When starting to write my historical romance, Hopelessly, Completely, MADLY in Love, I choose the year 1876 for a simple enough reason. It’s the hundred-year anniversary of the independence of America. I ended up not mentioning this significant fact, because my character, Lexi Donovan, was dealing with some trying issues when the celebration would have rolled around.
How Can It Be Real?
As an author of supernatural thrillers, it’s a question I’ve heard a time or two before.
In my experience, the single most important aspect of good storytelling is what I call the “Reality Factor.” We’ve all read a book, seen a movie, that should have worked but didn’t. There are a ton of factors that may contribute to its failure, but at the core, I’m confident you’ll find a lack of reality as the main culprit.
UNCOVERING THE UNDERWORLD
When I began planning my historic gangster vampire novel Drawing Dead, I knew that I was in for a lot of research. However, what surprised me was the amount of digging and sifting through contradictory information I had to do. I’d always been interested in the gangsters of the 1920s and 30s, and I thought I had a fairly solid grip on the major figures of the period.
Millennia ago the majority of people not only believed in Heaven but could point it out for you. Beyond the clouds lay the mysterious workings of the celestial vault, and the earth was widely perceived as a flat disc positioned in the center of the cosmos. The Book of Daniel (4:11), for example, mentions a vision of a great tree reaching into the heavens that “could be seen to the ends of the earth.”
Divine beings were believed to rule the nearest discernible heavenly bodies, and the starry backdrop appeared to be a single stratum of lights in the sky. Genesis 1:14-17 states that God attached the stars to the firmament, like a diamond-studded canopy. In fact, it was thought a sufficiently powerful earthquake could shake them loose and send them plummeting to earth. According to this view, the underworld lay quite literally beneath the earth where the sun paid a nightly visit. Continue reading “Historical Division: Where is Heaven? By Edwin Herbert”
Hmmm… You have someone to kill. You need a creative way, and the old-fashioned gun, knife, rope, or Pillow Suffocation simply won’t do. Using a medication sounds intriguing. In the alphabet soup of drugs, which one makes the perfect instrument of death?
Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching
To increase suspense in a scene where a dangerous person is about to do something nasty, slow down the pace and describe their hands. This is perfect for when the evil overlord signs the order to exterminate the children, or when the torturer readies his instruments.
This technique works especially well in thrillers. Show the killer’s (or the suspect’s) hands, especially when the point-of-view character is helpless to do anything. This will send creepy shivers across the reader’s skin.
Before moving to Amsterdam, I knew very little about the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War Two, a topic that plays a central role in my novel, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery. Sure, I’d read about controversial cases in newspapers and wondered why museums didn’t hand over the artwork immediately when legitimate claimants appeared on the scene, but also why it took the relative of the legal owner so long to submit a claim.
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There is nothing so annoying as reading a book or watching a movie and finding inaccuracies in things like police and courtroom procedures. I am not a pedant but I prefer accuracy in my own writing and that of others, whether the result is within the pages or up on the screen.
As a former UK detective and a barrister, trial counsel to Americans but we got to wear those wigs and gowns, I have an advantage in my own writing to portray accuracy.
So how does a crime writer without the same advantage set about achieving accuracy?