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.

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Creative Writing, Transforming Stale Sections

Often, writers struggle with sections of their work. Parts of the writing may become stale while remaining relevant to the story – problematic, as the writer has to find alternative ways of presenting this material. Other sections of the writing might lack any function in the story, in which case the writer can hit delete.

I had to deal with a stale writing issue recently. I chose to remedy the problem by turning the chunk of crucial information into dialogue. It meant that I needed to pay close attention to the voicing and the interactions between the two characters. Inevitably, slight errors crept into the work – ruthless editing and rewriting will do that – but I caught these on a reread.

When revising a sample of writing, I try to look out for two things.

Original voicing that exposes more of the character in question.

A way of advancing plot and/or atmosphere, including immediacy (especially for psychological thrillers, my genre).

Sometimes, I need to cut back, a case of less is better. At other times, I need more. On occasion, I will read the amended sections and decide they’ve made the story worse. I think this happens a lot during the writing process. A writer implements an idea or change of plot and it knocks the rest of the story off balance. Writing’s always a gamble; yet, unless the writer takes a risk, she or he will never know what works or doesn’t work.

Just a few of my thoughts.

The Novel: Ploughing On

As I’ve often stated before, the process of writing, producing and marketing a novel seems to go on indefinitely.

Recently, I took professional editorial advice and am now going through the opening chapters, sorting out issues that might not always seem plausible.  I think the problem lies in having several unusual story ideas.  A reader might accept one or two of these ideas before dismissing the story as lacking credibility.

I’ve also found that ruthless editing doesn’t always fix the problem.  In fact, the changes can upset the balance of the story, resulting in an overall copy and paste feel.  Possibly, the solution rests in developing the elements of the story in a way, so that events that may seem unbelievable make perfect sense because the writer has taken care to show how those events have come into being.  In other words, anything’s believable but you have to tell it right (or something along those lines).

I expect to keep busy with the novel over the Christmas period.

Till next time.

Creating Paranoia, A Brief Writing Section

Busy polishing my current novel in progress.

The story falls in the crime/thriller genre and therefore needs genuine excitement and fear. I find these hard to convey at times. For instance, should a writer pull out all the stops and make the section in question as thrilling as possible?  Or does less work better, leaving the reader to visualise the rest in their mind?

Possibly less.

The following is an excerpt from my novel, pretty early on in the story.

 ‘Sure.’ I give Mel a mock salute and leave, taking the lift down to the ground floor. When I step into the entrance hall, the same creepy silence from earlier greets me, interrupted only by the steady tap of drizzle on the glass dome in the ceiling. I’m standing in darkness. All the lights have gone out. I try one of the switches on the wall. Nothing happens. Odd. For a second or two, I think I hear footsteps on one of the balconies.

‘Hello?’ I call up in the darkness.

Silence.

The evening has turned chilly with the scent of damp fields and manure lingering in the air. The surrounding hills appear small in the fading daylight and tiny lights come from distant houses. I cross the grass plain. Stop.

Footsteps behind me.

I swing round. ‘Hello?’

No one there. Just a branch blowing in the wind.

I continue.

Stop again.

Look round.

Resume my walk.

Stop.

Glance back.

No one.

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.

 

Editor Report

I haven’t written much here lately. Busy elsewhere. I’ve been working on the first one hundred pages of my novel and following the Editor’s Report.

One issue that came up in the Report focused on allowing scenes to reach their natural development rather than trying to force the drama. This often happens when the author has plans for a major character, plans which the character wouldn’t usually follow. A bit like the debate in Theology: Free Will versus Predestination – i.e. who’s in the charge here: the writer or the character in question?

I’ve also dealt with some redundant sections. You know the sort, writing that neither helps nor hinders the novel. The story wouldn’t suffer if those sections were to go.

The central part of the novel needs the most work in terms of pacing and plot – so I’m bracing myself.

 

 

Editing: Going In Deeper

Having taken professional advice recently, I’m at the “drawing out” self-editing stage on one of my novels.

So what does this mean?

The novel itself works and has merits, but could do with improvement in certain areas:

  • Every sentence, paragraph in the work has to count.  In other words, would omitting the section have a bad effect on the story?
  • A logical, cohesive way of linking up all back story sections, and these must travel through the 8 point story-arc.
  • Story hooks at the end of chapters to keep readers wanting to go on.
  • Showing/not telling where possible.
  • Incorporating scenery as a character (extremely difficult and still trying to figure this one out).

 

So it’s back to taking notes and working out how to increase the pace in the middle section of the novel.  Happy writing!

 

Writing Fiction: Pruning and Weeding

I spent the last week or so going through the manuscript of my current novel and weeding out unnecessary details that can cause a story to drag. Writers differ, of course, but for me the worst two culprits are ping-pong dialogue and instances of droning monologue. Cut these, and the manuscript begins to flow, the story takes shape and readers can better identify with the events on the page.

Can writers cut too much? I think so. I would advise any writer to keep copies of all past manuscripts, carefully titled to avoid confusion – for instance “draft five, summer eleven.” Ruthless editing will usually strengthen the overall structure of a novel, but sometimes a writer goes too far in cutting superfluous material, losing a degree of immediacy and individuality in the process. On those occasions, the writer might consider going back to a previous draft, lifting a few favourite sections and carefully implementing these in the new draft.

Show, Don’t Tell – When This Might Not Apply

Writing instructors frequently urge their students to show, not tell.  Showing deals with sensory input as experienced through the eyes of the viewpoint character.  Showing leaves a lot of the work to the reader. Guessing a character’s background from the way they speak.  Sensing tension or danger from subtle hints in the story or, alternatively, from the acceleration of events part of the way through a story.

Telling, on other hand, is obvious.  The writer spells out the details.  No room left for the imagination.

But should an author always show rather than tell?   Possibly not.

For instance:

  • Sometimes, a chunk of information is so crucial that the story wouldn’t work without it.  Simply using dialogue to cover this might not work.  Sometimes, better just to outline the facts as briefly as possible.
  • A character pays a return visit to a place that has played a significant role in their life.  Short chunks of background information about some past major event connected with the place might deepen the immediacy in the present. 
  • Lots of dramatics events, one following another.  I think taking time out and bringing the reader up to date with a short summary of what’s happened can help calm the pace.

Just a few of my thoughts.

 

 

Your Main Character In Fiction – Too Good (Or Too Bad) To Be True…

The difficult part.  Creating a realistic character – or in fact, creating two.  Protagonist and antagonist.

Both are crucial to the story, but in some ways, the antagonist needs greater complexity, as that character drives the story forward – perhaps more so than the protagonist.

Stereotypes (e.g all bad, all good, all tough) don’t help.  Readers find it difficult to identify with a persistently flat character. Yet, in life, personality trends tend to fall into a few basic categories, suggesting that humans are pretty stereotypical at heart.

Until you dig deeper…

I think the secret lies in balancing the character’s strengths and virtues with their weaknesses and conflicts.  No one can be truly good all the time.  The truly good person must have conflicts of their own, regrets, resentments, etc.

Conflict provides a key to the main characters.   For instance, a writer should ask their major character questions: “What’s your problem?”, “What drives you?”,  “What’s the worst thing you’ve done that no one knows about?”,  “What are your secrets?”  Some writing coaches suggest doing exercise like these in the First Person, to get deeper insight into the character.

A further tip…make a note of the questions or character qualities that prompt a strong emotion…later, they may provide you with plenty of story questions to drive the narrative forward.  Plus, you may get a couple of satisfying, three-dimensional characters: protagonist and antagonist