Here’s a great article on how to pull off a killer twist a la the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie!
Here’s a great article on how to pull off a killer twist a la the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie!
Since it’s Halloween, and I’ve been focusing on tension and suspense in my own writing, today has me thinking about fear, and how fear can be leveraged to increase tension, suspense, character development, and even setting in any genre of fiction.
If I were to ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’d probably get plenty of similar responses. For some, it’s serial killers, ax murderers, and bad people in general. For others, it’s disease, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Spiders, clowns, heights, and other phobias all have their places, and while all of these themes can be woven into any genre, what if you don’t want to focus on a specific fear, but instead invoke the feeling in general, because, let’s face it – sometimes people (and characters) – don’t know exactly what it is that they’re afraid of.
A general uneasiness of unknown cause can be crafted into scenes that create just as much tension as a character locked in a haunted house with Hannibal Lecter and a dozen sadistic, serial killing clowns.
The question is, how do you leverage fear without making it blatantly obvious?
Well, consider this – fear takes many forms and has many faces. At it’s most general, fear is anxiety. And anxiety isn’t always the enemy, especially when it’s felt by a character in a piece of fiction.
If I were to ask, “What makes you anxious?” would I get the same answer as when I asked what you were afraid of? Now what if I asked, “What makes you uneasy?”
Three different questions, all with different answers.
This is how to subtly leverage fear in your writing. Pick a different emotion or feeling and develop it. Make it grow into something more. Something, dare we say, sinister.
How do you feel about isolation? Would being in an unsettling situation by yourself be more unnerving than if you were with others? How about if others were there, friends even, but there was no cell service, basically cutting you off from the rest of the population? Now, what if you were in a location that further isolated you, like an island?
It’s a popular trope, but a good example in that it’s a situation that can also be enjoyable. On an island with friends and no cell service, nothing to do but relax, unwind, and party? Sounds like torture, right?
But that’s the fun thing about fictional fear – taking paradise and making it pergatory. Best of luck!
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Most of us have been there. It’s well past bedtime, our eyes are burning, we know we’re going to pay for it in the morning, but we just. Can’t. Stop. Reading.
What makes a book impossible to put down? What is it that draws us in and keeps us on the hook, addicting us to the pages like a drug? That’s the question – and I love seeking the answers.
For all my fellow writers out there, I read this article earlier and had to share it!
With NaNoWrMo almost here, I decided to give some thought to the pregame show. Spoiler Alert – This isn’t about sports. And there’s nothing to actually watch. It also isn’t another plotter vs. pantser post. This is about what you write before you write (I’m going somewhere here, I promise).
I am a pantser, which means I don’t create an outline before I write. More power to the writers who do, it just doesn’t work for me. When I start a new piece, sometimes all I have is the beginning. Or the ending. Sometimes the middle, but more often just an idea I’ve been kicking around that I think I can develop into 60-80,000 words that I hope will keep readers distracted from reality for a while.
I don’t outline because I like to see how things organically progress, like a social experiment where you drop a group of people into a situation and watch to see how they’ll react. But, since I’m more drawn to plot than character, I tend to not know who I’ll be playing with when I start. Which can make the stark white page with the blinking cursor looks kind of daunting at times.
So, while I don’t spend hours plotting out what will happen, I do engage in something called prewriting. That’s when I jot down notes, ideas, and general directions I could go in before I’ve made thousands of words worth of commitment to an idea I’ll later abandon. It lets me see possible names on paper, maybe a quick character sketch or two, locations to consider and some plot points I may want to visit along the way. Basically, it’s a brain dump.
Sometimes, I scratch the whole thing. Other times, I realize one of the characters I’m considering isn’t going to work in the story or with the other characters. It creates a launching point so I can quickly get some words on the blank page. And when I feel adrift in choppy waters, another quick brain dump is usually enough to bring my boat back to smooth sailing.
Pros: It takes all of five minutes, so if you don’t listen to a word of it you haven’t lost much time, and if it doesn’t work, simply try again. It gives you a rough direction if you’re feeling lost. It’s completely fluid – you can add or scratch notes at any time without having to restructure the whole thing.
Cons: It leaves a lot to chance and the writer’s ability to tell themselves a story on the fly as they’re typing. It does not provide the structure of allowing you to see the scene you’ll be writing on a given day. It does not write the story for you.
So, for all of you who don’t want to create a detailed outline of a book you haven’t written yet, but also don’t want to go in blind, I hope this helps! Best of luck to all the writers out there, both those who are and aren’t participating in this year’s NaNo!!!
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I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been rejected as a writer, but over the years it amounts to hundreds. Hundreds of times that my work, and by proxy, myself, was not good enough. Thanks to my Duotrope stats, I know I’ve been rejected by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine ten times, twice with a personalized letter of rejection from the editor. Thanks to QueryTracker, I know my last novel was rejected 14 times, 7 of those times by agents that requested the full manuscript. My current manuscript has already been rejected 8 times, once by one of the agents that requested the full.
Now let’s look at Churchill’s quote. Have I lost my enthusiasm? Honestly? At moments, yes, but for the most part, no. I love writing. Of the 8 rejections I’ve received on my current novel, two were personalized emails saying that while this particular novel wasn’t for them, my writing was strong, I have a good novel, and some agent is going to want it. Is that success? During my good moments, yes. During the others . . . not so much.
Usually, when I write a post, that’s it. I read it over for typos, then schedule it. Not this time. Not this post. This post found me in the dark place writers sometimes go, that nasty little spot somewhere between self-doubt and city razing rage. (I suspect Godzilla must have been an aspiring novelist.) The unhelpful, ranting parts of this post were deleted. Rewritten. Deleted again. Because I know the game. I choose to play the game. But that doesn’t mean I always like it.
Sometimes those near misses feel even harder than the outright rejections. It’s like getting the candy bar out of the wrapper and into your mouth, tasting its chocolately goodness against your tongue before having it cruelly yanked away. No chocolate for you. Just the hint of it, that’s all. It’s a special kind of torture (especially when put in terms of chocolate!).
Believe me when I say that I understand that rejection is part of the process. Even all those manuscripts that find agents and publishers and homes on the shelves of major bookstores still get rejected by readers and reviewers and people who pass them over for reasons as odd as the cover being the wrong color. There’s no escaping rejection, I get that.
Sometimes I stare at my computer screen, wishing I’d self-publish and offer my books for free on Amazon in exchange for constructive criticism from the readers. Wouldn’t that be a more proactive way of developing my craft than stacking another abandoned manuscript on the dusty pile growing in the corner? Sometimes I Google
masochism words trying to find the perfect one to describe the torture situation. And sometimes, I type away lalala all smiles and grins and faith that it’ll work itself out simply because I’m writing, which is (in my opinion) the best of all superpowers and as far as evil villains go, rejection isn’t that bad.
On those dark days, though . . . send chocolate and puppy memes. And tequila. Lots and lots of tequila.
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Writing takes you inside your own mind. Like, deep inside, into the dark nooks and shadowed crannies where the wildest parts of your imagination are free to roam. It’s the place where monsters are created – both figuratively and literally.
As much as I love immersing myself in the land of make believe, in toiling over my craft and creating new works of fiction, I have to ask myself – what happens when you spend too much time in any dark place? Imagine a plant without sunlight. An animal penned in a small cage. A writer chained to their desk.
What do all these things have in common?
They don’t grow.
And a large part of writing, the biggest part, perhaps, is drawing on your experiences to infuse your work with connections that your readers can identify with. An experience or an emotion that they share with your character that makes them sit back, take notice, and invest themselves in the outcome of the story.
I totally understand needing to be in the right frame of mind to write, or having to clear your head space to work out how to successfully pull off that devious plot twist you’ve dreamt up, and I’m SO guilty of zoning out of a dinner conversation while planning the chapter I’ll write the next day, but every writer has to find a way to turn the facet off (and on) at will.
If you have trouble shutting down with your computer, try establishing a pre- and post-writing ritual. Something that you do every time you start and finish writing. Developing healthy writing habits can help prevent against both writers block and long, sleepless nights spent crafting the most perfect sentences that you’ll never remember.
Because it’s cold and lonely on the dark side of the moon.
If you spend any time on Litsy (and if you don’t, you should!) one of the highlights of the past couple of weeks has been the #7covers7days #CoverCrush challenge. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – for seven days you post a book cover you love, no explanation needed. I love seeing everyone’s favorite covers, and I think this could be especially helpful for #indie authors who design their own book covers.
I thought I’d share the covers I chose with you. (Even though 95% of my books are in storage, I still had some great picks on hand!)
Litsy is an awesome community of book lovers, kind of like if Instagram and Goodreads collided. They’ve also recently created a web version for anyone who doesn’t like relying on their phone to post.
So there’re no excuses anymore – if you love books and reading, this is the social media app made just for you! (The link will lead to my profile – if you sign up, add me so I can welcome you to the community and introduce you to other book lovers!)
What I love most about Litsy is that you don’t have to worry about being popular or what to say to people because everyone there has a common interest – they’re passionate about reading!
It seems that each year just keeps getting busier than the next – and this one’s been no different!
We’ve finally gotten settled after our huge move from the north woods of New Hampshire back to our home state of Florida, and boy does it feel good! The sunshine, the sea air, and salt on margaritas instead of driveways (who can argue with that?).
After years of having no window in my kitchen and an office that overlooked the driveway, the first thing I did was plant a butterfly garden. I’ve only broken two dishes so far, and only one resulted in an injury needing medical attention, so it’s definitely been worth it. (The pup’s definition of irony – when the human plants a garden so they can chase butterflies, then yells at him for chasing the butterflies. Pursuing a butterfly with a camera versus fangs is simply a lack of fun on the human’s part.)
I turned a new leaf in my writing and started penning YA mysteries! It was a plot twist I didn’t see coming (but should have). My first is finished and currently in the query process. My second is just around the halfway point of the first draft, and I’ve got more ideas than I could possibly develop, so I think I may have found my new niche! (Which means all the adult manuscripts I’ve written over the years may turn up free on Amazon – if you’re interested, sign up for my newsletter.)
I’m just about back in the groove of things, so regular blogging should recommence soon.
For those of you who don’t know, my main website www.shannonhollinger.com is no longer on WordPress. Stop by and check out the new look or sign-up for my newsletter so you don’t miss any important updates. Better yet, do both!
I don’t think that any writer needs to be told that getting published is a long, lonely journey up a very steep road. There are days where it feels like trekking up Mount Everest itself, gasping for breath, each inch gained a battle, passing the bodies of those who came before you and failed along the way. I’m not going to lie – sometimes it feels pretty grim.
I occasionally wonder if it wouldn’t be saner for me to trade my writing time for less stressful activities – reading, relaxing, becoming a brain surgeon . . .
But no, I keep on plugging along. Year after year spent writing, editing, and then the much dreaded querying. An endless cycle of
insanity hard work that I hope will one day pay off.
So, how exactly is one supposed to stay focused and motivated against the constant struggle?
I don’t know.
Personally, I think the answer may be to occasionally lose your focus and motivation.
As much as I love and prefer working on novels, when I need an ego boost I’ll work on a couple of short stories to submit. They’re much easier to get published, and there’s something about seeing my name in print that lights a fire under me to keep gambling for the jackpot – a book deal with a major publishing house.
Then there’s that old adage, “If you love something set it free . . .”
I’ve had several prolonged, forced breaks over the years, and each time I get to return to my writing schedule, my fingertips voraciously gobble the keyboard. Seriously – I literally wear the letters off the keys. So, I don’t think breaks are a thing to fear. I think they’re good. Healthy, even. Your love of writing will draw you back, and you’ll find yourself refreshed, full of renewed vigor, words spilling onto the page like a surging river bursting through a floodgate.
There’s not a one sized fits all solution to any writerly problem. If there was, everyone would be using it. I think a large part of being a writer is finding what works for you. Again and again and again. Figuring out how to control your muse will keep you in it for the long haul. The important part is that you keep trying and keep writing – even when you aren’t!
I’m thrilled to announce that my story, “Bad Moon Rising,” is available in the July issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine! Mystery Weekly is, in my opinion, the more approachable, hipper, sassier younger cousin of Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines!
If you like short mystery and crime fiction, you should give this magazine a read. If you’re a short fiction writer, this is a market you need to check out! (FYI – it’s a qualifying market for the Mystery Writers of America – so if you’ve got your eye on active membership or that Edgar Award, definitely consider submitting!)