Creative writing tutors often emphasise how the central character in a novel must make critical choices and take decisive actions. This, of course, is excellent advice. No one wants to read about a passive character.
However, psychological drama allows for an alternative where the character doesn’t actively set out on a quest but at the same time doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming passive – drama that explores the character’s emotional journey, particularly their descent into chaos and despair.
I’m writing a psychological thriller based on a past crime. Generally, the central character in a crime/thriller novel needs to take steps to solve the crisis in question. Obstacles will rear up along the way, preventing the character from achieving whatever they’ve set out to achieve, but the character should stay active. The descent option mentioned in the second paragraph sometimes works in psychological thrillers, but is particularly difficult to pull off effectively.
I think the key lies in the character’s decisions, and not things happening to them. A case of poor decisions coming back to haunt the character, leaving them with few options, each of those options evading the character so that the character becomes almost powerless (though not passive).
With the mechanics of the plot firmly established in the story, the writer can then go on to explore the central character’s psychology (conflicts, secrets, desires, fears), increasing the pressure on the character until something major happens.
I’m a chronic worrier. One of the things I worry about most is losing all my writing, especially after the work I’ve put in. Water dripping through the ceiling, a fire, a burglary…and the novels would be lost. Worse, my printer isn’t working properly at the moment.
Yet, with the Internet revolution of the last ten years and Web 2.0 sites, no one need ever worry about losing their work. At the end of each writing session, I send the latest novel draft to several, if not all, of my six email accounts. This keeps them safe. Many email accounts can also store digital music files and photographs.
Every week or so, I upload the novel in progress to Mediafire.com, a free online place for storing documents, photos and music.
I also take advantage of Google Docs and Zoho Docs, both free. Google Docs limits the size of each file, but it’s possible to upload an entire novel by dividing it into smaller sections.
Finally, I create a new page of my WordPress blog, copy/paste the novel to the page and save the page as a draft that only I can see.
Admittedly, I still worry about losing my work at times, but the measures mentioned above should help.
You have five themes in your novel…how best to present them? Gradually, with a written record of when each story idea occurs.
I’m discovering that holding back on story questions and allowing them to unfold over the course of the story adds intrigue and guarantees fresh story material at those troublesome moments when writer’s block may occur. In the past, I tended to present the various story questions early in the novel, the result being that I usually ran out of ideas to explore once I’d reached the second half of the story.
I also think that adopting a zero tolerance approach to scenes/characters that don’t work will save a lot of time and prevent frustration. In the current rewrite of my novel, I’m working in a separate computer file to allow the story to tell itself.
Once more, I’m approaching that critical halfway point in the revision of my first novel, a psychological thriller set in the countryside. Many of the problematic sections have gone. In their place, I’ve brought in different viewpoints and new story questions. Cutting troublesome sections often enables writers to produce fresh material.
I have found the novel writing software Storybook extremely helpful in the planning and management of chapters and scenes. The programme encourages people to think laterally, which is crucial for getting the structure right. Storybook is open source, meaning people can download it for free.
What’s the best way of telling a story? Allowing it to tell itself. Relying on instinct rather than on rules. Enjoying it, having fun.
I come across rules fairly often…each viewpoint must start in a fresh chapter…back story must begin in a new chapter or section. Rules are helpful to a point, but the story itself is far more important.
Tonight, I broke one of the rules I’d imposed on myself regarding viewpoint. I’m working on a psychological thriller, revising it. Usually, I allow only one viewpoint per chapter. But when I reached chapter twelve this evening, I brought in a new viewpoint. Then, in the same chapter, I introduced another one before reverting back to the main character viewpoint in chapter thirteen.
In doing so, I feel I’ve brought much of the background simmering tension out into the open and allowed readers to get a better picture of the events that occurred in the past. It’s also helped me to move the story along after spending about nine days on a mere three chapters.
Today marks the end of my first year of blogging with WordPress. It’s been an interesting year, full of rewarding challenges and frustrations along the way. The rewarding experiences include seeing my own articles, photographs and some of the piano works I’ve studied available on the Internet for others to enjoy. The frustration revolves around technical issues, such as posting photos and struggling with things like editing images. Looking back on the year, though, I can’t really imagine life without the blog.
This morning, I missed the televised Johann Strauss concert from Vienna. Instead, I combined two of my interests – amateur photography and cardiovascular exercise. I took a walk through a great part of North London, UK: Highgate Wood. The air was chilly, with shafts of sunlight coming through the trees. I took photographs as I walked across the trails and up the mounds, reaching a pulse rate of around 150 beats per minutes. A pretty good figure for training the heart and losing weight.
Here’s a photo I took from a bridge on the Parkland Walk overlooking the city of London. You can find more here