Wednesday, 26 December 2012
I want to thank everyone who has followed me, read and commented on my thoughts and ruminations - and occasional ranty bits - and also to say how much I have enjoyed my second year of blogging. Reading all the other blogs I suscribe to has been an education and I can now state I am officially hooked on blogging! I hope my followers will continue to read my musings in 2013 as I try to develop my blog further...
However, I will say to all and sundry, that I intend to keep my postings relatively short as I know how precious time is to all of us. One of my bug bears in 2012 was trying to keep up with blogs I had said I would follow, only to discover that some wrote such long missives that I could not devote the time reading to the end! I hated this as the blogger concerned had probably worked long and hard on their post... But time is precious when you have a million things to do and a WIP demanding time and attention.
May I make a plea to all bloggers - KISS - 'keep it simple and short'??? I, for one, will then come back frequently...
So grumps done - bring on 2013 and let the blogging world rock and roll!
Happy New Year to all fellow Bloggers!
Saturday, 22 December 2012
The origins of Santa and the stories surrounding Christmas are buried beneath layers of popular cultural belief. I am, of course, for the moment, putting aside the religious meanings of Christmas – it’s not that I am anti Christian or anything, simply that the notion of telling children the story of Santa and his reindeer has got to be one of the greatest and most enduring stories of all time ( next to the bible and religious teachings). It is also the biggest lie that parents happily enthral their children with.
I mean, when you think about it the image of a big fat man in a bright red suit sliding down your chimney (breaking into your house), eating your food and drinking your wine and then going into a child’s bedroom when they are asleep, ought to be pretty scary for most children. But, hey, it’s okay for this intruder because he’s bringing a sack full of presents! Right!
It just struck me that in other circumstances you could possiblly write a reasonable paranormal thriller story around the notion of this superman character who can get his reindeer to pull a sledge around the heavens and visit every child in the world in the space of just one night!
But hey, who am I to spoil the kiddies’ fun? I believed it myself for a fair few years… And enduring and endearing it still is – especially when you watch their little faces light up with the wonder and the thrill of it all because they’ve listened hard on Christmas Eve and heard the sleigh bells…
I first posted this article a year ago but thought it worth reminding everyone of the joy children bring and that Christmas is the time when families come together and celebrate as one and the main focus is often the children. In light of the recent tragic events my heart and prayers go out to those families who have lost their beloved children (and those who lost other family members) and it is to be hoped that this kind of tragedy never happens again.
A very Merry Christmas to one and all and here’s hoping we all have a peaceful 2012!
Monday, 17 December 2012
Am I the only writer who agonises over names for days on end? I guess I find it so difficult because I think names are so important in characterisation. They give the reader clues as to what kind of person they should expect. It may seem arbitrary as we are all given names by our parents - when they have no idea what sort of people we will eventually turn out to be. Then again, many parents agonise over their children’s names too! We give children names and then hope their characters turn out to be what we would want for them. But in the world of fiction we try to choose names that suit the character we are trying to create.
For instance, age and era play a big part in my choices. A woman who was born early 19th century would not be called Rhianna or Stacy. Just doesn’t ring true, does it? But Arabella or Victoria does. The age of characters is also important in deciding names. I can easily imagine an older man called Hector or Jeremiah but not a young boy. I think most readers meeting a character with these names would automatically have in their mind’s eye and older man even before any physical description is given.
Whether your character is the antagonist or protagonist is also important in naming. Although sometimes one might want to increase surprise by giving an evil character an innocuous name… I think it depends on how you are trying to present your story.
Male heroes names tend to be strong masculine names – they are not usually called Fred or Bert - but female heroines may also be strong ‘no nonsense’ names too. I wouldn’t choose a name like Ophelia or Primrose if I wanted my heroine to be seen as strong and capable. But then again, it is all a matter of personal choice… In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like Ophelia!!
When we are introduced to people in real life we may be told their names but it is not the only information we have of them. We can see how they behave, what they look like and hear them speak. We can make judgements about what sort of person they are (although we may turn out to be totally wrong, of course!)
But in writing fiction we have to give a strong first impression by words only to have the reader ‘see’ our character in their mind’s eye. I believe this is why names are so important.
How much importance do you give to naming your characters? Do you agonise or go with the story and change the name later to fit the character?
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
“Now, about those ghosts... I'm sure they're here and I'm not half so alarmed at meeting up with any of them as I am at having to meet the live nuts I have to see every day.”
As a writer of paranormal thrillers, the world of the occult fascinates me. On looking at the dictionary definition of the word occult, I can see that it can mean esoteric knowledge, secretive mystery and supernatural.
To me the world of occult is mainly associated with the supernatural. It can include such things as Extra sensory perception, spirits, special powers, demons and devils, doppelgangers, possession and special powers ( such as telekinesis, telepathy etc). All these things are great fodder for the supernatural thriller writer. However one thing that is uppermost in my mind when I write is that, irrespective of the supernatural elements, the story must still hold together as a well plotted tale with good, believable characters. It must have the elements of a thriller with rising tension, conflict and suspense and a character in jeopardy.
I also do believe that stories centred on the occult world should grip readers and the supernatural element should be unnerving, scary and even a little terrible. Readers of these kinds of stories expect to be transported to an alternate reality where supernatural abound and yet are still pretty scary.
In the readers mind a little voice poses the question, at least for the duration of the story, “could this possibly happen?”
Suspension of disbelief is what keeps horror and supernatural writers going, as well as the enjoyment of heightened sensations if the story scares as much as it should. The fear, I believe comes from the not knowing.
After all, we really don’t know what awaits us in the afterlife and the possibility of spirits, ghosts etc is not that unbelievable to many people. And lots of perfectly rational folk do indeed believe in the Devil and Demons (for that matter many religions do too). I guess it is this notion of belief and the outside possibility of these things actually happening that captures the imagination of so many supernatural thriller readers – including me!
Does the occult world scare you? Or are you more scared of the nuts you meet every day?
Wednesday, 5 December 2012
Natural disasters (and man-made ones) make for brilliant thriller reads, I find. The age-old ‘race against time’ to save innocent lives and – occasionally - the whole human race is the ultimate in ‘edge of the seat’ drama if done well.
Some of the best stories I have come across in the genre of thrillers, involve the use of the word ‘epidemic’. To most people this word is scary as it is the world of science gone wrong and nasty things happening to unsuspecting people. But I suspect the scary part is more about our lack of control over such tiny (usually unseen) microorganisms that can and do kill us indiscriminateWe can easily imagine catching a nasty disease and the thought that something can spread like wildfire and wipe out an entire population – well, we know in our heart of hearts that it could just happen…
To add to the tension and drama there is usually a time element to these stories and so it is not so difficult to build in a page turning tension. A sceptic (often a politician) who does not take the threat seriously is generally built in to provide the opposition to the main character and - voila – a readymade thriller plot!
I don’t mean to sound as if this is so easy but there is definitely a theme to these stories, and we all know it, but it doesn’t seem to stop readers wanting these kinds of stories.
I love these books and I have used the motif in my own novels a little. My latest thriller (unpublished as yet) does have a plot strand where a type of plague is released into a small community.
Have you considered using an epidemic (or the threat of one) to heighten tension and create extra conflict? Have you read a great book/story using an epidemic?
Monday, 26 November 2012
If there’s one thing that annoys me more than anything else when I’m reading, it is the climax that flaps about like a fish out of water and then a ‘so what’ stupid ending. I feel particularly disgruntled when I have spent many hours patiently reading (page by page and sentence by sentence) a book that seemed to promise a breath-taking climax, only to find the writer chickened out and produced a wet firework instead of an explosive high point.
Endings and climaxes are two different things, I do realise, but they should both produce a feeling of satisfaction if the reader is to feel the story was worth reading. In thriller writing the climax is the point at which you should feel excited (read thrilled) and can’t wait to see how it all comes out!
In thrillers, one of the best (and most used) climaxes is when someone’s life is threatened or someone is about to be killed and the hero has to keep on fighting against all the odds until he finally succeeds and overcomes the threats. Building up to this point in a proper believable way needs to be appropriately handled according to the story.
The ending is somewhat down river of this high point but it too should produce a feeling of satisfaction that all has turned out as it should. The ending should also fulfil and answer the original story question posed at the beginning of the book. All loose ends need to be tied up at this point and the reader should know it is the end of the story. Not turning the last page to see if there is any more…
So are your scenes properly built up so the reader stays in the story? Are your endings rewarding the reader?
Saturday, 24 November 2012
An interesting thought occurred to me recently whilst pushing on with getting a first draft of my new novel down. The thought was that whilst I was trying to get my first draft down as quickly as possible new ideas and plot points kept occurring to me. Although I write with a kind of outline – especially for the first half of the book, so I do not get stuck - I also like to leave myself open to new directions as I write. And writing as fast as possible for first draft seems to be best for me.
Some of the ideas that occurred to me were good ones that seemed to have come up epiphany-like from the ‘girls in the basement’, but should I stop and incorporate them? I wanted to do just that but it meant going back and introducing something much earlier in the draft in order for it to make sense. Which, in turn, meant that I wasn’t actually moving the story forward. But the extra material did add more depth (or a subplot) to the story. Great you might say…But doing this kind of toing and froing took time (when I was trying to write fast) and it also risked me becoming confused as to where I actually was in the story. Plus, although I had a fair idea of where the plot would eventually end up, I had no clear idea of the ending so introducing more story lines could potentially jeopardise my entire plot if I wasn’t careful. So, what to do?
I read somewhere that a good idea was to keep a revision sheet alongside you as you write so that you can jot down the idea as it occurs to you. Also to make a note of where the material needed to be introduced (approx.) and then continue to write the draft as if the plot point was already incorporated. Lately I have been trying this method with my present book and it is surprisingly easy. I know I will have much more work to do in second draft but once I have the main story down I don’t feel the pressure to rush through that. In fact I like to take my time and re-consider everything that has gone into the story.
Anyway this is my best tip of the year!
Do you have any good tips to pass on to others to try?
Monday, 19 November 2012
In many writing magazines "My writing day" seems to me to be a popular item. It often features someone fairly well known but not always. I must confess that I, like many others find the articles pretty fascinating. Why, exactly I don’t know but I always read them and measure myself up against them.
It proves absolutely nothing, except that we are all different and organise ourselves and our days in varied ways.
My writing day has changed somewhat over the years. I used to write early morning when I was still working full time at a day job. Even if only for an hour I would try and get a few words down before I drove off to work. I no longer have a day job, retirement has beckoned, but I still write as much as I can. I used to think I would have lots of time to write when I retired but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work out like that. There are also still many calls on my time – much more than I’d like…
Get up at 7.45am - a quick cuppa then out for a walk or jog for an hour. (That’s my exercise done for the day).
Breakfast is at 9am and I may read a little after that or check emails etc. Any brief kitchen chores are also done here.
I try to be at my Pc actually working on the current WIP by 10.30am at the latest. I have an hour break for lunch when I also read a little or do puzzles and usually get back to my PC to get more words down in the afternoon.
When I have my word quota for the day, (usually around 1-2000) I turn to my blog and read, comment or write another article for an hour.
The best laid plans and all that mean that some days are a wash, so I try to make up for it when the writing day is going well.
But then when the evening calls... . Well, that’s my time to chillax!
So how do you organise a good writing day?
Friday, 16 November 2012
“There is nothing to fear if you refuse to be afraid.” Ghandi
One of the most useful plot devices I’ve found is to give a character a phobia. It doesn’t have to be a major phobia – although many premises have used the more common phobias such as agoraphobia, (fear of open spaces) claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) or arachnophobia ( fear of spider.
Everyone knows and understands that a phobia is simply an irrational fear of something but when applied successfully to a character, it can lift that person right off the page and make them seem so real and relatable and gives them a ready-made flaw. Sympathy is easily engaged – as most of us have some irrational fears at some point.
That is not to say we are all irrational – but depending on circumstances, we all have the ability to act irrational under extreme duress. If the phobia is something that a main character is struggling against then that makes it all the more desirable as readers will root for the character and want them to win that battle as well as succeed in the main story goal.
Phobias also give the writer the opportunity to twist and turn with the plot and have largely unexpected outcomes. In my first book, my main character had a phobia of mist, steam, fog etc. Mainly stemming from the fact that she was scared what the mist could be hiding… I had great fun with that one!
Although we talk about irrational fears, they are not really irrational to the sufferer - only to other people who look on. Phobias do not just pop up from anywhere. They are generally rooted in a character’s past. Sometimes so deeply hidden that the person has little insight as to where it came from in the first place. But dig a little and it will come to light. For instance my protagonist (as a very young child) in my first book "Insight" had discovered her mother dead in a steam filled bathroom – hence her abiding fear. But she barely remembered the incident as being in a steam filled room as she had been so traumatised by discovering her dead mother that she had suppressed the memory.
So, phobias – big and small - can definitely add spice to your story and even help to bring your characters to life on the page.
Have you ever thought about using a phobia in your stories?
Monday, 12 November 2012
To foreshadow, according to my dictionary, means showing or suggesting an event beforehand. It is an interesting word to use in thriller writing as it can be used as much or as little as you like. It can be a very slight hint or could be a full scale seeing the future in some form or another.
In terms of gendering suspense, I think it is invaluable. It signifies to the reader that a particular thing is important and it raises tension so that the reader keeps the pages turning. I think foreshadowing is used to some degree or another in all thrillers. It can be as subtle as an atmosphere or as obvious as a piece of information or an object of interest.
As writers we may shorten sentences and paragraphs, speed up speech and ratchet up the action to indicate that things are rising to a climax or something important is about to happen. In films, we are all familiar with the notion of background music telegraphing turning an ordinary event into something sinister. This too is foreshadowing.
Another way is sowing seeds that may bear fruit later in the story. For example mentioning a character has a particular skill which may appear quite innocuous at the time but which later figures heavily in the plot. As they say, if you have a gun appear in the first chapters it better be used by the last chapters!
The main thing about foreshadowing is it needs to be used early in a piece of fiction and then it needs to deliver on the promise later in the story.
It is a skill that takes a degree of practise, I feel, in order for it to not appear obvious. The reader should have an ‘ah ah!’ moment later in the story and it should come as a bit of a surprise - if it’s done correctly. But a surprie that when the reader looks back, he/she can see it was correctly done and they were not hoodwinked.
Another tool to make fiction more enjoyable? I think so
So, do you use foreshadowing in your writing? Do you find it easy?
Friday, 9 November 2012
I suppose we love to see our hero/heroines in terrible trouble so we can admire how they ultimately get out of terrible trouble. It’s what all good fiction is about, whether it be romance, horror, mystery or whatever.
The problem presents itself early on and usually the concerns and worries pile on as the story progresses. But the thing that fascinates all readers is asking the questions of ‘how are they going to get through this or cope with that?’ This is where story gets to us because we put ourselves in their places and worry if we would do the same thing. We root for them to succeed in their endeavours because if they can cope then so would we. If it’s a good story, we identify with the character and we want them to succeed against all the odds. It confirms something to us about human nature and the will to survive, I think. And when at the end they do rise up and overcome their terrible trouble we cheer for them.
As writers it is our job to create that terrible trouble and then throughout the middle of the story make the terrible trouble even more terrible until finally the hero has to step up to the mark in some way, deal with the terrible trouble and be heroic to save the day! Hooray!
So, do you find it easy to pile on the woe for your charcters?
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Talk about insecure - thats me! And it's why I joined Insecure Writers Support Group
But certain things do help me. I have certain rituals but then I guess, most of us do....One of the things I slavishly follow is word counts. I can no more give them up than I can eat just one small square of chocolate! For me it is ritualistic and necessary.
I set a target for my writing week and then for each individual day, depending on what else may be required of me in terms of the rest of my life, and then I go for it! You’d think that would be great, eh? Not a bit of it. You see for me it’s all or nothing… If something gets in the way and I have less time, I will abandon the day. It’s a case of ‘have a chance of getting there or not bother at all’! Can’t be healthy can it? Once I start however it would have to be a pretty serious emergency for me to forgo my target and settle for less.
In my defence, I am generally realistic with what I can achieve – I learnt a long time ago that not being realistic was a sure fire recipe for disaster and next to know words done at all!! My method does get me there though so I have learnt to trust my instincts and respect my need for targets.
I think it may be the ‘tick off’ bit of my psyche that controls this. I love’ to do’ lists and can’t help but experience a sense of achievement when I tick something off. The word count sheet is similar and I feel satisfied when I can tick off that I made my target. Mo matter that the writing might be total garbage!! As someone said, elsewhere, you can’t revise or edit something you’ve not actually put down on paper. Now that’s another story…
Happy writing every one!
What rituals do you insist upon?
Friday, 2 November 2012
One of the first things I tried to conquer when I started writing thrillers was the art of cliff-hangers. I tried my hardest to get my hero/heroine into terrible difficulty and then leave then… well, hanging!
But I often rebelled about doing it as it didn’t always fit the story. Then I realised that you simply had to lead the reader with the promise that something was going to happen and then delay the actual happening. The page turning suspense that this caused was the answer, I thought. So I practised it fervently. Scene cuts also helped – i.e. moving to a different time, place or character and then coming back to the present dilemma later in the story.
The only problem was that sometimes it still felt like a kind of breathless ride where no one gets time to reflect properly or for the reader to drop down the tension. Even the most hair-raising ride can seem tame if someone gets too used to it.
It wasn’t until I understood the art of using scenes that I realised I didn’t have to go over the top. Scenes with character, conflict, conclusion/disaster made a lot of sense to me and once I realised that the character must have a want/ objective at the beginning and that objective should not only be unmet by the end, but the character must be worse off, then I began to see that here was the natural cliff-hanger. The character now has an even greater obstacle to overcome. How will he cope? What will he do? The reader, hopefully, worries for the character and that will keep him turning the pages just as if it is a cliff-hanger.
“We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger—you've got to force them to turn it.”
― Dr. Seuss
“We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger—you've got to force them to turn it.”
― Dr. Seuss
So do you try to put a 'will he won't he' question at the end of every scene? Or do you save cliff hangers for chapter ends or even for every page?
Monday, 29 October 2012
In supernatural thrillers and horror stories one of the parapsychologies will usually figure somewhere along the way. Clairvoyance is one of these. The dictionary says clairvoyance is ‘the ability to perceive things that are usually beyond the range of normal human senses’. But I think many people associate it with the power to ‘see’ into the future. (My current WIP features this a little so I must confess I am rather fond of it!)
Second sight or ESP is one of these ethereal subjects and it can be a particularly helpful plot device; remembering, of course, that we are talking about fiction and a willingness on the part of a reader to suspend disbelief.
The idea of being able to ‘see’ (or sense) something that is not within the bounds of normal is not a new one. It has been used from the early beginnings of the written word and tales from the classics and mythology are steeped in them.
The main areas of second sight seem to be Remote Viewing, where a person can ‘see’ something that is happening a long way away, Precognition, where a person can ‘see’ and foretell something that is about to happen, and Visions where a person simply ‘sees’ something (it may only be a flash image) but has no idea if it’s from the future, past or present.
Telepathy, premonition and telekinesis are also closely related to second sight.
Of course the scientific community does not accept any of this stuff as it requires proof that is just not available. The various researchers into the area are of the view that most of it is fraud, self-delusion and guesswork. But that doesn’t stop the believers and it certainly doesn’t stop the notion of second sight being fertile grounds for the imagination in fiction writing.
One does not have to believe these things to enjoy a good story that uses any these ideas. If you asked the population in general how many believed in the paranormal you would get a much lower number than those who read the fiction books and watch the films. This is what suspension of disbelief is all about; in that, just for the period that you are immersed in a good story, you are willing to step into a universe where all things are possible. This is the nub of all good plots and fiction in general. How else would we enjoy Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings?
The other interesting thing for me is that if you have one character who believes in the paranormal and one that doesn’t then that sets the story up for even more conflict and tension, quite naturally without having to work at it.What do you think? If you make a world ‘real’ enough for the reader, can you suspend disbelief?
Friday, 26 October 2012
“Kill a man and you are an assassin, kill millions of men and you are a conqueror, kill everyone and you are a God.” Jean Rostand.
I love that quote but life is not sacred in the telling of a good thriller story!
How many ways can you kill a person? How long is a piece of string, you ask.
One of the most intriguing ways I came across was using an ice stalactite! Believable or not – it was written into a story. Of course as far as working out what the murder weapon was, the police had a hard time for there was simply a pool of water on the floor by the time the body was discovered.
It’s fair enough food for thought though. Thriller writers have to come up with ever more ingenious ways to commit their make believe murders as we’ve all heard it all before.
In a seminar once, we were asked to look around the room and find ways to kill a person. It was just a bit of fun! But it was unsettling and yes, funny, what the imagination of 15 people came up with. Apart from the obvious ones like pushing guy through an upstairs window (we were on the 6th floor at the time), strangling and bashing someone’s head against the floor, there were some inventive scenarios. One chap suggested grinding up the board rubber and shoving it down someone’s throat. Another wanted to crush a person’s chest by piling all the furniture (which was very heavy) on top of him, whilst someone else suggested using the light fitting to electrocute!
Perhaps those are a bit far-fetched but you get the picture…
So have you any interesting ways a villain could commit a murder?
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
The subject of graveyards or cemeteries is something that fascinates me. As a writer of supernatural thriller novels the sombre oppressive atmosphere of a graveyard, imbued with such reverence and awe as befits the dead, is a great place to start. Its melancholy sense of past misery seems to hang in the air like some unholy miasma as legions of the living have cried rivers of tears in their intense grief and loneliness. What a sad place for the living…
Death is inevitable for all of us and in a graveyard we are reminded of the frailty of human existence like nowhere else. The fascination for me, when I visit graveyards, is to look at the oldest graves and inscriptions and wonder what happened to the person… Sometimes great ideas for stories spring forward from this as I try to imagine what life might have been like for the said dead person.
But apart from that there is the great unknowing… What does happen when we finally confront our very existence? Scary stuff, indeed, for most of us… Unless you have great faith in your own brand of religion/belief… Most of us do not want to be reminded that we are going to pass into the great unknown someday. Perhaps that is really the scary part about graveyards and cemeteries.
But spirits, ghosts and things that go thump in the night are also great things to think about in graveyards…
So let your imagination fly!! If you dare…
Do graveyards/cemetaries scare you or are they just places of great sadness?
Friday, 19 October 2012
Writing thriller fiction – the Promise of a Premise
So what exactly is a premise?
Ta Da! I have a dictionary definition to hand…“Logic proposition from which inference is drawn” Mmmm… Are we much the wiser?
The point of the premise in fiction is that it truly is a kind of road map of where the story should go -and where it definitely should not! When I first started writing I did not understand this concept properly and, I must admit, I do still sometimes struggle with defining it for some of my story ideas. But when I get it right it really is as if a cloud clears and my ideas begin to coalesce properly in my mind.Sticking to my premise makes me keep to the point of the story all the way through instead of veering off at tangents and getting lost. When I wrote my first stories I did not plan - just went with the flow of a good story idea. But before I had gotten very far my story idea started changing as I stumbled upon new and fascinating stuff for my character to get into… I ended up in a hopeless mess with no idea of how to straighten it all out. Then I suddenly remembered the original story idea and realised I had unintentionally abandoned it. (If you are a ‘seat of your pants’ kind of writer a premise of some kind is, I think, essential. But maybe you can stay nicely on course without one.)
Anyway then I read a few books and realised that premise was what I was missing. It is not the plot of a story but the main point and leads directly from the main story question to the resolution at the end. James Frey describes it as “A statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in the story.” For example: In Dickens’ Christmas Carol the premise would be – ‘looking and learning from past mistakes leads to redemption and forgiveness’ because in the end, of course, Scrooge is a changed character. In my latest book ‘The Afterlife of Darkmares’, the premise I used was ‘mother love can overcome everything, even ‘other worldly’ threats. ‘
Adding subplots and other characters does not change this central theme of the story because the thread running through and holding it all together is premise which once promised must be delivered on at the end.
This is how I try and stay on track. But maybe you know a better way to keep to the central story line?
Sunday, 14 October 2012
Turning the supernatural into the super-believable? That, as I see it, is the challenge to all paranormal thriller writers. Making supernatural elements fit into a thriller story so seamlessly that the reader accepts them without question, is not easy.
After all the vast majority of readers who enjoy this kind of fiction are perfectly reasonable sane individuals who do not necessarily believe in ghosts, spirits and things that go ‘whooo’ in the night. But just like sci-fi readers, they want to wonder and ponder the unanswerable questions. Just for the time it takes to engage with the story readers will willingly believe if we give them a good reason to.
That’s not to say that once the book is read the reader will believe any of it but just for that book the reader suspends disbelief. This, of course must happen with all stories but it is so much more difficult when dealing with the paranormal.
Of course, making the world the characters inhabit detailed and colourful and having the characters themselves rich in human traits and emotions (even if they are spirits or whatever) helps. If the people in the story believe in the other-worldly elements and do so right from the beginning as a matter of course, then the reader will too. Events follow in a normal and accepted way and lo! - the supernatural becomes the natural for that story.
For me the furthest I will go into using the supernatural is to introduce elements of ‘what if’ into a story. What if someone’s soul/spirit does not die with them but carries on in someone else’s body? What if a spirit wilfully inhabits someone else’s body and makes them do things they would never normally do? What if someone has the power to read certain people’s minds? What if this power is hereditary and a child is unaware they have it? What if someone believes that if they preserve a person’s body after death they will gain power over life and death and eventually become immortal themselves? (See The Afterlife of Darkmares ). What if a person really does have a double and the double/doppelganger bends the person’s will to make them murder their own child?
I know, I know. All of these have been done before but not by me and my imagination. I had fun with these stories and will continue to use similar scenarios in my writing. But apart from the paranormal additions my plots have conflict, suspense and follow normal storytelling rules and my imagination, with the help of my muse, adds width, depth and a sprinkling of magic – at least I hope it does…
Thursday, 11 October 2012
All the steps in creating a plausible plot in thriller writing, I believe, must come from the premise of an antagonist (villain) wanting one thing and a protagonist (hero) wanting the direct opposite. This creates the basic conflict that will drive the story to its final climactic end. Layered in and around this conflict may be more subplots and story lines that enrich the central story. In other words the story is multi-layered and thick with intrigue and suspense. It is this potent mixture of forces set one against the other that is the engine behind any thriller story.
The stakes in a thriller must also be very high so menace and threat are around every corner. Of course, the greatest threat (and the one many successful stories have thrived on) is world domination or a catastrophic event that threatens the entire world. For example ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Alien’ and various James Bond’s epics. Plotting a novel like this may start fairly worryingly but then the plot should rise to epic proportions and stakes go higher and higher as more danger is piled on and more people realise the gravity of the situation and a race against time.
But it doesn’t always have to be about threats to the entire world - it may simply be threats to a main character’s nearest and dearest! And, in my opinion, the best way to raise the stakes is for the reader to strongly identify with the characters in peril and thereby worry for their safety. So the plot cannot be all about action and suspense - character development and engendering empathy is integral to the plot too. Put together it should make for one heck of a thriller…Worry ought to be a key element in a thriller, do you agree?