Third Novel’s Getting Intense…

I’m at that section again, where events in the story start to pile up, creating tension. 

Creating tension in fiction, particularly in crime fiction or psychological thrillers, takes a great deal of thought.  Too much, and the story loses its sense of reality, taking on a monotonous tone (ie. “one thing after another”); two little, and the story becomes boring.  Additionally, the tension has to compliment the character’s true nature (their motives and sources of conflict). 

Difficult. 

The following section comes from the subsidiary (female) viewpoint in my current novel . The character, aged seventeen, has got herself into a lot of trouble.

Back door open. No Arthur.  Nothing, apart from the sense of someone waiting by the trees, peering in at the cottage, at her. A person again, watching.  A shaft of sunlight fell in the centre of the garden, creating patterns that danced in front of her eyes, and the light obscured the person by the trees  She blinked; the next time she looked, the person had gone.

Shutting the front door quietly, she left the cottage, turned right and hid behind a barn. Now what?  Should she take a taxi or bus?  She needed to reach Jace or Gavin before Arthur contacted the police.

Her phone rang.   

Unfamiliar number.

‘Yes?’

‘Lucy,’ a voice whispered. ‘Is that you?’

The voice.  Familiar, so familiar.  Like Arthur’s, but much younger. Male, husky from years of cigarette smoking. She thought she’d never hear it again.

‘Lucy, it’s me. Don’t turn round,’ the voice whispered.

Difficulties Encoutered In Writing Fiction

Once again, I’ve reached the crucial moment in my current novel – namely, the middle section – where choices made can easily destroy earlier potential for drama and immediacy.  Compare to playing chess.  Many people have a good understanding of the opening moves, but once the players reach the middle section, they require a greater understanding of mental combat.  I think the same applies to writing; once the writer reaches a certain point in the story, they’ll probably find the second half much harder to plot and bring off.

I’m currently reblogging articles from five years ago when I first started this blog and was struggling with my first novel, now published.  The following addresses a number of structural issues and introduces the standard story arc: 

 

Creative Writing Headaches

 January 13, 2009 by lawrenceez | Edit

You come up with an idea. You sit down to write. An hour or two later, you crunch up the paper or switch off the computer in disgust. Or you’re already halfway through a story and don’t know where to go next. When I first sat at the computer to begin a psychological thriller, I had no idea of the difficulties in store.

Choosing an Opening

I began with a repetitive dream, perhaps one of the most difficult starters because of the tendency to overdo things by pumping up the fear factor. Not only was the dream untypical of repetitive dreams, it didn’t actually tell the reader much. When I took the work to a novelist group, a member suggested opening with the first inciting incident where a young married couple return from a New Year’s party and the wife, an artist, thinks someone has tampered with her painting. The wife is correct, of course, but her husband thinks she’s overreacting. The rationale and back story took a long time to sort out and I ended up with an entirely different story. I experimented with a number of openings, finally settling for a short dream in present tense – an option I wouldn’t normally recommend. I settled for this option because I believe it’s the best way of beginning this particular story.

Openings are a real headache. In my opinion, people shouldn’t worry too much about the opening sentences at first. It’s better to continue writing until you have a basic draft to work with. Then, you can go back over the draft and select a few possible starters.

Dialogue

My least favourite part of the process. In writing dialogue, the writer has to give the impression of real speech without recording it word for word. Each speaker also needs to be distinct. I try to hear the characters’ voices and accents when I read back over the manuscript. At some point, I made the decision not to print off large sections of dialogue until I’d had the chance to read the sections again a day or two later. It’s amazing how muddled dialogue can get on a first attempt. Not to mention, all the shrugging, smiling, grinning and laughing people can do in one chapter. Generally, writers should stick to “he said/she said” and avoid the use of other attributive verbs because these distract the reader from the purpose of the speech. Also to be avoided are unnecessary adjectives – for instance, he said quietly, she said angrily. The speech itself should reveal how the character speaks.

Dialogue has to travel from an opening point to a finish through a process of development – again, difficult to pull off. Making a few notes away from the computer helps keep dialogue focused. In particular, you should ask yourself what you are hoping to convey in the section you’re working on.

Loss of focus after a few chapters

When I first started, the story soon became chaotic and unbelievable. Add to this, the overwriting and clumsy punctuation. Nowadays, I jot down the relevant story questions after every fifty pages of work and I constantly refer back to the notes.

Many stories pass through eight stages:
The starting point (“stasis”).
An inciting event (“trigger”).
The central character’s search for an answer, an object or a person (“quest”).
A succession of obstacles preventing the character from achieving their aim (“surprise”).
Decisions the character makes (“critical choice”).
The consequences of the choices (“climax”).
Consequences of climax (“reversal”).
Aftermath/New Stasis (“resolution”).

In thrillers and crime, the central characters should be driven by conflict, both external and internal.

In my earlier drafts, the main character went to the police when she suspected someone was coming into her home – a course of action most people would take in real life. As I reworked the back story, I realised the character couldn’t go to the police because of a secret in her past. Instead, she is forced to turn to an elderly family friend, someone she doesn’t fully trust. Here, we have three sources of conflict – the disturbances in her home, her past secret and her distrust of the elderly friend.

To discover sources of internal conflict, write biographical notes for each of your main characters in first person, paying close attention to areas of their lives that draw a blank or produce a particularly strong emotion. Mark these areas and go through each one separately, making further notes. You now have your sources of conflict to work with.

Writer’s Block – Again….

Struggling with writer’s block again, so have nothing to blog about at present, other than to reblog an article I posted five years ago when facing difficulties with my first novel, now published…

Writer’s Block

January 18, 2009 by lawrenceez | Edit

Most writers reach that dreadful moment when they have nothing left to say. The computer screen or sheet of paper remains blank. Endless cups of coffee make no difference. Hopefully, the moment doesn’t last for long – a day, maybe two at the most – but occasionally, writer’s block doesn’t shift.

Writer’s block has several causes:

Physical. For instance, the writer’s tired, under stress or drained from the emotional nature of the story
Lack of confidence in the project
Structural problems in the writing

The first is the easiest to solve. Tired? Stressed? Worn out from the writing? Take a break for a day or two. Do something different. On those few occasions when I can’t face writing, I watch television (which I hardly ever do), play computer games or go out.

The second cause is slightly trickier to deal with. A lack of confidence prevents people from doing things, including getting writing done. You could spend the time researching your project or getting feedback from other writers. You could hand your work to a friend whose judgement you trust or study similar pieces of writing to gain a feel for what’s out there. If you’re writing fiction, distance yourself from the main character. Let the character develop in her own distinct ways.

Structural problems in the writing tend to occur when one or more of the basic arguments are faulty. The argument might lack credibility, for example. Or arguments might clash with each other, especially if you’ve introduced new material in a rewrite. I find scene of crime sections and mystery plots the hardest to pull off, often because I fail to take into account the motives of each person involved. Usually, I have to go back over the relevant points, simplifying some and developing others. In my latest draft of a psychological thriller, for instance, I got writer’s draft at the epilogue. Not a good place to get stuck.

When tackling structural problems, go through the manuscript with a pen. I prefer to work with groups of fifty pages, jotting down essential story questions as I read. If a section still doesn’t work after extensive revision, consider ditching it for, but keep a copy in case you wish to reintroduce it again.

Finally, resist the urge to go back to the beginning and rework the story word for word. Adding to what’s already there sometimes lessens the impact of the good.