building up to this point in a proper believable way 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 stays in the story? Are your endings rewarding the reader?


Saturday, 24 November 2012

How to Move Forward by Going Backwards

An interesting thought occurred to me recently whilst pushing on with getting a first draft of my new novel down. The thought was that whilst I was trying to get my first draft down as quickly as possible new ideas and plot points kept occurring to me. Although I write with a kind of outline – especially for the first half of the book, so I do not get stuck - I also like to leave myself open to new directions as I write. And writing as fast as possible for first draft seems to be best for me.
Some of the ideas that occurred to me were good ones that seemed to have come up epiphany-like from the ‘girls in the basement’, but should I stop and incorporate them? I wanted to do just that but it meant going back and introducing something much earlier in the draft in order for it to make sense. Which, in turn, meant that I wasn’t actually moving the story forward. But the extra material did add more depth (or a subplot) to the story. Great you might say…
But doing this kind of toing and froing took time (when I was trying to write fast) and it also risked me becoming confused as to where I actually was in the story.  Plus, although I had a fair idea of where the plot would eventually end up, I had no clear idea of the ending so introducing more story lines could potentially jeopardise my entire plot if I wasn’t careful. So, what to do?
I read somewhere that a good idea was to keep a revision sheet alongside you as you write so that you can jot down the idea as it occurs to you. Also to make a note of where the material needed to be introduced (approx.) and then continue to write the draft as if the plot point was already incorporated. Lately I have been trying this method with my present book and it is surprisingly easy. I know I will have much more work to do in second draft but once I have the main story down I don’t feel the pressure to rush through that. In fact I like to take my time and re-consider everything that has gone into the story.
Anyway this is my best tip of the year!
Do you have any good tips to pass on to others to try?

Monday, 19 November 2012

A day in the Life of...

My Time - My Day

In many writing magazines "My writing day"  seems to me to be a popular item. It often features someone fairly well known but not always.  I must confess that I, like many others find the articles pretty fascinating. Why, exactly I don’t know but I always read them and measure myself up against them.
It proves absolutely nothing, except that we are all different and organise ourselves and our days in varied ways.
My writing day has changed somewhat over the years. I used to write early morning when I was still working full time at a day job. Even if only for an hour I would try and get a few words down before I drove off to work. I no longer have a day job, retirement has beckoned, but I still write as much as I can. I used to think I would have lots of time to write when I retired but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work out like that. There are also still many calls on my time – much more than I’d like…
Anyway here’s how a typical day would go for me:
Get up at 7.45am - a quick cuppa then out for a walk or jog for an hour. (That’s my exercise done for the day).
Breakfast is at 9am and I may read a little after that or check emails etc. Any brief kitchen chores are also done here.

I try to be at my Pc actually working on the current WIP by 10.30am at the latest. I have an hour break for lunch when I also read a little or do puzzles and usually get back to my PC to get more words down in the afternoon.
When I have my word quota for the day, (usually around 1-2000) I turn to my blog and read, comment or write another article for an hour.
The best laid plans and all that mean that some days are a wash, so I try to make up for it when the writing day is going well.
But then when the evening calls... .  Well, that’s my time to chillax!
So how do you organise a good writing day?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Ready Made Flaws - Phobias

“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 applied successfully to a character, it can lift that person right off the page and make them seem so real and relatable and 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 the phobia is something that a main character is struggling against then that makes it all the more desirable as readers will root for the character and want them 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 really irrational to the sufferer - only to other people who look on. Phobias do not just pop up from anywhere. They are generally 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) in my first book "Insight" had 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 even help to bring your characters to life on the page.
Have you ever thought about using a phobia in your stories? 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sowing The Seeds or Foreshadowing

To foreshadow, according to my dictionary, means showing or suggesting an event beforehand. It is an interesting word to use in thriller writing as it can be used as much or as little as you like. It can be a very slight hint or could be a full scale seeing the future in some form or another.
In terms of gendering suspense, I think it is invaluable. It signifies to the reader that a particular thing is important and it raises tension so that the reader keeps the pages turning. I think foreshadowing is used to some degree or another in all thrillers. It can be as subtle as an atmosphere or as obvious as a piece of information or an object of interest.
As writers we may shorten sentences and paragraphs, speed up speech and ratchet up the action to indicate that things are rising to a climax or something important is about to happen.  In films, we are all familiar with the notion of background music telegraphing turning an ordinary event into something sinister. This too is foreshadowing.
Another way is sowing seeds that may bear fruit later in the story.  For example mentioning a character has a particular skill which may appear quite innocuous at the time but which later figures heavily in the plot. As they say, if you have a gun appear in the first chapters it better be used by the last chapters!
The main thing about foreshadowing is it needs to be used early in a piece of fiction and then it needs to deliver on the promise later in the story.
It is a skill that takes a degree of practise, I feel, in order for it to not appear obvious. The reader should have an ‘ah ah!’ moment later in the story and it should come as a bit of a surprise - if it’s done correctly. But a surprie that when the reader looks back, he/she can see it was correctly done and they were not hoodwinked.
Another tool to make fiction more enjoyable? I think so
So, do you use foreshadowing in your writing? Do you find it easy?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Terrible Trouble

Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

I suppose we love to see our hero/heroines in terrible trouble so we can admire how they ultimately get out of terrible trouble. It’s what all good fiction is about, whether it be romance, horror, mystery or whatever.

The problem presents itself early on and usually the concerns and worries pile on as the story progresses.  But the thing that fascinates all readers is asking the questions of ‘how are they going to get through this or cope with that?’ This is where story gets to us because we put ourselves in their places and worry if we would do the same thing.  We root for them to succeed in their endeavours because if they can cope then so would we.  If it’s a good story, we identify with the character and we want them to succeed against all the odds. It confirms something to us about human nature and the will to survive, I think.  And when at the end they do rise up and overcome their terrible trouble we cheer for them.

As writers it is our job to create that terrible trouble and then throughout the middle of the story make the terrible trouble even more terrible until finally the hero has to step up to the mark in some way, deal with the terrible trouble and be heroic to save the day! Hooray!

So, do you find it easy to pile on the woe for your charcters?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

IWSG - Target Practise

Talk about insecure - thats me! And it's why I joined Insecure Writers Support Group
But certain things do help me. I have certain rituals but then I guess, most of us do....One of the things I slavishly follow is word counts. I can no more give them up than I can eat just one small square of chocolate! For me it is ritualistic and necessary.
I set a target for my writing week and then for each individual day, depending on what else may be required of me in terms of the rest of my life, and then I go for it! You’d think that would be great, eh? Not a bit of it. You see for me it’s all or nothing… If something gets in the way and I have less time, I will abandon the day. It’s a case of ‘have a chance of getting there or not bother at all’! Can’t be healthy can it? Once I start however it would have to be a pretty serious emergency for me to forgo my target  and settle for less.
In my defence, I am generally realistic with what I can achieve – I learnt a long time ago that not being realistic was a sure fire recipe for disaster and next to know words done at all!! My method does get me there though so I have learnt to trust my instincts and respect my need for targets.
I think it may be the ‘tick off’ bit of my psyche that controls this. I love’ to do’ lists and can’t help but experience a sense of achievement when I tick something off. The word count sheet is similar and I feel satisfied when I can tick off that I made my target. Mo matter that the writing might be total garbage!! As someone said, elsewhere, you can’t revise or edit something you’ve not actually put down on paper. Now that’s another story…

Happy writing every one!

What rituals do you insist upon?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Cliff Hanger Promises...

One of the first things I tried to conquer when I started writing thrillers was the art of cliff-hangers. I tried my hardest to get my hero/heroine into terrible difficulty and then leave then… well, hanging!
But I often rebelled about doing it as it didn’t always fit the story. Then I realised that you simply had to lead the reader with the promise that something was going to happen and then delay the actual happening. The page turning suspense that this caused was the answer, I thought. So I practised it fervently.  Scene cuts also helped – i.e. moving to a different time, place or character and then coming back to the present dilemma later in the story.
The only problem was that sometimes it still felt like a kind of breathless ride where no one gets time to reflect properly or for the reader to drop down the tension.  Even the most hair-raising ride can seem tame if someone gets too used to it.
It wasn’t until I understood the art of using scenes that I realised I didn’t have to go over the top. Scenes with character, conflict, conclusion/disaster made a lot of sense to me and once I realised that the character must have a want/ objective at the beginning  and that objective should not only be unmet by the end, but the character must be worse off, then I began to see that here was the natural cliff-hanger. The character now has an even greater obstacle to overcome. How will he cope? What will he do? The reader, hopefully, worries for the character and that will keep him turning the pages just as if it is a cliff-hanger.

“We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger—you've got to force them to turn it.”
Dr. Seuss

So do you try to put a 'will he won't he' question at the end of every scene? Or do you save cliff hangers for chapter ends or even for every page?