Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins of Suspense Writing

Do you write suspense novels or hope to write one? Then you need to be aware of the Seven Deadly Sins of Suspense Writing. Deadly – because they kill your chances of success.

Here they are. The seven biggest reasons agents and editors and readers could be left cold by your suspense novel.

1.         The terror in your story is not terrifying enough.

2.         That terror, or jeopardy to your protagonist hero or heroine, does not begin immediately, at the story opening – preferably page one, paragraph one.

3.         That terror does not escalate steadily and maddeningly to a bite-your-nails-to-the-bone climax.

4.         That climax is not a truly dramatic clash between good – your hero or heroine – and evil – your villain/antagonist.

5.         That villain/antagonist is not adequately formidable and plausible to make his defeat truly satisfying.

6.         This final confrontation is not drawn out sufficiently to let the reader savor the triumph of your hero.

7.         There is not enough story action and complication to sustain the length – approximately 80,000 to 100,000 words – of the novel.

Does your story avoid every single one of these deadly storytelling sins? Ask yourself this question. Be extremely hard-nosed and objective when you answer. Your future as a suspense novelist depends on it.

I’ll be talking about these seven deadly sins and much much more this coming Saturday February 22nd at my two-hour seminar workshop WRITE THE THRILLER-MYSTERY NOVEL TO DIE FOR: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner.

My presentation is sponsored by New Jersey Sisters in Crime and takes place in Monroe NJ. Contact Daria Ludas at dlludas@verizon.net to find out more. I’d love to see you there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Idea from Heaven

I don’t know about you but I can get bogged down at this time of year. The weather is challenging where I am. It’s tax season where everybody is. The doldrums before spring have many of us waiting for the active part of life to catapult us into motion again.

For a writer that can mean the idea engine feels like it’s running on empty. Meanwhile there are lots of ways to avoid writing. We can simply not put our butts in our seats and write. We’re not only out of idea engine fuel – we are out of inclination too.

What we’re really out of is access to the idea from heaven. The flash of inspiration when a bolt comes straight out of what we think of as nowhere and knocks us flat with the force of its brilliance. The gift from the universe that says “You must write me right now!”

First of all let’s make one thing very clear. The heavenly universe that generates the perfect gift of the perfect writing idea is not out there somewhere. It is in here inside of each of us. It is your imagination – the most powerful idea engine of all ever. Please don't forget that.

But sometimes – like at the winter doldrums of the year – we feel like we don’t even have access to our own imaginations. That’s when the idea engine needs a kick start – a jolt in the pistons that will give us just enough boost to get up out of our down places and write.

My two favorite kick starts are eavesdropping and rubbernecking. My two favorite venues are coffee shops and public transportation. In coffee shops I listen in on conversations. On public transportation I watch everything both outside the windows and inside the conveyance.

I don’t listen in for the whole story though sometimes that’s fascinating. I listen for a sentence or maybe just a phrase that catches my ear with a special sense or rhythm. I don’t rubberneck to take in the whole scene. I look for a detail that strikes my eye with special vividness.

The next absolutely imperative step is to make a record of this moment. Write it down – the phrase that caught you or the detail that struck you. I have too often firmly believed that one of these moments was so precious and particular I could not possibly forget it. Then I did.

What you do after that is up to you. You can write right there. Coffee shops are good for that. Or you can keep your idea note in reserve for the next time you get the empty tank feeling. Or you can simply let it rattle around in your writer's imagination for a while and see what idea gifts burst forth.

By the way – when you can’t get out into the world beyond your front door – eavesdrop on the worlds inside that door both real and virtual. First bug your family and  friends. Then tune the device of your choice to a talk or reality show. You’ll find catchy phrases and striking images by the carload. I guarantee it.

Wherever you are – in or outside your customary physical environment – in or outside your interior environment – inspiration is there. Lift your antennae just an inch and you will find it. When you do – be sure to give thanks – because it is always the idea from heaven.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finding Time to Write

When I first became a book editor at a New York City publishing house I faced a dilemma. I was also a publishing author and authors have deadlines. Now I had editorial  deadlines too. To tell you the truth I was about to lose my mind.
To make matters worse I was attending a lot of writers’ conferences. I’d be invited as a featured speaker but I was really there to troll for writers for the Regency Romance and Mystery Novel lines I edited. My plate was way past full.
I know this is a circumstance you recognize. The details of your situation may be different but the panic is the same. Like me back then you ask yourself. How do I find time for everything that is expected of me? For everything I expect of myself?
The only solution seems to be that something has to fall off your plate or at least be pushed way over to the side. For writers that sidelined something is too often their writing. Amidst the demands of what we generally think of as Real life our writing life feels least Real.
Yet – in terms of those things that keep us Really alive – writing is at the top of the list. Please excuse me if I speak out of turn but this is true for me and most of the writers I know. So how do we honor our need to satisfy our inner selves and find time to write?
The answer for me came back in those bifurcated author-editor days from a very impressive source – Nora Roberts. Nora is an author whose prolific output has always impressed me. She produces wonderfully engrossing stories one after the other year after year.
How does she do it? I asked her that question up close and personal at one of those writers’ conferences I mentioned. I’d taken a moment to hide in the lobby and catch my breath from the hectic pace of conference madness and there she was.
I knew Nora like so many of us did as a congenial person with a lively wit and generous spirit. With that generosity in mind I moved to the lobby seat next to her and asked the question that had been bedeviling me.
“How do you find time for events like this and all the rest you do and still write?”
Nora lived up to her generous reputation that day. As I recall we adjourned to the bar to continue our conversation. She may have recognized how panicked I was by my time crunch situation because she treated me to a surefire panic remedy – a shot of tequila or maybe it was two.
I might have calmed down some but I was still eager for her answer to my question. She didn’t disappoint. “You have to write wherever you are,” she said.
That flew flat in the face of everything I’d told myself was true about writing – especially fiction writing.  I believed I had to create a special atmosphere for writing and that atmosphere had certain requirements – components of what Virginia Woolf called “a room of one’s own.”
All of those elements were about consistency and stability – an environment I could depend on to be My Writing Space. Maybe not a room of my own but a corner of my own where everything was all about writing all the time. All of which went out the window that day with Nora.
I needed to write wherever I was – wherever I could manage even a little focus. Not several hours or even a single hour. Ten or fifteen minutes would do. On the subway between my home stop and the one near my office. In the moments between lunch and getting back to work.
Those were my personal situation details back then. They differ for me now. They will differ for you. The common ground is that we need to write and to accomplish that we must rethink our requirements and modify our writing behavior.
We must learn to duck our heads down over our screens or notepads – drop into the world of the piece we are writing – and Just Write. Thanks to Nora Roberts I learned to do that. I’m doing it now. I urge you to do it too. Do It Anyway.