Monday, 29 October 2012

Seeing is Believing

In supernatural thrillers and horror stories one of the parapsychologies will usually figure somewhere along the way.  Clairvoyance is one of these. The dictionary says clairvoyance is ‘the ability to perceive things that are usually beyond the range of normal human senses’.  But I think many people associate it with the power to ‘see’ into the future.  (My current WIP features this a little so I must confess I am rather fond of it!)
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’ (or sense) something that is not within the bounds of normal 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 telekinesis 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.
What do you think? If you make a world ‘real’ enough for the reader, can you suspend disbelief?

Friday, 26 October 2012

How to Thrill to a Kill

“Kill a man and you are an assassin, kill millions of men and you are a conqueror, kill everyone and you are a God.” 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 have 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?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

From Backyard to Graveyard

A Grave Matter...
The subject of graveyards or cemeteries is something that fascinates me. As a writer of supernatural thriller novels the sombre oppressive atmosphere of a graveyard, imbued with such reverence and awe as befits the dead, is a great place to start. Its melancholy sense of past misery seems to hang in the air like some unholy miasma as legions of the living have cried rivers of tears in their intense grief and loneliness. What a sad place for the living…

Death is inevitable for all of us and in a graveyard we are reminded of the frailty of human existence like nowhere else. The fascination for me, when I visit graveyards, is to look at the oldest graves and inscriptions and wonder what happened to the person… Sometimes great ideas for stories spring forward from this as I try to imagine what life might have been like for the said dead person.

But apart from that there is the great unknowing… What does happen when we finally confront our very existence? Scary stuff, indeed, for most of us… Unless you have great faith in your own brand of religion/belief… Most of us do not want to be reminded that we are going to pass into the great unknown someday. Perhaps that is really the scary part about graveyards and cemeteries.

But spirits, ghosts and things that go thump in the night are also great things to think about in graveyards…

So let your imagination fly!! If you dare…

Do graveyards/cemetaries scare you or are they just places of great sadness?

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Promise of Premise

Writing thriller fiction – the Promise of a Premise

So what exactly is a premise?
Ta Da! I have a dictionary definition to hand…“Logic proposition from which inference is drawn” Mmmm… Are we much the wiser?
The point of the premise in fiction is that it truly is a kind of road map of where the story should go -and where it definitely should not! When I first started writing I did not understand this concept properly and, I must admit, I do still sometimes struggle with defining it for some of my story ideas. But when I get it right it really is as if a cloud clears and my ideas begin to coalesce properly in my mind.
Sticking to my premise makes me keep to the point of the story all the way through instead of veering off at tangents and getting lost. When I wrote my first stories I did not plan - just went with the flow of a good story idea. But before I had gotten very far my story idea started changing as I stumbled upon new and fascinating stuff for my character to get into… I ended up in a hopeless mess with no idea of how to straighten it all out. Then I suddenly remembered the original story idea and realised I had unintentionally abandoned it.  (If you are a ‘seat of your pants’ kind of writer a premise of some kind is, I think, essential.  But maybe you can stay nicely on course without one.)

Anyway then I read a few books and realised that premise was what I was missing. It is not the plot of a story but the main point and leads directly from the main story question to the resolution at the end. James Frey describes it as “A statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in the story.” For example: In Dickens’ Christmas Carol the premise would be – ‘looking and learning from past mistakes leads to redemption and forgiveness’ because in the end, of course, Scrooge is a changed character. In my latest book ‘The Afterlife of Darkmares’,  the premise I used was ‘mother love can overcome everything, even ‘other worldly’ threats. ‘

Adding subplots and other characters does not change this central theme of the story because the thread running through and holding it all together is premise which once promised must be delivered on at the end.
This is how I try and stay on track. But maybe you know a better way to keep to the central story line?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

How to make the Supernatural into Natural Thrillers

Making the Supernatural seem Natural?

Turning the supernatural into the super-believable? That, as I see it, is the challenge to all paranormal thriller writers. Making supernatural elements fit into a thriller story so seamlessly that the reader accepts them without question, is not easy.
After all the vast majority of readers who enjoy this kind of fiction are perfectly reasonable sane individuals who do not necessarily believe in ghosts, spirits and things that go ‘whooo’ in the night. But just like sci-fi readers, they want to wonder and ponder the unanswerable questions. Just for the time it takes to engage with the story readers will willingly believe if we give them a good reason to.
That’s not to say that once the book is read the reader will believe any of it but just for that book the reader suspends disbelief. This, of course must happen with all stories but it is so much more difficult when dealing with the paranormal.
Of course, making the world the characters inhabit detailed and colourful and having the characters themselves rich in human traits and emotions (even if they are spirits or whatever) helps. If the people in the story believe in the other-worldly elements and do so right from the beginning as a matter of course, then the reader will too. Events follow in a normal and accepted way and lo! - the supernatural becomes the natural for that story.
For me the furthest I will go into using the supernatural is to introduce elements of ‘what if’ into a story. What if someone’s soul/spirit does not die with them but carries on in someone else’s body? What if a spirit wilfully inhabits someone else’s body and makes them do things they would never normally do? What if someone has the power to read certain people’s minds? What if this power is hereditary and a child is unaware they have it? What if someone believes that if they preserve a person’s body after death they will gain power over life and death and eventually become immortal themselves? (See The Afterlife of Darkmares ). What if a person really does have a double and the double/doppelganger bends the person’s will to make them murder their own child?
I know, I know. All of these have been done before but not by me and my imagination. I had fun with these stories and will continue to use similar scenarios in my writing. But apart from the paranormal additions my plots have conflict, suspense and follow normal storytelling rules and my imagination, with the help of my muse, adds width, depth and a sprinkling of magic – at least I hope it does…
Happy Writing!

Do you read paranormal thrillers?


Thursday, 11 October 2012

How to make a thriller really matter - raising the stakes!

All the steps in creating a plausible plot in thriller writing, I believe,  must come from the premise of an antagonist (villain) wanting one thing and a protagonist (hero) wanting the direct opposite. This 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. It is this potent mixture of forces set one against the other that is the engine behind any thriller story.
The stakes in a thriller must also be very high so 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. Plotting a novel like this may start fairly worryingly but then the plot should rise to epic proportions and stakes go higher and higher as more danger is piled on and more people realise the gravity of the situation and a race against time.
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 my opinion, the best way to raise the stakes is for the reader to strongly identify with the characters in peril and thereby worry for their safety. So the plot cannot be all about action and suspense - character development and engendering empathy is integral to the plot too. Put together it should make for one heck of a thriller…
Worry ought to be a key element in a thriller, do you agree?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

'The Witcheye Gene' - Thrillers and Auras

 Writing Thrillers and using Auras
When I was writing my second book ( The Witcheye Gene) I thought it would be interesting to use the paranormal-type phenomenon of auras. 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. They 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 seea 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?


Saturday, 6 October 2012

how to write thrillers that stay forever in the memory...

Write thrillers with bags of emotion...

When out with friends for a chat and catch up, we often talk about the books we have read (or not read as the case may be).  My friends sometimes think I’m a bit ‘nuts’ as I tell them I often don’t finish novels.
I am a person who hates to waste time so I will only carry on reading a book if the writer has caught me up in a story (involved me emotionally). If I am not enjoying a book I will cast it aside and not waste further time on it. It doesn’t even have to be a really bad book for that to happen – it may simply be that it is boring me a bit. I know that sometimes if I continue it will get better but why should I bother when there are so many other juicy books to get stuck into. On the other hand I know people who will persevere with a book – provided it is not that bad! The engine that turns so-so fiction into well-loved and remembered books? Emotion!
When I ask friends what a book is actually about and they cannot remember I know it wasn’t that good. For me the plot has to hang together well and the story must engage some kind of strong emotion in me. Whether that is horror, happiness, sadness or sorrow an emotion of some kind must be there. When I think back to books I read as a child/young woman I find it is the emotion I remember most clearly about the story.
 I generally judge a good book by how well I can remember it weeks later. If it truly stays with me, I know it was a great book. One such novel in recent months was “The Incredible Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. That book almost brought me to tears at the end and I can remember most of it even though I read it a while ago! Whereas the one I read last week was fairly good but I can’t remember it without a prompt! Another great recent read was Jo jo Moyes " Me Before You"

No, I know they were not really thrillers but there ARE plenty of thrillers who are awash with emotion (both love and heart warming terror to name but two). In fact I would say thrillers cannot be good stories (no matter how much of a roller coaster ride) without that all important connection to the reader.  Take for example the stories of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Tess Gerritsen, and even Jodi Picoult.  They are all chock full of supense but they also look at our very human frailties and our relatinships with each other. Great reads every one of them!!!

Of course Charles Dickens may have been the best ever for injecting masses of emotion into his stories as well as suspense... Who could ever forget the image of a small thin boy holding out a bowl and asking meekly for more?

 Do certain stories have a big impact for you?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

ISWG newby!

Hi everyone!
This is my first posting for INSECURE WRITERS GROUP ! I am so excited to be joining this forum and look forward to lot's of new blogs and new voices on my own posts!
 I guess most of us are insecure at some time or another but my moods tend to change with the amount of time I have to spend on certain things. For instance when I feel I am on top of things I feel positive and full of energy but when I am juggling time to write and plan with other things in y life, I feel a bit negative and wonder if it is all worth it...
For me time is the enemy!
Anyway, I will do my best to keep with you all.  Go to it folks...