How To Write Emotion & Depth Of Character With Becca Puglisi

Emotions Happiness Sadess Anger Love Word Collage

 

 

People will forget what you said and did, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

 

Joanna Penn interviews Becca Puglisi on the Creative Penn Podcast

 

This podcast originally appears on The Creative Penn Feb. 12, 2018

Duration: 1 hr 7min

 

 

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“This is far more than a brilliant, thorough, insightful and unique thesaurus, this is the best primer on story — and what REALLY hooks and holds readers– that I have ever read.”  ~ Lisa Cron, bestselling author of Wired For Story & Story Genius

 

 

Emotional Wound Thesaurus image

 

 

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Readers connect to characters with depth, ones who have experienced life’s ups and downs. To deliver key players that are both realistic and compelling, writers must know them intimately—not only who they are in the present story, but also what made them that way. Of all the formative experiences in a character’s past, none are more destructive than emotional wounds. The aftershocks of trauma can change who they are, alter what they believe, and sabotage their ability to achieve meaningful goals, all of which will affect the trajectory of your story.

Identifying the backstory wound is crucial to understanding how it will shape your character’s behavior, and The Emotional Wound Thesaurus can help. Inside, you’ll find:

•A database of traumatic situations common to the human experience
•An in-depth study on a wound’s impact, including the fears, lies, personality shifts, and dysfunctional behaviors that can arise from different painful events
•An extensive analysis of character arc and how the wound and any resulting unmet needs fit into it
•Techniques on how to show the past experience to readers in a way that is both engaging and revelatory while avoiding the pitfalls of info dumps and telling
•A showcase of popular characters and how their traumatic experiences reshaped them, leading to very specific story goals
•A Backstory Wound Profile tool that will enable you to document your characters’ negative past experiences and the aftereffects

Root your characters in reality by giving them an authentic wound that causes difficulties and prompts them to strive for inner growth to overcome it. With its easy-to-read format and over 100 entries packed with information, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is a crash course in psychology for creating characters that feel incredibly real to readers.

 

 

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Becca Puglisi is a YA fantasy and historical fiction writer who enjoys slurping copious amounts of Mountain Dew and snarfing snacks that have no nutritional value. She has always enjoyed contemplating the What if? scenario, which served her well in south Florida during hurricane season and will come in handy now that she’s moved to New York and must somehow survive winter.

Becca Puglisi is a speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers website and via her newest endeavor: One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library like no other, filled with description and brain-storming tools to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Goodreads | Website | Twitters | Amazon

 

 

 

 

A Worthy Villain – By Allison Brennan

 

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A Worthy Villain – By Allison Brennan

 

“The villain is the hero of his own journey.”
— Christopher Vogler

 

When I first started writing, I didn’t read any craft books. Everything I learned about writing fiction I learned through reading, falling in with a terrific critique group, and on- line workshops I took through RWA’s Kiss of Death chapter (the online chapter for romantic suspense.) It wasn’t until I sold my first three books that I started picking up craft books to see if I could improve my writing.

I was primarily looking for books that would help me take my books to the next level. By that I didn’t really know what I was looking for, just books that would help me understand my own intuition, I suppose. A lot of books didn’t resonate with me. Anything too technical, or anything that attempted to explain why that way was the best (or only) way to craft a story, irritated or bored me.

Then I read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and had that light bulb moment.

The Writer’s Journey is a simplified and far more accessible view of the Hero’s Journey (Hero With a Thousand Faces) as explained by Joseph Campbell. But Vogler took the meat from Campbell and seasoned it with modern examples that resonated with me. I could see in all the books that I’d written that I had intuitively, albeit loosely, adopted a hero’s journey structure. But what really helped me was how I began to view the role of the villain in my books.

The quote from Vogler — that the villain is the hero of his own journey — gave me that lightbulb moment. I loved getting into my villain’s heads, but I’d somewhat separated the villain from the hero. The villain’s were bad; the hero’s were good. In classic fiction this works well — people like to know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. Yet, to create a compelling story, the villain needs to be more than a caricature. The villain needs to be as strong and three-dimensional as the hero. And while there are some all bad villains, how did they get that way? What made them commit their first illegal or immoral act?

 

 

 

 

 

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About this time, I read two books that have stuck with me for years. The first was Thomas Harris’s The Red Dragon, which I still believe is superior to The Silence of the Lambs in almost every way. The hero is tortured, the villain is believable, and the dynamic between Will Graham (tortured hero) and Francis Dollarhyde (tortured villain) is truly compelling. (As an aside — don’t watch the movies. Neither movie did the book justice, unlike Silence of the Lambs which is iconic.)

What resonated with me the most was how deep Harris got into his killer. We get into Dollarhyde’s head, we begin to understand how he got to this point in his life. And there is a pivotal scene where he could choose the light—where he could turn away from the violence within him. But why he doesn’t—how he breaks—is so compelling and felt so real that The Red Dragon is one of the few books I’ve read twice. It taught me first and foremost that villains need to be real people. They are not monsters, at least not at first glance. They have backstories and conflicts and goals just like every other character in the story.

In fact, I’d argue that villains must have as strong or stronger conflicts than the hero. Every author should know exactly why their villain is committing the crime they are committing, and be able to justify it when in the killer’s head. It might not make sense to a “normal” person, but it had better make sense to the villain.

The other book I read was Psychopath by Dr. Keith Ablow. What drew me in was an intelligent and almost reasonable villain who had a very specific reason for why and how he killed. In fact, the villain was so compelling, that when the hero (a forensic psychiatrist) and the villain were on the same page, the villain appeared to be a stronger individual. How—why—can some who do such good in the world also be so bad?

 

 

 

Motivation award

 

 

 

Johan Wrens is the Highway Killer. He slits the throats of random people all over the country. His body count is in the dozens. Wrens is also a brilliant psychiatrist who helps disturbed children. He has relationships with women, is attractive and cultured. He’s a bit reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris’s “arch-villain”—but in many ways, far more layered. He’s definitely the bad guy, but he also saves children for a living. He detests crimes against children, and that redeeming quality, especially when the reader learns his whole story, makes him a tragic character.

The hero, Dr. Frank Clevenger, had very real problems and very real conflicts. A recovering drug addict who had serious problems with interpersonal relationships, readers wondered if he could overcome his personal adversity to stop a very real—and very intelligent—threat.

Through these two books—The Red Dragon and Psychopath—I realized that the dynamic between the hero and villain needs to be intense; it needs to matter to both characters. I haven’t always been able to achieve this, though I consistently strive to. And that, really, is what being a growing writer is all about: constantly striving to write a stronger, better story with stronger, more compelling characters.

A “good” villain needs to challenge the hero; a good villain must be as smart—or smarter—than the hero. The villain needs to be complex, capable, and cunning so the hero is challenged. It’s the hero’s intelligence, perseverance, and humanity that brings the villain to justice—not merely following the breadcrumbs of a villain who would rank in the Top Ten Stupidest Criminals.

 

 

 

Criminal painting

 

 

 

In essence, not only does the villain need to be worthy of your hero, but your hero needs to be worthy of your villain. It’s the creation of this dynamic that gives the reader what she is looking for in crime thrillers.

When you think about the villain as the hero of his own journey, you realize that there are logical reasons for every action the villain takes. Logical for the villain. This is why authors (or actors) need to spend some time in their villain’s head. Think of the villain as you would the hero, ask the same questions. Know what they want and why. Know how they got to this moment in the story. Give them the option of turning away from evil … and then when they don’t, know why they don’t.

The villain makes—or breaks—your story.

And if you remember that the villain is the hero of his own journey? Well, your job just got a small bit easier.

 

 

 

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Allison Brennan is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of three dozen romantic thrillers and many short stories. RT Book Reviews calls Allison “A master of suspense” and her books “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” “pulse-pounding” and “emotionally complex.” RT Book Reviews gave her recent Lucy Kincaid thriller BREAKING POINT a Top Pick and Lisa Gardner says, “Brennan knows how to deliver.” SHATTERED, currently out in hardcover, will be released in paperback on May 1. The next book in the Maxine Revere series ABANDONED is on sale August 14, and the next Lucy Kincaid thriller TOO FAR GONE will be out on October 30. Allison lives near Sacramento, California with her husband, five children, and assorted animals.

 

 

 

Breaking point

 

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Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

How to Harness the Difference between Plot & Story with Steve Alcorn

share your story. Coffee mug and wooden letters on wooden background.

 

 

 

How to Harness the Difference between Plot and Story with Steve Alcorn

 

 

Original air date Feb. 15, 2018 TCK Publishing Epi. 176

Duration 32 min

Full Transcript

 

 

Steve Alcorn Author pic

 

 

Steve Alcorn is the author of a wide range of fiction and nonfiction works. His novels include the mystery A Matter of Justice, the historical novel Everything In Its Path, and the romance Ring of Diamonds (under the pseudonym Sharon Stevens). His best-selling history of the Imagineers who built Epcot, Building a Better Mouse, was co-written with author David Green.

During the past decade Steve has helped more than 30,000 students turn their story ideas into reality, and many of his students have published novels they developed in his classes, taught through http://writingacademy.com

When he isn’t writing and teaching, Steve is the CEO of Alcorn McBride Inc., a leading theme park design company.

 

 

 

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The Clue to Character by Mystery Writer Daniella Bernett

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The Clue to Character
Daniella Bernett

 

Where would a story be without a character? Character is the engine that drives the narrative. For me, it is a magical process. Imagine having the omnipotent power to create and mold a person on the page. Not only do I get to conjure up the character’s physical attributes and such details as a birthdate, but I have the opportunity to develop his or her personality. Evil or noble? Intelligent or foolish? Witty or dull? Take a smidgen of this and add a pinch of that, and voilà a person starts to emerge. To be believable, the reader must be given intimate insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions, likes and dislikes. One has to understand the motives behind why a character reacts a certain way. Of course to be fully formed, the author must imbue the character with both admirable qualities and flaws. After all, in real life nobody is perfect. So too must it be on the written page. Once the author is satisfied with the character sketch, then the real fun begins: unfurling the imagination to weave the tale.

 

When writing a mystery series, the essential component is a sleuth to solve the crime. Here, the author is presented with two possibilities: professional detective or amateur sleuth. It all circles back to character and the story that the author has in mind for him or her. For my series, I chose the amateur sleuth. My protagonists are journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief Gregory Longdon.

 

 

Business, internet, technology concept.Businessman chooses Inves

 

 

 

 

Why a journalist? A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. Naturally, a journalist would be intrigued by crime, especially murder. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.

 

Now, how does a jewel thief fit into the model of a sleuth? Aren’t lying and evading the law a thief’s modus operandi? Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely, but that’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the twisted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression. A line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime, otherwise chaos would reign in the world.

 

Meanwhile to round out my ensemble, I have Chief Inspector Oliver Burnell and Sergeant Jack Finch of Scotland Yard. They represent “the law” in all its gravitas. While their job is to hunt down criminals, sometimes the law’s constraints chafe and make their task more difficult. That’s why I have Gregory. He is Burnell’s nemesis. They have an adversarial, cat-and- mouse relationship. As a thief, Gregory has more flexibility to maneuver and never misses an opportunity to needle the chief inspector. Burnell, for his part, has been thwarted in his many attempts at catching Gregory red-handed. Will he ever succeed? The jury is out on that question.

 

There are myriad things to consider when delving into the essence of what makes a captivating and appealing character. The author must much achieve a delicate balance of shadow and light, intrigue and clarity, to give the story meaty substance and an air of authenticity. It’s an ongoing challenge, but one that you as a writer have to explore in every book as you seek to make readers truly care about your characters. Once readers make an emotional connection, you have them hooked because that means they want to know the story behind the character.

 

 

 

 

Daniella Bernett Author Photo

 

 

 

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy and From Beyond The Grave are the first three books in the Emmeline Kirby Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure.

 

Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at Facebook or on Goodreads

 

 

 

 

What Is Suspense by Crime Writer Sue Coletta

Suspense film. Serie géneros cinematográficos.

 

 

What is Suspense?

 

Suspense arises from our readers anticipation of what’s about to occur. They worry, even fear, what will happen to the characters they love.

To build suspense, we need to raise our readers concern over how our POV characters’ plans can go array. Ever hear this comment when talking books with a friend? Nothing really happened so I stopped reading. I’ve put down numerous books for the same reason, and some by authors who are household names, authors who should know better. But that’s the thing about suspense. It’s not easy to hold our readers hostage for 300 pages. By employing the following techniques we have a better shot of grabbing them by the throat. Then it’s just a matter of not letting go.

 

“Show that something terrible is about to happen, then postpone the resolution to sustain the suspense.” ~ Writer’s Digest

 

 

 

Promise Word on Green Puzzle.

 

 

 

Promises, Promises

Every book makes a promise to the reader. The difference between concept and premise is, something happens to the main POV characters that disrupts their lives. If you’re not familiar with the difference between concept and premise, there’s no one better to learn from than Larry Brooks. He has several posts on the subject, including this 3-minute workshop video.

Rather than asking yourself, “What should happen next?” Try: “What can I promise that’ll go wrong? Problems that will bring my characters to their knees.”

The central dramatic story question promises an intriguing quest.

By making promise after promise, we keep our readers engaged. Don’t tell the reader, of course. Instead, hint at the trouble to come; tease the reader into finding out. Do it right away, too. We need to establish our CDSQ on page one. If we can accomplish it in the first paragraph, all the better.

Every promise, no matter how minor, should either setup or pay off a future scene. Once a promise is paid, make another. The largest promises, like the central dramatic story question, should be paid off in the climax.

For an example of a CDSQ, let’s look at Wings of Mayhem.

After unknowingly stealing his trophy box, can Shawnee Daniels a forensic police hacker by day; cat burglar by night, stop the serial killer who’s destroying her life before he murders everyone she loves?

If your story drags, it’s often due to the lack of tension and/or suspense. In other words, you haven’t made your reader worry enough. How can we fix a dragging plot? By making bigger, more important, promises. Promises that will devastate our hero and secondary characters. Promises they might never recover from.

 

 

 

Strategy on Pocket Watch Face.

 

 

 

Don’t Give Away Too Much Too Soon

This is a story killer. Don’t explain what’s happening, or why. Trust the reader to figure it out on their own. I realize it’s not always easy. After all, we know what will happen next (at least we should), and we can hardly wait for the reader to find out.

Trust me on this. Keep it to yourself for as long as possible.

No info. dumps! Just because we know our characters’ backgrounds does not mean our readers need to know it. Share what’s relevant to the story, or enough about the POV characters so the reader can empathize with them. Sprinkle the information throughout the story rather than dumping it all at once.

 

Characters’ Goals

“To create powerful suspense, make your hero face her greatest fear, and risk losing the thing that matters most to her.” ~ Dan Brown

No matter how we try to build suspense, if our readers don’t care about our characters, we’re sunk. Contrary to belief, the reader doesn’t have to like our characters, but they do need to empathize with them. That’s the key word: empathy.

For three-dimensional characters, we need to know their backgrounds, flaws, world views, religious beliefs, causes they support/protest, fears, concerns, mannerisms, dialect, profession, childhood, history with other characters, how they look, how they act in difficult situations, how they dress, nervous tics, scars, tattoos, favorite music, food, I could go on and on. We don’t need to show all these things, but we do need to know our characters as well as ourselves in order to slip into their skin.

To build suspense the character must have goals that really matter to them. What does she want it, and why? What happens if she doesn’t get it? What’s standing in her way? A strong hero needs a strong opponent. If our character is more timid, then we better make sure she desperately needs to achieve her goal. If she doesn’t do X, then Y will happen. Y is bad. The reader doesn’t want Y to happen. Hence, they stiffen up and pay attention. Bam! You’ve just built suspense.

 

 

“A murder is not suspense. An abduction with the threat of a murder is.” ~ Brian Klems

 

 

Violence, Where and When?

I love this quote from Brian Klems, because it’s so true. The act of violence isn’t suspenseful. The snapping of twigs as our character stumbles through the darkened forest, knowing the killer could attack at any moment is suspenseful. Or the squeaky floorboard on the second floor when the character is home alone. The phone ringing in the middle of the night. A knock at the one door the character never uses. Footfalls gaining on the character when they’ve wandered off the hiking trail. Tires screeching around the corner, the headlights appearing in the rear view mirror seconds later. The click of a shotgun in the deadly quiet milieu. A single flame that shoots from the tip of a lighter in the dark. The possibilities are endless.

 

 

Sentence Rhythm

Our sentence rhythm should match the reader’s emotion. Many of us do this automatically. Ever notice when you’re writing a suspenseful scene how you’ll pound the keyboard? When you’re slowing the pace, your fingers glide over the keys. Same holds true for sentence rhythm. Fragmented, staccato sentences quicken the pace. Long, run-on sentences tend to slow it down. As with most things in writing, though, there’s an exception. You can use run-ons to increase suspense if you vary the sentences with shorter ones.

 

Example from MARRED:

Adrenaline masked my pain, and I sprinted from room to room, closed and secured all the windows and double-checked the locks on the front and back doors, bolted upstairs, and pressed my foot on the sliders’ security bar. Colt and Ruger watched me zip around the house, not knowing what was wrong. Ruger gave up and laid his head on crossed paws while Colt bounded over and stayed on my heels.

When I returned to the kitchen table, the phone rang again. My gaze locked on the handset, and I froze. Colt’s face ping-ponged between me and the phone. He put the pieces together in his mind, trotted over, and knocked the receiver off the cradle, gently clasped the handset in his lips and carried it to me. By using his training to aid me, he was trying to help, but at that moment, it was the last thing I wanted him to do.

I didn’t speak.

Mix staccato and fragmented sentences with longer sentences to create an overall effect of balance and maintain rhythm in your writing. Is every sentence in the scene the same length? The reader will fall asleep.

 

 

 

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Scene and Sequel Structure and Motivation-Reaction Units

I’ve discussed these subjects several times, so I won’t repeat the tips here. You can find a couple of the posts here: Importance of MRUsScene and Sequel in Action.

 

Start Late, End Early 

Start each scene with a story question, intrigue, or conflict. Our goal is to arouse the curiosity of our reader. Keep them guessing. (Start late) If we make it easy on them, and answer all their questions at once, there’s no reason for them to keep reading.

We can’t wrap up our scene in a nice little bow, either. That’ll undo everything we’ve worked so hard to accomplish, to hook them in the first place. Rather, end on a note of uncertainty, or with a new challenge. (End early)

 

Scene Cuts or Jump Cuts

This is a cinematic technique that can work in any genre. Create a series of short, unresolved incidents that occur in rapid succession. Stop at a critical point and jump to a different scene, maybe at a different time and place, maybe with different characters.  For example, we could pick up a scene where we left off earlier. Or switch from protagonist to antagonist. Or from one tense scene to another. Rapid alternations keep the reader in a state of suspense.

 

Micro-Tension

Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps readers in suspense over what’ll happen in the next second. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas is a fantastic resource that discusses micro-tension. When the emotional friction between characters reaches a boiling point we’ve built suspense. Keep in mind, the characters don’t have to be enemies. Husband and wife. Tension between partners. Parent and child. Micro-tension is added in numerous ways. An easy way is with dialogue.

 

 

 

Sue Coletta author pic

 

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writer, Sue Coletta is a bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thriller/mysteries. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue’s also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. She’s also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday. Learn more about Sue and her books at

 

Website | Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

 

Writer’s Block: Can You Use it as a Tool? By Melinda Leigh

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Writer’s Block: Can You Use it as a Tool?

Writing is both fulfilling and frustrating. There are days, that no matter how much I want and need to make progress on a book, I am unable to put words on the page. Or, if I do force myself to write, every word feels wrong. I know I’ll be deleting most of them the next day.

When I first starting writing, this terrified me. But over the past ten years, I’ve learned that writer’s block is my subconscious telling me that something has gone wrong in my book. There a plot hole issue or a problem with a character arc. I need to back up and reassess.

 

 

 

The 3D guy got over the challenge

 

 

 

I often will go back to the beginning and read the entire manuscript. So that I don’t feel as if I’m wasting time, I use this time to edit. When I return to the stopping point, sometimes I’ve recognized the problem and put the book back on track. If I’m still stuck, I reach out to a writer friend and talk through the issue.

So next time you’re struggling with writer’s block, give your WIP a good edit. Reassess your plot, make sure your characters are following their arcs, and then reach out to a friend to talk about why you’re having trouble. It’s possible your story has wandered off course and needs to be redirected.

 

 

 

 

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Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. A life-long lover of books, she started writing as a way to preserve her sanity while raising her kids. Over the next few years, she learned a few things about writing a book. The process was much more fun than analyzing financial statements, and she decided to turn her hobby into a career. Melinda’s debut novel, SHE CAN RUN, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She is a RITA® Award Finalist and has earned three Daphne du Maurier Award nominations, Two Silver Falchion Awards, and Two Golden Leaf Awards.

Melinda holds a 2nd degree belt in Kenpo Karate. She’s dabbled in Arnis stick fighting, studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and taught women’s self-defense. She lives in a messy house in the suburbs with her husband, two kids, a couple of shelter dogs and two rescue cats who clearly run the show. With such a pleasant life, she has no explanation for the sometimes dark and disturbing nature of her imagination. Find out more about Melinda by visiting melindaleigh.com.

 

 

Writing, Rewriting, and Craft with Elena Hartwell

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Writing, Rewriting, and Craft

By Elena Hartwell

As a novelist and playwright, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Almost every writer I know gets this question, and I think we all feel the same. Ideas are never the problem. That’s the easy part. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part, the magic part, is turning the idea into a polished, final manuscript.

 

The writing process varies wildly from author to author. Some write extensive, detailed outlines. Others sit down with an idea and write scenes on the fly. A number of writers fall somewhere in between, while they may not outline, neither do they sit down and write completely organically. They might write a synopsis or outline a chapter in advance.

 

The various combinations of these methods all work, depending on the writer and the project. There is no “wrong” way to write a novel. The “how” a writer works isn’t why their manuscript sells or doesn’t sell. The primary reason an author’s work has not yet sold is a lack of craft.

 

People who lack craft skills rarely sit down to write a novel. Or if they do, they can start, but never finish. Or if they do finish, they don’t rewrite. Or if they do rewrite, they quit after a single pass. Or, if they do continue to rewrite, they aren’t aware enough of craft to recognize the flaws in their own work. You get the picture. The problem is the writer stops too soon.

 

As a writing coach—I do one-on- one manuscript critiques as well as teaching workshops—there are some fundamental issues I see repeated in early drafts, over and over. These same issues show up in my own work, and probably on some level, in the early drafts of every writer out there. So the first thing aspiring writers can do to increase their chances of writing a successful manuscript, is learn how to identify these problems.

 

 

Coaching sign

 

 

 

The first is a lack of clear objectives, obstacles, and stakes. It’s not enough to have a dead body to write a mystery. Someone has to investigate the murder. The person investigating the murder has to need to solve the crime. If they don’t need to solve the crime (objective) there’s no tension about the investigation. If the solution doesn’t matter to the investigator, it won’t matter to the reader.

 

The sleuth also can’t solve the crime easily, that’s not dramatic. Various impediments (obstacles) have to appear, one after the other, to prevent the protagonist from catching the killer. The more the investigator has to overcome, the more satisfying to the reader when they do.

 

Lastly, it has to matter (stakes). For example, the protagonist with an internal struggle, coinciding with their investigation, is far more interesting than someone who simply goes through the motions of solving a crime.

 

The more important solving the case is to the protagonist, the more dangerous or difficult the journey, and the greater the importance to find the guilty party, the more invested a reader will be. That’s what keeps a reader turning pages.

 

 

The 3d guy got over the challenge

 

 

 

Complex protagonists will also have personal objectives, obstacles, and stakes to go along with their investigation. For example, a crumbling marriage, a child in danger, or overcoming an addiction are common tropes within the genre. When we know an investigator has to choose between catching a killer and saving their marriage, the stakes are high and we breathlessly turn each page waiting to see what the character chooses.

 

Another common error I find is a lack of structure. All stories have an underpinning structure. While there are variations to that structure, for the most part, especially in crime fiction, we start with the world as we know it, which is disrupted by a specific event, followed by rising action, where events pile one on top the other, each more important than the one that went before. This ends with a climactic scene, with the maximum danger to our hero or heroine, followed by a glimpse into the new world order for our characters.

 

If any of these parts are missing, the story can feel unfinished. For example, if we don’t have some sense of what the character’s life was before the intrusion, we don’t know what they are putting at risk. The “world before” can often be well hidden, it might not appear in the first chapter, but later in reflections the character makes as the story progresses, but usually a reader can identify it if they look for it.

 

The middle of a manuscript might falter if a lot of exciting things happen at the beginning, then nothing exciting follows. Rising action is important, because it builds dramatic tension, making it impossible to put the book down.

 

 

 

Under construction

 

 

 

Lastly, an ending can feel unsatisfying if we have no sense of the outcome. Readers don’t need everything tied up in a bow, but they do want the primary threads to be resolved enough to know what the character’s lives will be like after they read “the end.”

 

Dialogue can also be difficult to master. One of the most common problems I see is when authors have their characters say exactly what they feel and exactly what they mean. That doesn’t ring true. People lie all the time. We lie because it’s expedient, it benefits us in some way, it keeps us from hurting others, or we don’t want to get in trouble. We rarely say what we mean, we obfuscate, we dither, we agree out loud when disagreeing feels like a mistake. Dialogue works best when each character speaks distinctly from the others, through word choice, sentence length, grammatical accuracy, and the use of slang.

 

If a writer can identify just these specific problem areas in their own writing, their next draft will be a much tighter, more polished manuscript. It can feel overwhelming to try to identify and fix all the issues I’ve outlined at one time. My recommendation for writers is to choose one aspect and rewrite just for that. Heighten the stakes in one rewrite. Focus solely on dialogue for the next. Breaking down the process into smaller chunks can make each rewrite a more successful venture. This will help the writer get through a series of rewrites rather than attempting one and feeling like the mountain is too high to climb. My final piece of advice. Don’t give up. That’s the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one.

 

 

 

Elena Hartwell author photo with horse

 

Elena Hartwell was born in Bogota, Colombia, while her parents were in the Peace Corps. Her first word was “cuidado.” At the age of nine months, she told two men carrying a heavy table to be careful in their native tongue. She’s been telling people what to do ever since. After almost twenty years in the theater, Elena turned her playwriting skills to novels and the result is her first book “One Dead, Two to Go,” followed by “Two Heads Are Deader Than One.” “Three Strikes, You’re Dead.” For more information on Elena, please visit elenahartwell.com or like her Facebook Page ElenaHartwell/Author. You may get to see cute pictures of her dog and her horses.

 

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Writing Combat, After Combat by John Mangan

 

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Writing Combat, After Combat

 

Like many young men I was raised on a steady diet of thrillers and military action novels. After devouring hundreds of books, ranging from Tom Clancy’s techno wizardry, to Robert Ludlum’s classics, and The Outrider series by Richard Harding, I figured that I had combat figured out. After all, I’d read thousands of action scenes that described in excruciating detail every conceivable combat move, gunshot, reload, judo chop, wound and scream. I’d lived through numerous dogfights, firefights, fistfights, bombings and ambushes. I’d sighted down my rifle, pulled the
4.5 lb match grade trigger, felt the recoil, and watched as my 62 grain, boat tailed hollow point bullet impacted a target, center of mass, at 3200 FPS. I was ready.

 
Then I was in combat, and what I realized within the first 30 seconds was that all those books had gotten it wrong. Phenomenally, epically wrong. Contrary to what I’d read, the experience of combat wasn’t just a linear series of physical events; instead, it was an enormously personal, tidal wave of primordial impulses and scalding, mind blanking fear. My  favorite authors hadn’t only missed the mark, they’d been shooting in the wrong damn direction.

 

 

aim

 

 
In retrospect, trying to understand combat by reading a thriller is like trying to understand sex by reading a medical textbook. Yes, you will arrive at a detailed understanding of what goes where, and who does what to whom, but ultimately, you won’t see the human side of the game. This is what separates pornography from explicit romance; One depicts a series of discreet physical acts, the other communicates a subjective human experience. Perhaps that’s the crux of the issue; one depicts, the other communicates. Like love, grief, or joy, combat is a complex emotional phenomenon that leaves a deep and wrenching impact upon the people who experience it.

 
So what was combat like? Imagine that you are on a rafting trip with your friends, thoroughly enjoying the adventure as you explore a new stretch of river. Suddenly, you enter whitewater and the raft begins bucking and spinning. You are tossed about and spray drenches you, but you find it exhilarating because your team responds as a well trained unit, working together, guiding the raft successfully through the chaos. You are going to make it. You are in control. Right up to the moment that you aren’t…

 

 

 

combat

 

 
With a heave the raft overturns and you are thrown into the river. You and your team are now being swept along by the power of events far beyond your control, smashing into each other and off of rocks, rolling through rapids and tumbling off of falls. Your actions become base and instinctual, you reach for your comrades, hold your breath, stroke for the surface, and try to guild yourself around obstacles both seen and unseen. But you intuitively know that the best of your efforts are merely token gestures and that you are being carried along by a force more powerful than any single man caught up in it. This force has a will of its own and your attempts to influence it are more illusion than anything else. You will be released at the time of its choosing, not yours. For me, that was combat; being immersed in a force that was terrifyingly intimate, unknowable and beyond any measure of control.

 
So how did that experience guide the creation of Into a Dark Frontier? First and foremost, I think readers have grown numb to elaborate scenes describing combat in excruciating detail. In today’s world of hyper violent entertainment, the firing of a gun has become routine, the spattering of blood trite, the death of a human meaningless. That doesn’t mean that an artist should shy away from depicting violence, for it is part of the human experience. But how do you do it in a way that stirs your audience, leaves a lasting impression and advances the story? Strangely enough, I think that the poets of old did it best.

 

 
While eulogizing World War I in his epic poem, “The Second Coming”, W.B. Yeats didn’t even mention the horrors of trench warfare, instead, he said that a “blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned,” and “what rough beast, its time come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” In one short poem the entire terrible spirit of 1914-1918 is laid bare before you. By omitting physical details, Yeats swept away the clutter and unearthed the soul of the event, not only of the war itself, but what it meant for the future of humanity.

 
But a poet’s verse doesn’t always have to span continents and nations; Tennyson spoke of “men that strove with gods.”

 
Sir Walter Scott described, “The stern joy that warriors feel in foemen worthy of their steel.”

 
And who could forget Henry V’s blood curdling speech to the people of Harfleur?
(Edited for brevity)

 

 
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up
And the fleshed soldier, rough and hard of heart
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell mowing like grass
Your fresh fair virgins and your flow’ring infants
While your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation.

 
O’erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villainy.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters,
Your fathers taken by their silver beards

 

And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted on pikes
While the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herods bloody-hunting slaughtermen

 

 
Just look at those incredible words! Foul hands, slaughtermen, shrill-shrieking, and heady murder. Not only is the poet allowed to paint with a more vivid palette, they are also given the freedom to strip away irrelevant physical details until they find not only the humanity of an event, but its enduring meaning as well. I think that combat, like love, is too complex and forceful to be restrained by the rules of prose. That is why lovers turn to music and poetry to express themselves. Perhaps warriors can as well.

 

 

“I think that combat, like love, is too complex and forceful to be restrained by the rules of prose.”

 

 
So who describes combat best in these modern times? My favorites are Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier, Anthony Loyd and James Salter. They are masters of lyrical prose, telling a sharp and detailed story that swerves into poetry at times and then back again before you even have time to hear the rumble strips. The beauty of their words are a counterpoint to the horrors they describe and I find myself drawn to their stories again and again.

 

 

 

excellent

 

 

 
Having said all this, am I satisfied with the action scenes in my novel Into a Dark Frontier? No, I am not. There’s a sentence here and there that I am proud of, maybe even a paragraph or two. I have a long way to go, but I’m confident that I’ll get there someday, and that’s what keeps me writing.

 

 

 

Into a Dark Frontier

 

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Have a reply for John? Tell us in the comments.

 

 

John Mangan
Author of Into a Dark Frontier
www.JohnManganBooks.com

 

 

 

 

Writing Lesson Section 5 by David Kummer

Welcome to this lesson of David Kummer’s writing course. That’s me, by the way. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, success stories, or just something fun to say, email me at davidkummer7@gmail.com. I’d love to talk about anything and everything, especially if that everything has to do with books, basketball, or Chinese food. I am a teenager, after all. So that’s that! Head on down and read what might be the best writing course of your life, but also might be the worst 😉 You won’t know until you try!

Continue reading “Writing Lesson Section 5 by David Kummer”

Writing Lessons Section 4 by David Kummer

Welcome to this lesson of David Kummer’s writing course. That’s me, by the way. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, success stories, or just something fun to say, email me at davidkummer7@gmail.com. I’d love to talk about anything and everything, especially if that everything has to do with books, basketball, or Chinese food. I am a teenager, after all. So that’s that! Head on down and read what might be the best writing course of your life, but also might be the worst 😉 You won’t know until you try!

Continue reading “Writing Lessons Section 4 by David Kummer”