Writing Time, Part 74. Creating Suspense, 3 Ways

This is the third in a series of posts  on creating tension and one on sustaining suspense. I’m on panels talking about this at Creative Ink in Burnaby, BC, so it seems like a good moment to address ways to accomplish this. If we can create suspense, and sustain tension as we plot and draft, then we save a lot of time on revisions, as well. 

Consider these questions and possible answers:

  1. How much of creating suspense comes from a reader’s trust in the author to surprise them?  This may be accomplished by setting up a third option. Will this happen, or will that? Neither.
  2. How can anybody hope to create suspense by starting in the middle of the action? If we are not invested in the POV character, then all action gets us is readers wanting out of an ugly situation. An act of kindness, a small sacrifice, right off the bat is a screenwriting trick (see Blake Snyder’s brilliant Save the Cat) that sets us up to care, and we must care if there’s to be suspense. (A most gruesome kindness, and clever set-up for suspense, can be found at the start of the series House of Cards.)
  3. How can readers feel suspense if the POV character hogs all the emotional responses? If the stakes have just risen for the protagonist, we don’t write the protagonist’s reaction to it (unless that reaction is a surprise), so that readers may bring their own concern to the story, rather than experiencing it second-hand.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. JM Landels, Susan Pieters, and I appear March 31-APril 2 2017 at the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby, BC. Great festival, I recommend it. Cheers Mel. To pre-order my new novel (and, thanks for the great reviews to those who have), click here:

This week from @yourwritingmuse: Your hard work pays off as you give your best to the world of readers. We’re most grateful. Your fan, your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Writing Time, Part 73. 3 Tricks for Sustaining Tension

I’m moderating a panel on creating tension and one on sustaining uspense, so it seems like a good moment to address ways to accomplish this. If we can create suspense, and sustain tension as we plot and draft, then we save a lot of time on revisions, as well.

Consider trying one or more of these:

  • Keep the story goal front and centre, so we remember that what matters to our point of view character.
  • Within the parameters of genre, establish that anything can happen. If the author has something unthinkable happen at the start, then that raises the tension: you know a hopeful young squire isn’t safe just ’cause he’s young and hopeful.
  • Remove tension killers. Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than in the pen.” Check ends of scenes and chapters, make sure there’s no sentence that seems to finish things off.

More on tension and suspense next post. In the meantime, I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. JM Landels, Susan Pieters, and I appear March 31-APril 2 2017 at the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby, BC. Great festival, I highly recommend it. Cheers Mel

This week from @yourwritingmuse: I admire your perseverance as you create time blocks for planning, drafting, and revising. Your fan, your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

 

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Writing Time, Part 72. Creating Tension and Suspense, With Thanks to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I’m moderating a panel on creating tension and another on creating suspense, and it seems like a happy moment to address ways to accomplish this. As well, from the point of view of time management for writers, if we can create suspense and sustain tension as we plot and draft, then we save a crazy amount of hours on revisions.

I.It’s worth taking the time to develop a protagonist the reader will care deeply about. We’ve heard of the Monkeysphere—the theory that humans can only keep a certain number of people close to their hearts. Along with family members and friends, we appear to have  room for fictional characters as well. Right, Netflix?

To develop engaging characters, it’s worth taking the time to list flaws and balancing strengths.I see so many flawed protagonists in our subs box, but few of them achieve the balance that helps the reader take them to their hearts. Balance involves developing

  1. -inner and outer longings.
  2. -kindnesses and sacrifices.
  3. -falls and redemptions.

Looking at the extraordinarily flawed and engaging Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, she’s not all flaws; in fact, her ferocious loyalty, physical strength, and world-beating intellect balance all the imperfections that make us love her. Looking at my submissions inbox, it seems that there’s a lot of great work on developing flaws in characters, but not much attention to the strengths, as if somehow strengths were old-fashioned.

Once we create that engaging character, half our work in creating tension is done for us as the readers bring their own anxiety for the protagonist to the page. The stakes, depending on our genre, may be survival, love and belonging, power, or freedom. These same stakes resonate with us all, through a character readers can believe in and take for our own.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your settings and supporting characters help drive your hero to make tough choices. Superb craft.Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Writing Circles: Writing in Excellent Company

handswritingsmall

Authors and fellow editors JM Landels, Susan Pieters, and I will be presenting The Hours Stories at the Creative Ink Writing Conference in Burnaby BC, March 30-April 2 2017. What are writing circles? For they are unlike critique groups. I hope this piece on writing in good company helps, and you may want to check out our class at the conference. We always have fun, and walk away with 1000-1500 words towards our works in progress an hour later.

We meet once or twice a week to write together. If we meet twice, then I’ve got 3,000
words towards three short novels a year.

At the first meeting I attended, several years ago, I was wary of the whole process. Okay, I was totally resistant. Write in company? Never. When I had writing time, I closed my writing-room door. Nobody saw my drafts. This was the way nature intended writers to work, I believed: alone but for a computer and my usual host of narrative woes. But Sue and Jen are dear friends and when they invited me to write with them, I thought, what the hey, it’s only paper, I can fake something up and then burn it.

I discovered that I write better prose sitting at a table with my writing friends around me. I choose my words with even greater care. I keep the transitions succinct, because I’ve only got 1500 words with which to intrigue them. I make certain that my hero or heroine experiences a turning point, makes a sacrifice, takes action in some way to advance the plot. When, at the end of the writing hour I read my scene aloud, I’ve got an audience feedback that tells me I’m on the right path.

And, no matter how busy the week is, how close we are to deadline, how many illustrations I still need to draw, I’ve written a chapter. My novelist career motors on.

But most of all, I love my writing circle because I am privileged to sit wide-eyed and enchanted, listening to Jen read aloud the next installment of her gripping  Allaigna high fantasy trilogy, and La Poisoineuse and dissolving into laughter over Sue’s hilarious The Truth About Romance.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

We write with Dale Adams Segal’s card set, “The Hour Stories”. http://www.thehourstories.com

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseFrom your first paragraph I’m confidant that something exciting will happen to your protagonist.Superb storytelling. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Writing Time, Part 71. Four Fixes for Chapter Openings and Endings

galaxiesmallAll writing exercises are useful in some way or other, but some take us so swiftly and directly towards our goals, that they’re worth identifying and emphasizing. For example, taking a close look at the beginnings and endings of chapters.

  1. When changing POV character, it would seem a no-brainer that you want to get the new character up and identified. Actually, getting the reader directly into the character’s skin is more important still, while they’re learning whose skin they’re now wearing. The reader is naturally reluctant to leave the previous POV, and to name the new one too soon may cause the reader to set the book down rather than read on. To settle, see the next point.
  2. At the start of every chapter, and arguably every scene, we want to cover time, place, setting, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  3. At the end of every chapter, it’s worth making sure that it doesn’t actually “finish.” A great sentence that feels like an ending to the conflict may cause the reader to close the book. Sometimes the sentence must be removed; sometimes it works to move it to the next chapter.
  4. Watching out for rhythms in positive and negative starts and stops is a subtle way to establish storytelling authority. As author Beverly Boissery once put it to me, chapters that always begin positively and end negatively, seem to flop flop flop. If a chapter ends negatively, consider beginning the new chapter negatively as well, and end it positively, with a hint at future conflict.

Chapter starts and endings set us up to keep reading, keep invested in the characters, love the book. Whether drafting or revising, these are fairly easy fixes to create even greater narratives.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: You discern when best to write and when to outline. What a pleasure to read your work. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Writing Time, Part 70. Great Starts Via Tone and Setting

summer2 Establishing tone and setting right off is a good way to get point of view quickly and firmly established. It’s not the only way to begin—we certainly read successful starts composed of rants, reflections, and resonant difficulties . But, it might be worth our while to examine some excellent examples of authors establishing their authority with POV through tone and setting.

“A big noisy wind out of the northeast, full of a February chill, herded the tourists off the afternoon beach, driving them to cover, complaining bitterly.”

-The Quick Red Fox, John D MacDonald 

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.”

-Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt 

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Sometimes, if a writer is dissatisfied with the start, it may be worthwhile to dig about the first pages of the work, where lines like these may be lurking unnoticed, and try one of them as line one of the tale.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYour amazing ending complements your story beautifully. You saw it from the start. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

-The Quick Red Fox, John D MacDonald

-Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan, Heinlein, Morpurgo, Wodehouse, Joan Voight Summer Queen

 

 

 

Brainbox Toolkits

 

Internet sites talk about writers’ toolkits as if they were outside equipment, but our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds. We work in notebooks and computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire.

Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower. We have to take care of our brains.

To take care of our brains:

We need to walk, because walking drives body and mind and enhances creative powers.

We need to sleep well, and beyond this we must rest our minds by thinking in ways that are different making decisions and creating stories.

When we’re doing something entirely different, like enjoying friends over a meal for example,  we need to laugh and talk and not worry about wasting time.

And, while we’re eating, feed our minds with whole foods and proper fats, remembering that our guts are sparkling with neurons.

 

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain! What do you do to get like that, Jeeves? I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something. Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?” – PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.

Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin

 

 

Recovery

Hard work

Respect our minds like a craftsman respects his toolcase.

 

 

Making the Most of Drafting Hours

 

Loving the work saves writers time. When we love an activity, we prepare for it. That’s a powerful practice for those of us working to create a writing career within a full-time life.

 

I love my drafting time like I love skiing, and If I know I’m going to be skiing this weekend, I’ll think about it through the week, with pleasant anticipation. I’ll be ready. I’m not about to waste my skiing hours looking for my boots, or my drafting hours writing without direction.

 

Time to do what we truly love is not time we’re likely to approach with worry or distress.

Viewing the writing hours ahead with a relaxed mindset serves us well.

 

Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your #writing career well. #writingtips Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

 

 

 

It’s hard to give up the guilty pleasures. Because, guilty pleasures are a way to let go of strictures and live free, as a our inner instincts and Star Trek teaches us to do, kind of dancing just for fun. But we don’t want to that guy, that girl, who has the tv on all the time, even metaphorically.

 

When we’re excited about something new in our lives, we have no problem identifying what needs to go to make room for it.

-gf who didn’t want to miss her shows for the guy, didn’t really like him; found a fab guy

 

Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your #writing career well. #writingtips Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

 

 

√Blog

Writers Block Busting

 

As a mystery writer, I love misdirection, because it sets me to investigating. Quick and unhelpful answers to writing questions are some of my favourite black boxes.

 

The knee jerk answer we all get when we ask “Why am I stuck?” is “Writers’ block”. Litmus test on this answer: Quick? Sure. Unhelpful? Totally. So why do we accept this answer? I’ll tell you why some of us accept it, it’s because if we have writers’ block then that’s proof we’re actually writers. So, once we agree we really are writers, just as we have always wished to be, let’s deal with the serious issue of being stuck.

 

If we’re stuck, it’s like being stuck in any aspect of our lives that is getting us down. It means we don’t have excellent goals to keep us interested, excited, and on track. In writing, goals mean outlining. So, when brainpages adhere one to the other, one way to get unstuck is

  1. Procure a timer
  2. Set the timer for 5 minutes
  3. Outline the beginning, middle, and end of your story for 1 character (I use the story evolution page from the brilliant First Draft in 30 Days : A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript(Paperback) – 2005 Edition
    by Karen Wiesner
    Link: http://a.co/7R5eWtg

 

Repeat as necessary, for more characters, until the writing mind is raring to go.

In order to avoid getting stuck at all, outlining this way in odd 5 or 10 minute parcels of time during the week works wonders.

 

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.

 

 

You work hard to give your best to the world of readers. We are most grateful. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

 

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Writing Time, Part 69. Brainbox Toolkits for Writers

techneforfunInternet sites talk about writers’ toolkits as if they were outside equipment, but in truth our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds. We work in notebooks and on computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire.Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower.

We have to take care of our brains:

  • we need to walk, because walking drives body and mind and enhances creative powers.
  • we need to sleep well, and beyond this we must rest our minds by thinking in ways that are different from making decisions and creating stories, like enjoying talking and laughing with family and friends over a meal.
  • and, while we’re eating, feed our minds with whole foods and proper fats, remembering that our guts are sparkling with neurons.

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain! What do you do to get like that, Jeeves? I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something. Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?” – PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin. Your Writing Muse

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Writing Time, Part 68. Making the Most of Drafting Hours

book-Pen-small-e1424382992427-300x300Loving the work saves writers time. When we love an activity, we prepare for it. That’s a powerful practice for those of us working to create a writing career within a full-time life.

I love my drafting time like I love skiing, and If I know I’m going to be skiing this weekend, I’ll think about it through the week, with pleasant anticipation. I’ll be ready. I’m not about to waste my skiing hours looking for my boots, or my drafting hours writing without direction.

Time to do what we truly love is not time we’re likely to approach with worry or distress.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your writing career well. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

 

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Writing Time, Part 67. Carving Out Writing Time

michaelclockcroppedOf course, we who love our work are more likely to make time for it. But, make time out of what? Busy lives, tons of demands from family, friends, home, and work appear to fill every day to bursting.

Carving moments of peace for employing our drafting skills–and for anything else, for that matter–is a skill in itself. We blink, and the better part of the day is gone. All we have left are a couple of hours best spent not with brandy in the basement, typing madly into the night, but with our loved ones, building lives and memories and getting ourselves and our writing brains  a good night’s sleep.

One way to approach carving out times of serenity is to begin by imagining the goal. Picture ourselves at our favourite time of day for drafting, in our favourite writing place. For many of us, we feel freshest in the morning. And, we probably have an hour or two, within a morning or two during the week that is at least meant to be under our control.

The next step is to look at this block of time. What activity fills it now?

Can it be canned, or perhaps chunked through the week, like shopping or cleaning? Or, if it’s a wonderful activity, could it move to the afternoon or evening?

And if it can’t be canned, moved, or spread throughout the week, for example if you’re dealing with a 24/7 boss, or tiny children, it’s worth remembering the words of a friend of mine, “There’s a time for everything, and your time will come.”

Because, when life really is too busy to write, that’s when we gain experiences to write about.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Stuck for an idea, you list 20 ways it could happen. Superb writing practice. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Writing Time, Part 66. Writer’s Block Busting, Part 2.

Editorial writer forest smallAs a mystery writer, I love misdirection, because it sets me to investigating. Quick and unhelpful answers to writing questions are some of my favourite black boxes.

The knee jerk answer we all get when we ask, “Why am I stuck?” is, “Writers’ block”. Litmus test on this answer: Quick? Sure. Unhelpful? Totally. So why do we accept this answer? I’ll tell you why some of us accept it, it’s because if we have writers’ block then that’s proof we’re actually writers. So, once we relax and agree we really are writers, just as we have always wished to be, let’s deal with the serious issue of being stuck.

If we’re stuck, it’s like being stuck in any aspect of our lives that is getting us down. It means we don’t have excellent goals to keep us interested, excited, and on track. In writing, goals mean outlining. So, when brainpages adhere one to the other, one way to get unstuck is

  1. Procure a timer
  2. Set the timer for 5 minutes
  3. Outline the beginning, middle, and end of your story for 1 character. I use the story evolution page from the brilliant First Draft in 30 Days : A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript(Paperback) – 2005 Edition 
    by Karen Wiesner

Repeat as necessary, for more characters, until the writing mind is raring to go.

In order to avoid getting stuck at all, outlining this way in odd 5 or 10 minute parcels of time during the week works wonders.

 

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Writing down your great goals fuels your writing career beautifully. Admirable practise.  Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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