Tuesday, April 21, 2015

5 Tips to Improving Pacing

Have you ever read those books where you can’t seem to put it down and you find yourself staying up all night trying to finish it or getting up early the next morning so you could read all day?  I have found myself doing that so many times and with so many of my favorite writers. It is why they are my favorites. We want to get to the end to see what happens, though it is usually sad because it means I have come to the end of a really good story that I didn’t want to end. I think that might be why I read so many different mystery series. It means I get to read about those characters again in the near future.

Do you ever wonder how writers get you to keep going? Do they have some secrets that make you want to keep reading? After hearing from some of my favorite authors I see that they each do many of the same things that keep us coming back and make us want to keep reading. As authors we can take some of those ideas and use them in our own stories.

1.      Make the story about a character

2.      Make something happen quickly

3.      Keep the stakes rising

4.      Let the action rise and fall

5.      Write a bang up ending

Let’s look at each of those and see how that works.

1.      Make the story about a character. We might have lots of great plot ideas, or plot devices, but let’s face it. The story always comes back to the character. No matter how good the plot might be, and how action packed, if we as readers don’t care about the characters, we’re not going to want to keep reading.  We will be ready to close that book any time we want. We can get back to it sometime later.  On the other hand, if we are really invested in the character we want to know what happens to that person. We are in the story along with the person. Invest the character with human foibles and make the character someone the reader can cheer on.  No one wants to read about the perfect character who wins every time out. That is boring. Let your character suffer some so the character can grow.

2.      Make something happen quickly.  That means getting the Inciting Incident up as close to the beginning of the story as possible. As we begin to read a book we want to have something happen to your character right away.  Recently I heard romance author Cassie Miles say that when she is writing her popular Intrigues she always gets the hero and heroine to meet and then sets up the adventure they are going to go on. She also cautioned against having the heroine driving somewhere and reflecting on the past. Put her at the beginning of a trip or at the end, but don’t spend endless pages of her thinking things through. Make something happen.

3.      Keep the stakes rising. Just like making something happen no one wants to read a book that just stays in the same place. By increasing the tension the reader will begin to not only see the main characters tested, but the reader will also become involved in that struggle. Things are getting worse and worse. Of course you might want to include some small battles the main character can win along the way. But don’t make the character invincible from the first and keep that action rising until it looks like all will be lost if the hero or heroine doesn’t win the final battle.

4.      Let the action rise and fall.  As you increase those stakes, don’t make it all keep building and building without any chance to let the reader catch their collective breath. Create some distractions or slower periods to let the characters reflect or let the reader think about the story too.  All action can be so exhausting the reader might think they have to put the story down because they have become breathless from all the action. It’s better to slow it down for a big before plunging on to the next problem.

5.      Write a bang up ending. This is a good way to keep the readers coming back. Make the main characters win some sort of prize, even if it isn’t the goal they set out to reach. Solve the crime even if the bad guy gets away – this can be done very nicely if you are writing a series. Make certain the reader knows that the threat is gone for now at least and that there is some other issue that has been resolved. Give the reader a good ending that will have them putting the book down, knowing they must pick up your next book.

 These are just a few ideas for making your pacing work. More to come in the future.  


Monday, April 13, 2015

5 Writing Tips from a Master

This past week I had the opportunity to hear the great David Morrell speak twice – first for the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers and then at Genre Fest, which was sponsored by RMMWA, along with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Colorado Authors League.

Both times he really blew me away with both his knowledge of the writing world and what it takes to become a bestselling author. He would know something about being a bestselling author as the father of Rambo. (he even told us the story of how he came up with that iconic came for his character in First Blood).

I’ve heard him speak before at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference and this time was as great as the first time I listened to his ideas and thoughts on writing.

1.      Don’t chase the market – This makes sense because so many people today seem to think that it makes sense to go with what is already out there. But if you think about it, the most successful writers are the ones who find something new. Suddenly it hits and takes off and that first writer might become a bestseller. The imitators are seldom remembered and don’t make it big. Instead of aspiring to be the next J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer or E. L. James, go after your own bestseller with your own original ideas.  By the time you try to catch up with whatever is hot today, the market will have moved on to the next big “thing” and that author will be famous

2.      Write for yourself – Write what you want to write and your own personality and style will come through. Just like following the market, you can’t make yourself into someone else. There are certain things you know, certain style that you bring to your writing that allows your work to be different. Pursue that and you will find you can become a better writer and you will also have an individual book you can be proud of.

3.      Write to your emotions – Morrell discussed his life and how his life journey has always dictated his writing.  As a child and young adult he was struck by the television program Route 66. His comments spoke to me because I not only recall that television program about two young men wandering through the country but I remember our first big family trip that made me want to travel more was along Route 66. To him, the fact they were both orphans spoke to him as an orphan who also wanted to get out and travel around. But those beginnings took him from Canada into studying to be a writer at Penn State. My own writing journey took me traveling to various cities around the western US to work. But as he said, his life and his emotions still play into his writing. And I find that mine do too. If I don’t cry over the happy ending to my romance novels I feel like I’ve let my readers down. I want them to leave the book with some sort of feeling and if I can’t feel it, then I’m not putting my all into my writing.

4.      Listen to your daydreams – He said that writers are notorious day dreamers and that is so true. When he said that, there were so many people nodding their heads in the room. We all knew what he meant. These stories come into our heads and they won’t go away. We have characters coming to us and asking to have their stories written. People who don’t relate to their characters or their stories don’t become writers. He says to listen to those daydreams, think about them and what they mean and then write, write write.

5.      Study the craft of writing – His final point was to study the craft of writing and to continue to study it. As a teacher he is always learning and he is also always teaching. He recommended we look for the books in our field and learn more about what we are writing. His enthusiasm had me wanting to re-read the work of Hemmingway as well as my old favorite mystery writers. 

The other thing I witnessed, though he didn’t say it, but I’ve seen it at other conferences and even in the time he took to talk with me, was his willingness to chat with the other writers and  to just talk the craft with them.  I remember the advice he gave to and other writer about writing short stories and using them to learn to hone the craft.

He also talked about research and how much time he devotes to it and he has done that with his latest books, Murder is a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead. Both are obviously well researched and he discussed how he read so many books from the 1850s as well as studying that time period. But he not only read books, he used what he learned from those books to bring his own stories to life, using that information in his setting and bring it to life for his own readers.

What great information! As I have told others, I could just listen to his ideas and his knowledge over and over. By studying other writers and how they work, we can all become better writers. As David Morrell says, we must always be learning.

Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...