Writing, Rewriting, and Craft by Elena Hartwell

 

Elena Hartwell author photo with horse

 

 

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.

 

 

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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.

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.

 

 

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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.

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.”

 

 

Hello Speech Bubble Isolated On Yellow Background

 

 

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.

 

 

Giveaway Colorful Stripes

 

 

One dead two to go imageTwo heads are deader than one imageThree strikes your dead

 

 

 I’d be happy to do a giveaway! Copies of my Eddie Shoes Mystery Series will be available to the first 3 people that sign up for my newsletter win! Send me a PM with your email! More info on the series here:  www.elenahartwell.com

 

 

 

Elena Hartwell author photo with horse

 

 

Elena Hartwell started out her storytelling career in the theater. She worked for several years as a playwright, director, designer, technician, and educator before becoming a novelist.

Elena has more than twenty years of teaching experience and now works one-on-one with writers as a manuscript consultant and writing coach.

She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, two cats, and the greatest dog in the world. When she’s not writing, teaching writing, or talking about writing, she can be found at a nearby stables, playing with her horses.

For more information about Elena, please visit www.elenahartwell.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s In Charge Here?  Getting Jurisdiction Correct in Your Writing

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Who’s In Charge Here?  Getting Jurisdiction Correct in Your Writing

By Micki Browning

 

I recently picked up a novel that featured an FBI agent as a first responder to a burglary investigation at a city residence. The author immediately lost her credibility with me and I put the novel aside. Why? The Feds are about four levels too high for the job. Can federal agents investigate a burglary? Absolutely. Are they the first responder in a city? No.

At some point, a story you’re writing will likely involve a law enforcement character. It may be on a traffic stop, in response to a crime, an encounter in a coffee shop, in another character’s school, or over the neighboring fence. Our nation has more than 750,000 law enforcement officers, so for art to mimic life, there are a couple of things you need to know.

 

 

What is Jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction is easiest to imagine as geographical boundaries, but is best thought of in terms of power. Jurisdiction defines the statutory authority of a government agency—in this case, law enforcement—to act and investigate based on the location of the incident, the type of crime, or the dollar amount at stake.

 

 

Who are you going to call?

Most people don’t worry about jurisdiction. If they need help, they dial 911 and then wait for help. As the master manipulator of your novel, however, you are the dispatcher and it’s up to you to decide who goes. Need a quick response? Local police almost always arrive first.

 

 

911 emergency number

 

 

 

The Locals

The backbone of law enforcement is the patrol force. New York City employs approximately 38,00 officers. A rural agency may only employ a single peace officer. Throw in a county agency and your first responder could be an officer, marshal, or deputy.

So how do you know the difference? If you are writing about an actual agency, it’s easy. Find a computer. Nearly all agencies have a wealth of information regarding size, jurisdiction, rank structure and community outreach on their websites. Photos will reveal the types of vehicles they drive, how they dress and the color of their uniform (which varies considerably).

Every county has a sheriff’s office. The sheriff is an elected official and is statutorily required to provide public safety for the county. Deputy sheriffs perform the patrol grunt work. They also carry out civil law responsibilities, such as serving subpoenas.

By comparison, cities often operate their own municipal police departments. An appointed Chief of Police runs the agency, and the first responders are referred to as officers. But police agencies are expensive to administer, and many cities contract for public safety services from the county sheriff. Likewise, most towns and villages contract from the county, although some operate their own office, and may be called marshals.

On very rare occasions, cities and counties combine agencies, for example the Miami-Dade Police Department and the agencies in San Francisco and Denver. Usually this occurs when the city and county share the same geographical boundaries.

 

 

Polizei - Hintergrund - Banner

 

 

State Agencies

State agencies differ across the nation—and it gets murky fast. Many states have multiple public safety agencies that focus on either investigation or enforcement. Other states run one agency with different divisions.

California combines these functions under the umbrella of one massive agency. Remember the television show CHPs? Well, they do a lot more than ride motorcycles. In addition to patrolling the state’s highways, they also staff a Protective Services Division tasked with capitol, dignitary, judicial and governor protection. The agency oversees the State and Regional Threat Assessment Centers, Counterterrorism and Threat Awareness Section, and the Emergency Operations Center.

 

 

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Federal Agencies

Think state agencies are confusing? Wait until the Feds get involved. The Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and of course, the Federal Bureau of Investigations are familiar names. But don’t forget the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, United States Park Police, or everyone’s favorite, the Transportation Security Administration.

Involving federal agencies in a story typically requires more than casual research. Introducing a character as an officer from the FBI will mark you as a rube. While it is true that they are sworn peace officers, the FBI hierarchy is paved with agents, not officers. And just when you think you may have it all figured out, here’s a curveball. Law enforcement officers in the TSA are Federal Air Marshals. The U.S. Marshals Service, the oldest federal law enforcement agency, is the enforcement arm of the Federal Court System. Their enforcement officers are called U.S. marshals (as opposed to a town marshal). Confused yet?

 

 

US government concept acronym

 

 

Who is the best?

That’s an easy one. It depends on what you need. Every agency thinks it’s the best. Law enforcement is remarkably similar to a family—complete with sibling rivalry, petty jealousies, and intense loyalty. Some departments welcome assistance; others not so much. The truth? The world is shrinking. People are far more mobile, crimes cross borders, and the Internet links continents. Law enforcement cannot be conducted in a vacuum. Departments rely on each other.

Federal task forces give smaller agencies the opportunity to tackle major issues in their communities. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency launched a task force to address Internet child exploitation. They also assist with cyber crimes, human trafficking and smuggling investigations. The Marshals Service routinely spearheads fugitive task forces. The Drug Enforcement Agency partners with local law enforcement on narcotic task forces.

 

 

Two groups of people pulling line, playing tug of war. Teamwork

 

 

Truth is stranger than fiction

Jurisdiction can be tricky. Regardless of genre, the takeaway for authors is that with a little bit of background information, the truth can be manipulated to fit your story needs. The author at the beginning of the article could have legitimately had an FBI agent respond to a burglary investigation with a few easy tweaks. If the responding local officer noticed something in the home indicative of a federal issue—such as a tie to a bank robbery suspect, a terrorist threat, or if the investigation grew to include a kidnapping that crossed state lines—then the FBI would become involved. There’s even a way to legitimize a responding FBI agent. Set the crime on a Native American Indian Reservation. Some tribal nations have their own agency, but for those that don’t, the FBI holds jurisdiction.

In the end, the criminal justice system is a tangled network of agencies with overlapping jurisdictions and operational goals. But the people who make up those agencies are remarkably similar. Every officer swears to uphold the public trust, and they share a common goal. They tend to be strong-willed, opinionated and honorable. By virtue of law, they have enormous authority, and what they do with it can make great fiction.

This article has been updated. The original version appeared in The Florida Writer April 2015.

 

 

 

Micki Browning 600px photo

 

 

An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki Browning worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. She is the author of the award-winning Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. Her debut novel, Adrift, was an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel. It won both the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award prior to its publication. Her latest thriller, Beached, was released in January 2018. It won the Royal Palm Literary Award for both Best Mystery and the Book Book of the Year.

Micki also writes short stories and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.”

 

www.mickibrowning.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elements of a Bestselling Thriller: Top Tips for Authors

 

Bestseller neon sign on brick wall background.

 

 

 

The Elements of a Bestselling Thriller: Top Tips for Authors

by Adam Durnham

 

When it comes to conjuring ideas for a thriller or mystery, authors should create perspectives that are relevant to current readers with a special attention to market trends. What are the possible elements of a bestselling thriller? Read to know more.

After reading a gripping mystery or thriller, do you find yourself thinking about how interesting it was? If you’re an author, there are elements to bestselling thrillers that can help your readers stay on the edges of their seats.

In order to do this, authors may want to strike a balance between the foundational elements of their work and current trends in thrillers and mysteries. Here are some top tips for authors who are planning to create pieces in these special genres.

 

Pick the type of thriller or mystery genre that you want to create

Thriller or mystery novels are broad categories on their own. It is important to know who your target readers are. Knowing your target audiences will help you determine the literary subgenre that you will use. Some thriller subgenres include:

 

  • Psychological thrillers: These thrillers include themes relating to psychological or mental health conditions. The protagonist or the perpetrators in such stories might have mental health issues.
  • Mystery thrillers: These thrillers feature mysteries that revolve around a crime, accident, or another incident. The protagonists in these works find and analyze clues throughout the stories.
  • Science fiction thrillers: These popular thrillers incorporate science fiction topics. Authors may be particularly creative with this subgenre, which may include futuristic themes such as aliens, monsters, human cloning, and entirely new worlds.

 

Developing clear ideas about your subgenres gives you a laser-sharp focus on the elements that you want to place in your story. The focus helps readers feel that your characters, settings, plot twists, and other crucial parts of your work are thematic and fit together cohesively.

 

Choose relevant themes

Theme is quite different from your subgenre. It unifies your story and gives something for your readers to think about as they progress through your story. This is helpful if you want to create a thriller or mystery novel, since you want to provide puzzle pieces that the readers can think about as they approach the end.

 

Consider using thriller or mystery story themes that people find relatable. They can involve problems such as mental health, addiction rehab, crime, or social injustices. These themes can bring value to your readers, especially if your readers advocate for such topics. Your book has a better chance at reaching the best-seller lists if many of your readers have firsthand experience with or knowledge of your themes.

 

Successful writers pay attention to what is happening in the larger culture. When topics about mental health, addictions, crime, or social problems appear in the news, books and movies associated with these relevant themes also appear.

 

Plot your story before beginning to write

Before starting your first chapter, consider creating an outline of your thriller or mystery to develop your plot. Outlines are important for many types of work, but they are especially crucial for thrillers and mysteries because those genres include large amounts of action. Creating a well-plotted story can help you avoid unnecessary fluff and irrelevant elements in your writing.

 

Your plot should include a buildup of conflict, and your characters’ goals and motivations should be consistent with your themes. Thrillers or mysteries can start at the middle of the action to create a thrilling atmosphere that you can heighten for effect.

 

Experiment with multiple points of view

One sign of a great author is his or her flexibility in presenting the points of view of various characters. Some bestselling thrillers and novels shift between the viewpoints of the protagonists and the villains in the stories instead of presenting the story entirely in the third person perspective.

 

Shifting between multiple points of view depends on your theme and other elements of your story. But multiple viewpoints can greatly benefit mystery and psychological thrillers. They can showcase the depth of the story and portray the intrinsic motivations, thoughts, and actions of the characters.

 

Create interesting plot twists

To develop an interesting plot twist, you need to get inside the minds of readers. One element of bestselling thrillers or mystery novels is that many plot twists can appear quite predictable at the beginnings of stories yet profound and surprising at the ends of the same pieces.

You can create these puzzle pieces to appear one way at the beginning and middle of your stories while creating a sense of jeopardy and conflict. Such story construction encourages readers to exercise their common sense and typical thought processes as they proceed through the plot.

When they encounter your story’s plot twist, readers may be surprised and pleased when your writing reveals your actual story. This shift is what makes the story gripping and exciting for readers. Well-written plot twists are one of your greatest tools as an author of mysteries or thrillers.

 

Ready, set, write!

If you keep in mind these elements of writing a bestselling novel, you can stay on top of your game. Great authors create solid foundations for their stories, incorporate creativity, and understand trends that matter to readers.

 

 

Golden Best Seller Award Over Black Paper Background

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

crazy

 

 

“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

 

 

Amazon | Goodreads

 

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

 

 

 

 

Q&A with the Prolific Author Debra Webb

Golden Question And Answer

 

 

 

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DEBRA WEBB is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including reader favorites the Shades of Death, the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency and the Shades of Death series. She is the recipient of the prestigious Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for Romantic Suspense as well as numerous Reviewers Choice Awards. In 2012 Debra was honored as the first recipient of the esteemed L. A. Banks Warrior Woman Award for her courage, strength, and grace in the face of adversity. Recently Debra was awarded the distinguished Centennial Award for having achieved publication of her 100th novel. With this award Debra joined the ranks of a handful of authors like Nora Roberts and Carole Mortimer.

With more than four million books in print in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood when, at the age of nine, her mother bought her an old typewriter in a tag sale. Born in Alabama, Debra grew up on a farm. She spent every available hour exploring the world around her and creating her stories. She wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn’t until she spent three years working for the Commanding General of the US Army in Berlin behind the Iron Curtain and a five-year stint in NASA’s Shuttle Program that she realized her true calling. A collision course between suspense and romance was set. Since then she has expanded her work into some of the darkest places the human psyche dares to go. Visit Debra at www.debrawebb.com.

 

Red Carpet Festival Glamour Scene

 

 

Welcome Deb!

 

*Is it true you’ve written over 150+ books??

It is!

 

*What’s the method to the madness? What’s your superpower?

LOL. I don’t have a superpower. It’s just the way the stories come to me. In BIG chunks rather than small pieces. I had to slow down a few years ago because I was in a terrible accident. I might have reached that 200 mark by now if not for that lol!

 

*After writing so many great books what’s your secret to telling a good story? 

Love the characters. If you’ve in love with the characters the story has to be good!

 

 

Practice Makes Perfect written on desert road

 

 

 

*What’s been your experience writing the Shades of Death series? Will there be more?

Maybe. I never say never. For now, I’m moving on to The Undertaker’s Daughter series and a couple of standalone projects! THERE ONCE WAS A CHILD is what I call one of my fun projects. I just wanted to write it for me.

 

 

There was once a child

 

Amazon | Goodreads

 

A predator recently released from prison is missing…there’s blood on the floor—but there are two blood types. Is he a victim of revenge or has another of Nashville’s children gone missing?

Joseph Fanning stole and abused seventeen children. Recently released after serving his time, now he’s gone missing. Detective Olivia Newhouse and her partner, Walt Duncan, have a duty to do all within their power to find him—just as they would for any other citizen. The first step is to make a list of possible suspects and the logical names to start with are Fanning’s victims. Those seventeen children are now adults and more than one would like to see Joseph Fanning dead.

As Olivia and Walt dig deeper into the case their own lives begin to unravel. The fragile threads of discovery start to twist and tangle until nothing is as it seems.

When the one victim who knows the whole truth is revealed, no one will be the same.

 

 

 

 

CLAP-THRILLER

 

*Is There Once was a Child your first psychological thriller?

Some of my others have been psychological suspense but this is the first one like this.

 

*What are some interesting facts you learned while researching for this book?

How deeply moved I can be by a character, for one thing. The power of denial. We humans have incredible self-defense mechanisms.

 

 

 

Debra webb author image

 

DEBRA WEBB is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 140 novels, including reader favorites the Shades of Death, the Faces of Evil and the Colby Agency series. She is the recipient of the prestigious Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for Romantic Suspense as well as numerous Reviewers Choice Awards. In 2012 Debra was honored as the first recipient of the esteemed L. A. Banks Warrior Woman Award for her courage, strength, and grace in the face of adversity. Recently Debra was awarded the distinguished Centennial Award for having achieved publication of her 100th novel.

With more than four million books in print in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood when her mother bought her an old typewriter in a tag sale. Born in Alabama, Debra grew up on a farm. She spent every available hour exploring the world around her and creating her stories. She wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn’t until she spent three years working for the Commanding General of the US Army in Berlin behind the Iron Curtain and a five-year stint in NASA’s Shuttle Program that she realized her true calling. A collision course between suspense and romance was set. Since then she has expanded her work into some of the darkest places the human psyche dares to go. Visit Debra at www.debrawebb.com or write to her at PO Box 10047, Huntsville, AL, 35801.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | 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?

 

 

 

 

 

Villan cartoon image

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Allison Brennan image

 

 

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

 

Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

 

Shattered book image

 

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

Metallic Wrecking Ball Shattering Wall

 

 

 

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.