The Psychological Thriller

Clammy, sticky weather, and I’m ploughing on with the novel, making the changes needed to strengthen the story. A psychological thriller. It’s hard.  A fresh twist in the plot increase the tension, but often at a cost, as each alteration affects the rest of the story and errors creep in, usually unnoticed.

I’ve also observed that ruthlessly cutting superfluous sentences – for instance, 100 words here, 50 words there – will tighten the prose, but might result in the loss of the writer’s unique voice. The story may take on a racy-pace, but lack originality.

For me, psychological thrillers must create an atmosphere (preferably portrayed through a first person narrative) that the reader relates to, even if their own experience differs from that of the main character. The atmosphere determines the plot, I believe, although this runs counter to the general advice that plot should be character-led.  Perhaps there is room for both then – atmosphere and character actions?

Let’s hope so.

In the meantime, I have another fifty-five thousands words to deal with.

Creative Writing, Different Approaches

A writer works on a manuscript, with or without a plan. The writer learns more about the character during the writing project. The plot seems to flow naturally, without any hint of contrivance. Afterwards, the reader could reasonably wonder if originally the writer had originally taken advice such as: “just begin the writing and see where that takes you.”

Consider an alternative approach. Tight plot, careful structure, little time for introspection. Here, the writer may even have mapped out story events before writing a word.

Two distinct approaches. So which one is right – introspection or projection?

Obviously, each writer will favour one over the other. I tend to favour introspection and atmosphere, not to mention immediacy, but often my plotting will require further attention. I suppose each writer must concentrate more on her/his weaker approach without losing the overall original voicing resulting from the stronger approach.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Novel Writing: The Editorial Tweak

Tweaking: sorting out small details in the narrative, making sure all elements of the plot agree.  The process might seem simple, yet I’m finding this stage of the writing the most difficult.

Possibly, the structural or plot issues have always existed in the story but have only come to light as the writing has got better. A bit like using photo editing software to improve a photo, only to find insignificant details suddenly detracting from the main purpose of the photo (as a result of the editing, of course).

Introducing complexity in order to solve a fundamental problem in the writing might solve the initial issue but will often bring about new problems in the narrative.

What’s complexity?  I would define it as creating a new plot to improve or justify an old plot. The two plots co-exist in the same story. The new plot almost competes with the old, making the structure off-balance (my opinion, anyway).

So it’s back to the computer screen and more tweaking practice.


Writing: Endless Work On The Plot

It’s that time again.  I’ve received an editorial report on one of my novels and I have more work to do, this time on certain aspects of the plot.

Tweaking plot elements to make them more convincing sometimes brings about the opposite and the changes make the story worse.  I’m working with various brainstorming techniques, trying to get to the heart of the matter.  Asking questions like, what do I really want here? Letting my imagination do the work. Tweaking doesn’t mean getting rid of.  Just adapting ideas slightly.

On and on it goes.

The Plot Thickens, Psychological Immediacy

Still busy ploughing through my novel, cutting redundant scenes that have no purpose at all in the story and upping the psychological immediacy throughout.

Psychological immediacy requires careful control. As creative writing instructors like to say, less is best. A few simple sentences that evoke powerful images in the reader’s mind without the writer having to do much work. Trying too hard destroys psychological immediacy. Sentences that create psychological immediacy should come naturally.

I’ve also cut a viewpoint character. The character in question appears in a couple of scenes, but those scenes don’t add to the story, just slow the pace. Plus, other, more dramatic scenes, bring out the same aspects of the story.

I’m 47, 000 words in the novel, about halfway through. The novel falls into the crme genre, with an emphasis on psychological thriller. The second half has a lot of challenges and I still haven’t decided exactly how to proceed with the progression of events, so I’m reading through the first half and making notes.

Difficult, but rewarding.


The Endless Edit

In my last post, I listed some of the pros and cons of ruthless editing a novel.  Cutting and refining strengthens the structure and plot of the work, but the constant process of changing things sometimes affects the overall quality of the writing, resulting in a loss of immediacy. 

My latest novel contains two viewpoint and I have found the female viewpoint the most difficult to bring to life.  This problem didn’t occur in my debut novel, Secrets, when I narrated some of the story through the eyes of Kaz Bradshaw (third person).  In fact, I found her viewpoint easy to bring off.  However, I’m really struggling with the female viewpoint in my latest novel.  It seems lazy in place, neither here nor there and too reported at times.  I’ve typed copious notes on the chapters in question and expect I will need several more months of work before I feel ready to send out the novel.

Ruthless Editing: The Pros and Cons

I’ve reached that stage again, the stage of ready to polish my manuscript and send it out. My latest novel Silent, a psychological thriller, falls in the YA category of fiction, intended for teenagers and Young Adults, and I particularly enjoy writing for this audience.  As I ploughed through the various drafts, I became aware – as I had done with previous writing projects – that a major edit only goes part of the way to achieving a polished piece of work. Admittedly, much of the editing process strengthens the plot and structure of the novel. However, a noticeable downside appears to persist – namely, that in pruning or refining the writing, the author loses something of the spirit of the work.  I believe this inevitably happens.

So how does a writer fix the problem?  In my opinion, by viewing the ruthless edit as only part of the process and going through the revised manuscript after a period of several weeks to gain a fresh perspective. Often, the edit will have solved many of the problems, but not entirely. The danger, I think, lies in sending out the newly edited work without giving it a second glance.

Another possibility – my opinion, only – consists of keeping records of all previous manuscripts and occasionally reaching compromises.  For example: section A in draft One is full of potential but a bit overwritten, section A in the next draft brings out the tension and gets rid of the superfluous, but now some of the potential for immediacy has gone. In other words, flat writing. The answer, perhaps, could be using a fraction of the overwritten section to boost up the style of the more tightened revised section.

Meanwhile, I hope to finish the polish by next weekend, so I guess I will find out soon enough if I’m on the right tracks.

Polishing The Manuscript

After months of and several breaks from the manuscript of my third novel, I need to do a final short overall check before sending the manuscript on to an editor for advice.  It’s astonishing how simple, and sometimes more obvious, mistakes can linger, even after many drafts.

My novel falls into the genres of thriller, crime writing.  Plots in thrillers tend to be complicated, along with the structure of the novel.  Each time a draft changes, the complexity multiplies, leaving lots of places where minor mistakes, or sometimes major ones, can fester and combine.  Further, changing the position of chapters often strengthens a plot – for example, chapter eight before chapter five because chapter five introduces a new viewpoint.  However, the writer may overlook the simple errors that occur as a result of this change.

Hence, the need for time out and ruthless edits.

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.

New Month And Freezing Cold

First day of February, and the temperature has dipped.   You can feel the chill against your bones, and apparently things will get worse at the weekend.   

Recently, I read through viewpoint sections of Dark Whispers, the first ever novel I wrote (the one I felt just didn’t come alive for me in the way I’d hope), and I can see certain parallels with some of my earlier photo shoots.   When I was editing the shots in Google’s Picasa, I tended to bring out the colors and emphasise contrast – but I can see now that the photographs would probably have benefited from less color/saturation.  I think the idea extends to the writing too, especially in Dark Whispers, that first problematic novel that never seemed to work, no matter what changes I made.   The tone of the writing, I suspect, contained too much “color”, when it needed less. 

I think the choice of subject matter didn’t necessarily help.  The other novel tended to have an otherworldly feel and contained classic whodunnit clichés: the village, the vulnerable (possibly paranoid) wife, rhymes, etc.  When a writer paints a picture like this, s/he often has nowhere else to take the story because the story has a tight but limited focus preventing further plot and character development.  However, when I worked on my debut novel (Secrets by Lawrence Estrey), I ditched about two-thirds of original material and began almost entirely from scratch, resetting it in a different part of the country (no more villages) and concentrating on varying degrees of crime.  Suddenly, I had plenty of places to take the story and ways of broadening the central characters, plus better ideas of how to make sections truly chilling. 

I’m currently working on a new crime thriller set in Manchester and the central characters have already begun to make an impact on me.