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  1. Jordan Dane's Avatar
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    #1

    Typing Ten Tips to Writing a Thriller (Wed Post, Day 3)

    Authors Aren’t Normal!


    (Ten writing tips that could make you one of us.)


    By Jordan Dane


    I’m here to confess that as an author, I’m not a well person. Bad men speak to me in my head—and I like it. I scare myself all the time. It’s my job. Who says crime doesn’t pay? And I openly admit that I torture fabricated people with my computer keyboard. In short, what lands most people behind prison bars can put me on a fictional happy train.


    That’s because suspense authors don’t think like normal people. We have a warped sense of reality and of what’s funny. I play deviant games of “what if” scenarios in my head, like what if the Internet could melt your brain and make it seep out of your ears? Or what if coffee shops dispensed mind-altering lattes or espresso was discovered as the sole source of global warming? In the world of fiction, these things can happen. But once you get the great idea for a suspense novel, what’s next? And how can you pull it all together enough to interest a publisher?

    For aspiring authors everywhere, I’ve put together TEN TIPS that I hope you’ll find useful in crafting your book. Add a little pace and structure to your brilliant plot and you may join the ranks of published authors who are borderline psychotics, like me. Everyone has got to have goals.

    Start with a BANG!

    Start your book with the moment that changes the character’s life forever or throw the reader into the middle of action, using all their senses. Shorter sentences will also add tension when your character is holding a ticking time bomb, but stick with the action and be patient with dropping mystery clues. For suspense, action sequences are not the time to introduce back-story or a lot of description. You’ll have time to explain later. If your character is ducking gunfire, avoid telling the reader about his misspent youth or describing the posh setting that he’s about to bleed over.

    Something Bad is Coming

    Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock pioneered many film techniques in suspense and psychological thriller genres. He believed suspense didn’t have much to do with fear, but was more the anticipation of something bad about to happen. When I read this, it was a HUGE epiphany for me. The idea changed how I thought about scene and chapter endings. I even re-chaptered one of my books—without changing much of the actual wording—to give it that sense of anticipation. It really helped with the pace and without much effort. As an author, you’re tempted to escort the reader to the end of the scene, but I’m here to say, resist the temptation. Don’t be afraid to leave them in the middle of the action. (Remember the movie scene where the woman is about to open the door and everyone in the theatre screams, “DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!” And of course, she always does.) Don’t give the reader a chance to put down your novel at the end of a chapter. Hook them into turning the page. Give them a sense of foreshadowing or plant the seed of a red herring to sustain the pace. And tease them with things to come.

    Enter Late & Leave Early

    Enter Late, Leave Early (ELLE) is a concept that maintains pace and transition in the scene of a book and leaves the reader wanting more. ENTER LATE refers to starting a scene in the middle of the action, such as a cop already at the murder scene staring down at the body, not a scene that shows him or her driving over to the crime. LEAVE EARLY refers to a scene ending that foreshadows something or raises a question or creates more of a mystery, not showing the detectives driving back to the police station. Quick snippets of plot suggest pace and movement. The reader’s mind will fill in the gaps on what happened in between. (Note: This principle does not apply to dialogue. Don’t make the reader guess what your characters are talking about. Start at the beginning of the dialogue for clarity.)

    Torture your Characters

    Yes, you read this right. Torture your characters. It’s legal and fun. Make the reader understand why you chose your character to be the star of your novel. In suspense, they have to rise to the occasion—even if they are an average Joe or Josephine—and go up against insurmountable odds.

    No One Likes a Cheater

    Don’t rely on surprise suspects or miraculous databases to add twists to your plot. That’s cheating. We all laugh when a TV crime show or movie can process DNA analysis in seconds or the crime scene technicians have access to amazing databases that don’t exist. Such inventive technology allows the TV detectives to wrap up the show in minutes, but that’s not how it works in the real world. Don’t get lazy with your research and don’t resort to “cheating” with technology. There are no short cuts to a solid plot with well-motivated characters.

    Pile it on, Baby!

    Conflicts add drama. Put up roadblocks and heap on the complications by capitalizing on the internal and external conflicts within your character. Force a guy afraid of heights to scale a tower to save a child. Or compel a shy, timid woman to pick up an AK-47 and shoot her way out to rescue her family. And give your characters baggage the reader can relate to. Force your character out of their comfort zone with emotional obstacles that enable them to do amazing things and become a real star in your book. (Remember that torture is good in fiction. Say it aloud until you believe it, “Torture is good.” It’s liberating.) Action by itself can be boring if you don’t add the right balance of human struggle into a story.

    Escalate the Stakes & Make it Personal

    In good suspense, the stakes intensify. And as an author, you want your reader to feel a physical excited reaction when they read your book. To do this, it helps to put a face on the victim. In my book, EVIL WITHOUT A FACE, a 17-year old girl is lured from home by an online predator pretending to be another young girl. You’ve heard this story before, but I catapult a troubled Alaskan family into a massive global conspiracy with the clock ticking. A tangle of unlikely heroes attacks this conspiracy from different angles and they converge in a fight for their lives. The conspiracy is far reaching, it’s deadly, and because one young girl is caught up in a web of lies—it’s personal.

    Tick Tock Goes the Clock

    Give your characters a deadline—a race against time—then shorten the timetable. The story is even more compelling when you force your character to make really tough decisions. Make them do the one thing they would NEVER do with an unthinkable consequence looming as the clock is ticking. I’m breathless just thinking about it (or maybe that’s just a hot flash).

    Everyone Loves a Big Finish

    If you build up the hype on your book, give the reader a big finish. Don’t disappoint them with an ending that doesn’t live up to expectation. And tie up the lose ends for reader satisfaction. I’m not only referring to the clues being resolved, but the emotional journey should be tied up too.

    Restore the world? That’s up to YOU

    Redemption at the end of a book can be good and uplifting. I like the idea of restoring the world that an author creates, but it doesn’t always have to be the same world. Crime affects people in a bad way and it radiates out like ripples on still water with many more people affected—from the victim to the family survivors to cops investigating the case. Don’t be afraid to show the aftermath.

    In closing, I’d like to warn you that everyone will feel obliged to offer advice on your book. Heed what fits and don’t be afraid to reject what doesn’t. You’re in control. It’s your book. And we’ve all heard the phrase “Write what you know,” but I think it should be “Write what you fear…what you love…what you hate.” Writing what you know is too limiting. That’s where solid research comes in, but writing about emotion is something we all can do. Conveying emotion in our writing will resonate with readers. And only YOU can tell a story filtered through your life’s experiences.

    I know by now you’re thinking that I really love what I do. For the sake of my mental health, I’m conflicted, I suppose. Weighing the strange consequences of being an author has not been easy. But I’m optimistic that I can strike a balance and retain the sanity I have left—or be forced to find a whole new set of friends.

    Discussion:

    Please feel free to post questions on anything you’ve read in this session. I’ll respond during the week of Oct 11-17th. But for those who don’t have specific questions, please share your thoughts on any of these questions:

    1. What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down—and tell us why?

    2. As a reader, do you expect books to have a happy ending? And does that usually entail the boy gets the girl or vice-versa?


    Copyright Material – Jordan Dane
    Jordan Dane
    www.JordanDane.com
    My Thriller Blog at The Kill Zone
    My YA Blog: Fringe Dweller
    The Echo of Violence (Avon, Sept 2010)
    Reckoning for the Dead (Avon, TBA 2011)
    In The Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, APR 2011)
  2. Betty S's Avatar
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    #2

    Default

    1. What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down—and tell us why?
    Carla Neggers "The Angel" There was a constant feeling of uncontrollable supernatural evil and impending death lurking on every page of the book. The ending was two edged, they got the bad guy... BUT... it left you with the feeling that it wasn't over and the evil was still out there (I'm presuming I'll see more of it in the follow up, The Myst) The book was at times so scary I'd have to close the book and put it down - sort of like some of yours! - Any book that makes my heart pound as I turn on more lights around the house is a winner.
  3. Betty S's Avatar
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    Happy endings depend on the book. I hate "love" stories where one of them dies just as they are about to be together or there is some tragic twist. However, if the book isn't presenting it'self as a romance, I can enjoy books that have a harsher ending. But the ending can't feel contrived. All too often the difference between literary fiction and romance is that the author tagged on a tragic ending so the reader - or reviewer - wouldn't call it a romance. I call foul. Message in a Bottle was like that. I felt cheated. It was a meaningless death with no true purpose in terms of advancing the plot. A better story would be someone who sacrifices their life so the one they love can escape or be saved. That death would have meaning.
    So, final answer: In Romance I want the happy ending. In other forms of fiction, I want either a happy or not happy ending, but either have to be an integral part of the plot and not just a way to wrap up the story.
  4. Jordan Dane's Avatar
    Reading: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson
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    Default Love Carla Neggers!

    Quote Originally Posted by Betty S View Post
    1. What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down—and tell us why?
    Carla Neggers "The Angel" There was a constant feeling of uncontrollable supernatural evil and impending death lurking on every page of the book. The ending was two edged, they got the bad guy... BUT... it left you with the feeling that it wasn't over and the evil was still out there (I'm presuming I'll see more of it in the follow up, The Myst) The book was at times so scary I'd have to close the book and put it down - sort of like some of yours! - Any book that makes my heart pound as I turn on more lights around the house is a winner.
    I read THE ANGEL too. And not too long ago. I got to meet Carla in NYC for Thrillerfest. She'd just read my book EVIL and pulled me aside to tell me how much she loved it. She was very generous to offer a blurb. Her books are atmospheric and have wonderful characters, so I love your endorsement here, Betty. Good one.

    I've been reading a lot of YA lately and I absolutely devoured Cassandra Clare's immortal instruments series - CITY OF BONES, CITY OF ASHES, & CITY OF GLASS. Cassandra really had a wonderful story arc for all her main characters--and she really knew how to juggle all their storylines. Her world building was terrific too.

    I'm now reading THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak and loving it. It's addictive. Another YA. A story told thru the eyes of the grim reaper about a young girl during the time of Nazi Germany. You talk about an author who knows how to break rules...JEEZ! Great stuff.

    Another book I really liked was THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher. It's a YA story about a girl who committed suicide and sent 13 audio tapes to everyone who contributed to her making the decision to kill herself. The whole story is told through one boy who got a tape, a boy who secretly had feelings for her that he never quite got out. And the author mixes the girl's audio voice through the pages, and flashes from her past to his present with his thoughts peppered into her sad story. An amazing structure.
    Jordan Dane
    www.JordanDane.com
    My Thriller Blog at The Kill Zone
    My YA Blog: Fringe Dweller
    The Echo of Violence (Avon, Sept 2010)
    Reckoning for the Dead (Avon, TBA 2011)
    In The Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, APR 2011)
  5. Jordan Dane's Avatar
    Reading: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson
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    #5

    Default HEA or not

    Quote Originally Posted by Betty S View Post
    Happy endings depend on the book. I hate "love" stories where one of them dies just as they are about to be together or there is some tragic twist. However, if the book isn't presenting it'self as a romance, I can enjoy books that have a harsher ending. But the ending can't feel contrived. All too often the difference between literary fiction and romance is that the author tagged on a tragic ending so the reader - or reviewer - wouldn't call it a romance. I call foul. Message in a Bottle was like that. I felt cheated. It was a meaningless death with no true purpose in terms of advancing the plot. A better story would be someone who sacrifices their life so the one they love can escape or be saved. That death would have meaning.
    So, final answer: In Romance I want the happy ending. In other forms of fiction, I want either a happy or not happy ending, but either have to be an integral part of the plot and not just a way to wrap up the story.
    I don't have to have the HEA. I'm used to reading crime fiction and the story might have redemption but I can accept that it's not the same world. The reality of crime is too damaging at times. Above all else, I want the character's motivation to make sense and stay true to the story. And that's how I write my books. If I feel the characters are too damaged to fully accept someone in their life with commitment, then I may not force it. Oops, the romance gods just fried me.
    Jordan Dane
    www.JordanDane.com
    My Thriller Blog at The Kill Zone
    My YA Blog: Fringe Dweller
    The Echo of Violence (Avon, Sept 2010)
    Reckoning for the Dead (Avon, TBA 2011)
    In The Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, APR 2011)
  6. Betty S's Avatar
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    #6

    Default Fried Jordan

    LOL - I can hear you sizzlin' clear up in OKC.

    I agree, it doesn't have to be HEA if the premise is "primarily" crime fiction, suspense, paranormal, scifi, etc. The resolution of the story has more to do with the type of story (genre) than not. But, if it is branded as "romance" I think there is a public expectation of HEA.
  7. SherryG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jordan Dane View Post


    I don't have to have the HEA. I'm used to reading crime fiction and the story might have redemption but I can accept that it's not the same world. The reality of crime is too damaging at times. Above all else, I want the character's motivation to make sense and stay true to the story. And that's how I write my books. If I feel the characters are too damaged to fully accept someone in their life with commitment, then I may not force it. Oops, the romance gods just fried me.
    I am a wimp LOL. The ending doesn't have to be a HEA, but I do want a 'feel-good-factor'. I hate books that leave me feeling let-down, depressed or sad at the end.
    Maybe open-ended or sad ending are reality, but I face reality every day, I read to 'dream/fantasize/ enjoy/ feel-good' when I've finished.
  8. Jordan Dane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SherryG View Post
    I am a wimp LOL. The ending doesn't have to be a HEA, but I do want a 'feel-good-factor'. I hate books that leave me feeling let-down, depressed or sad at the end.
    Maybe open-ended or sad ending are reality, but I face reality every day, I read to 'dream/fantasize/ enjoy/ feel-good' when I've finished.
    And that's what traditional romance does. That's why it's such a hot seller among other genres. There are times I want that same warm fuzzy entertained feeling when I go to the movies. Some days I can handle a tense drama but many times I need to be swept away and I don't want to think too much. I can totally see what you mean.

    Maybe as an author, it will be important to you to give your readers what they can expect from you. So again, it comes down to writing the book that you most want to read.

    Thanks for your comment, Sherry.
    Jordan Dane
    www.JordanDane.com
    My Thriller Blog at The Kill Zone
    My YA Blog: Fringe Dweller
    The Echo of Violence (Avon, Sept 2010)
    Reckoning for the Dead (Avon, TBA 2011)
    In The Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, APR 2011)
  9. Tristy's Avatar
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    Typing

    I love reading, but because I'm editing my novel, all my spare time is taken up with that, and being a mum of an almost 2 year old, I don't have much time to my self. However my daughter loves books, and so I read to here, She loves the Dr Seuss books, especially Fox in Socks. I've been doing a lot of research on writing and have been marveling at how the principles apply to children's books as well! Even what you are discussing here Jordan, the open in the middle of the action (mostly).
    Loving the post, thanks Jordan.
    Tristy (First draft completed YA urban Fantasy).
  10. Jordan Dane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tristy View Post
    I love reading, but because I'm editing my novel, all my spare time is taken up with that, and being a mum of an almost 2 year old, I don't have much time to my self. However my daughter loves books, and so I read to here, She loves the Dr Seuss books, especially Fox in Socks. I've been doing a lot of research on writing and have been marveling at how the principles apply to children's books as well! Even what you are discussing here Jordan, the open in the middle of the action (mostly).
    Loving the post, thanks Jordan.
    Tristy (First draft completed YA urban Fantasy).
    I LOVE what you wrote here, Tristy. You are obviously very analytical and see connections in other forms of art. I do too. When I hear a film director or actor talk about his craft, I can relate to it more these days. And a musician who writes his or her own songs or an artist who creates something from nothing can really speak to me. As authors, we begin to see the act of creation as something we can share.

    Isn't that cool?

    We've all heard - Write what you know. But author Lee Child wrote that he "writes what he fears." That really connected with me, because story telling is about emotion and communicating to other human beings something that is universal. So I'm glad you see similarities in a child's book. I bet that author toiled over every word like we all do. And the illustrator wracked his or her brain to come up with just the right image for the page. Very cool.
    Jordan Dane
    www.JordanDane.com
    My Thriller Blog at The Kill Zone
    My YA Blog: Fringe Dweller
    The Echo of Violence (Avon, Sept 2010)
    Reckoning for the Dead (Avon, TBA 2011)
    In The Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, APR 2011)
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