Portraying Grim Scene Setting In Fiction

Quite a challenge.  Too much scene setting, and the writing gets in the way of the story, causing the reader to skim over details. Too little, and the places mentioned in the story feels hollow. I think the answer lies in simplicity and in relating details directly from the character’s viewpoint so that the reader sees how the character engages with the environment around them.

In the novel I’m working on, the central character Gavin spends a week in an old house on a special summer course for musicians, close to a northern English coastal town. From the start, Gavin picks up on a sinister atmosphere and finds himself drawn into danger. In this part of the novel, I use a present day time frame:

The sky darkens when the bus gets closer to the coast and the temperature drops for May, reminding me of swooping seagulls and sand blowing about in the wind, the grits getting into my eyes.  A large sign reads: Lyme House, 1m.

The driver takes a left, away from the road to the House.

Lyme House, where I first met Lucy. A mile inland, tucked away in a private driveway hidden by trees and hedges. Mostly rich kids attended, but I got there on a scholarship, meals provided. From the start, I couldn’t understand why our hosts had chosen such a dismal town when they’d previously held classes at Lancaster University.

Approaching the High Street. Chain stores and ninety-nine pence  shops. The locals looked stressed.

The town’s deteriorated since I was last here, and it was pretty rundown then, especially around the pier. A property developer drew up plans for a new theatre/cinema/sports complex on the promenade, but the plans fell through after the fire. More shops have closed and everywhere seems dirtier than before. I can already taste and smell the pungent mixture of salt and seaweed, along with something like diesel in the sea.I don’t see many tourists.  Mostly kids in hoods hanging around the benches or summersaulting through the air on skateboards. The bus does a right. I spot an elderly lady on the sand, pulling a terrier along on a long lead, and a trio of young boys, about nine or ten, kicking a can around near the wall that separates the road from the shore. One final twist, and the bus reaches the central roundabout,  pulling up outside the Tourist Information Office. 

_________

Teen Fiction/Young Adult Fiction/Thriller

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Teen Fiction (YA) – A Sample

I’m about halfway through a new novel aimed at teenagers and Young Adults. 

In the story, a group of musicians meet at a Summer School.  The central character (aged 17)  falls for one of the girls on the course (not the one in the writing sample).  Meanwhile, a third girl arrives with a secret regarding a serious crime in her background and her actions during the week of classes bring about danger for all the participants. 

As a trained classical pianist and graduate of Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, I felt qualified to write the novel.

We reached the car park, paid a quarter of the fair each and got out, walking along the promenade to the Grand Theatre, through the August rain and a hint of mist, the waves crashing in the background, the air tasting of sea salt. The sky looked like a gigantic bruise, all purple, black, yellow and storm like. The wind was bitter, the ground slippery. The pier full of graffiti and rubbish. Small groups of hoodies gathered by the railings with cigarettes and cans of cider, staring when we passed.

‘Freak,’ I heard one of them mutter. 

I must have tensed because I felt Dawn’s hand on my arm. ‘Ignore them,’ she whispered to me.

____________

Genre: Crime, Psychological Thriller

My debut novel Secrets by Lawrence Estrey is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

Developing Tension In Crime Writing

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”).

See more

I’ve reached a critical point in the draft of my latest novel Silent, a psychological thriller set on the Yorkshire/Lancashire borders of UK –  the dramatic peak and where to take it in terms of story content. Some creative writing instructors refer to this stage of the story as the Critical Choice, as the character has to make a choice that will determine the outcome of the quest.  Whatever the case, I’ve been finding the remaining third of the story difficult to shape.

Silent  falls somewhere in between the crossover between teen fiction and adult thriller/Young Adult.  Gavin (18), a classical musician on a prestigious summer school piano course, has got involved with a girl on the course, but has quickly realised the girl’s playing mind games with him.  Nevertheless, he continues in the relationship, thinking he can help the girl.  Meanwhile, events in the surrounding village spiral out of control. The village has a tragic history, including an unsolved serious crime.

 

            ‘You owe me a train ticket.’ 

            Silence.  

            I thought I heard footsteps, then the lights in the main hall went out, and a pair of hands gripped me around the waist, travelling up to cover my eyes. A knee lodged in my kidney, forcing me back, and I found myself half-falling, half thrashing out in self-defence. Shit, he was crazy, far more so than I’d ever anticipated. Totally crazy. Dangerous. I tried stamping on his foot, but he seemed to sense the intended move, and anyway, he had me in an awkward position that prevented me from lifting my foot high.  No good. I couldn’t do the equivalent of playing dead either: pretend to relax, twist into the lock and force him to release me that way.  My only option was to try to protect my head and eyes. Crucial. Yet, I couldn’t even move my arms. Powerless. Like waking up in the middle of a night terror when you can’t move any part of your body. While this was all happening, I realised that there was no one else around. The others had gone off somewhere. Supposing he had a knife. I’d only just turned eighteen. I would die, just like he’d threatened several times in the last couple of days.

            The grip tightened, and another thought struck…supposing this wasn’t him, but the other guy.

Meanwhile, my debut novel Secrets by Lawrence Estrey is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

 

Creative Writing: Linking Emotions And Atmosphere To Solid Objects

In my last article, I blogged about the use of the Pathetic Fallacy in fiction, explaining why I like to see it in some circumstances, especially as it can help develop psychological tension in thrillers.  In particular, I like storm weather scenes as long as they are done properly. I also like the practice of linking emotions to solid objects… for example, (to borrow a bit of a cliché), “the sky stretched endlessly above her, making her feel more alone than ever.”  Certainly, a cliché, but the endless sky does help accentuate the character’s sense of loneliness. 

In the latest writing sample from my current working novel in progress, I take the sense of menace as perceived by the central character a stage further and link it to some real event going on around him, adding the storm as the tension mounts.  The novel falls somewhere in between the crossover between teen fiction and adult thriller/Young Adult.  At this point of the story, Gavin (18), a classical musician on a prestigious summer school piano course, has gone down to the river for the day following complications with a student on the course, Philippa.  The previous  day, Philippa had expressed a romantic interest in Gavin before springing a nasty surprise on him, and Gavin can’t cope with the humiliation.  Note that the village itself has a tragic history, including a unsolved serious crime.

I shivered suddenly and turned round, certain that someone nearby was watching me, but as usual, I didn’t see anyone. I just sensed the person close by but out of reach. Observing me, studying my movements.  The sky changed colour, taking on dark overtones, and a blast of wind charged at me. From the corner of my eye, I caught a flicker of movement, the deft movement of a figure hiding behind a clump of trees, but when I glanced sideward, the figure had gone. Perhaps I’d imagined the figure, the movement. Maybe I’d seen a small animal, a stray dog. But then, I heard the soft crunch of footsteps, just like I had last night on the way down to the abandoned factory, and I hurried on through light drizzle to the main lane near the railway station, looking over my shoulders several times. Again, I detected activity: sudden movement, the blue outline of a rain jacket, the unmistakable silver casing of a cheap digital camera, followed by image shooting sounds and a brief flash. Then, nothing. Just rain.

I hurried up the lane, searching for cover as lightning streaked across the sky, followed by downpour.  Who the hell was the person?  A journalist from some sleazy tabloid?   Shards of rain pelted the ground, stinging my face and hands, and the wind worsened, almost blowing me over.  I ran to the teashop near the Hiker’s Pub and took shelter in there from the weather, ordering lunch and drinking tea while bursts of thunder sounded over area and the rain went grey and wild.

The thunder grew in volume, causing everywhere to shudder almost. The wind blew at fences and the sky kept darkening until it was nearly black, but no figure in a blue rain jacket; and then the teashop door opened and in walked the two squaddie-lads from last night. When they saw me, they exchanged nods. One grinned, the other scowled, and I heard words to the effect of, ‘Get him later.’

Meanwhile, my debut novel Secrets by Lawrence Estrey is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

 

Developing Tension In Fiction, Storms and The Pathetic Fallacy

The Pathetic Fallacy…attributing human feelings and characteristics to inanimate objects, pets, or nature (e.g. the weather).

Clearly, the technique has advantages and disadvantages.  In terms of scene setting and plot, the technique can bring about greater tension and intensity through foreshadowing:  hinting at what is in store.  On the other hand, people can often overuse a technique to the point where it becomes a cliché – hence, lazy writing that reveals nothing new.

I admit to liking the Pathetic Fallacy, especially in regards to stormy weather.  In the sample below from my current novel in progress, central character Gavin (18), a classical musician on a prestigious summer school piano course, has gone off for the day following complications with a girl on the course, Philippa.  Philippa has expressed a romantic interest in Gavin before springing a nasty surprise on him, and Gavin can’t cope with the humiliation. The scene is set in the north of the UK and the thriller falls in two genres; teen fiction and mainstream adult thriller. 

By this time next week, I’ll be back in South London, I told myself as I watched the river. It will as though none of this ever happened. By this time next month, I’ll be getting ready to go to uni to study music. Philippa will have gone from my life totally.

The sky changed colour, taking on dark overtones, and a blast of wind charged at me. I hurried on through light drizzle to the main lane near the railway station, searching for cover as lightning streaked across the sky, followed by downpour.  Shards of rain pelted the ground, stinging my face and hands, and the wind worsened, almost blowing me over. I ran to the tea shop near the Hiker’s Pub and took shelter in there, ordering lunch and drinking tea while bursts of thunder sounded over the area and the rain went grey and wild.

Meanwhile, my debut novel Secrets by Lawrence Estrey is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

Received this awesome review on my second novel EggHead, a psychological thriller set in the UK.  Teen Fiction/Young Adult:

5.0 out of 5 stars suspense in a grim northen landscape 17 Feb 2013
By ***
Format:Paperback
Egghead is a youngster stranded in a grey windswept northern seaside town. He got involved in something horrible three years before and has had to hide here. We get mysterious glimpses of the past in flashbacks. The scenes are vividly painted and the characters are gradually revealed. You’re kept on edge as the story races on. You can’t put it down. The atmosphere is dark and menacing, and you are swept forward to what seems an inevitable grim conclusion
 
Lawrence  Estrey (lawrenceez)  is a musician and a writer from the UK.    Recently, he published his second novel EggHead, a psychological thriller set in the north of England.  Here, he answers some common questions about EggHead and his life in general:
 
Why did you choose to write teen fiction?    Several reasons.  First of all, my debut novel Secrets contained several scenes told from the perspective of children and teenagers (in this case, a ten-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl), and I’d enjoyed the experience of writing from these perspectives.  
 
Second,  having read a great deal of adult fiction, mostly crime/thriller, I’d observed a type of stalemate situation in the personal lives of the major characters – i.e. they were often disillusioned in some way (especially crime investigators) or recovering from major problems like PTSD. I felt this tendency often created a tired feel, and in many case I would abandon reading a story about half of the way through.  In teenage fiction, however, the protagonists generally have far more energy and are prepared to take all sorts of crazy risks.  That’s what I like the best…craziness, risk taking – plus, raw emotion.
 
Anything of yourself in EggHead?  Not exactly, though I lived in a coastal resort for a few weeks, and like central character EggHead, I wandered around aimlessly during that time. I also drifted into lots of trouble in my teens, so I can relate to some of EggHead’s experiences.  In the story, EggHead is a heavy smoker, just like I was for years and years, but I managed to quit smoking completely while working on the final draft of the novel.  Haven’t touched a cigarette since.
 
Did you find writing a second novel easier?  In certain ways.  For instance, the novel took just nine months to write while Secrets had taken about six years.  In other ways, though, I found the writing far more difficult.  I had higher standards.  I kept going back through the manuscript and pruning, cutting out sections that I didn’t feel were good enough. 
 
Are you working on anything else?   Yes, another psychological thriller about music students set in the north of England.  Like the other two novels, this latest involves an element of cross over with some of the scenes written from the perspective of a young adult and other sections from when he first goes to study in a university environment, aged eighteen. I’m also a musician, having trained in classical piano, and so can relate to a lot of what happens in this next novel.
 

Meanwhile, my debut novel Secrets is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

 
 

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey – A Review

Received this awesome review on my second novel EggHead, a psychological thriller set in the UK.  Teen Fiction/Young Adult:

5.0 out of 5 stars suspense in a grim northen landscape 17 Feb 2013
By ***
Format:Paperback
Egghead is a youngster stranded in a grey windswept northern seaside town. He got involved in something horrible three years before and has had to hide here. We get mysterious glimpses of the past in flashbacks. The scenes are vividly painted and the characters are gradually revealed. You’re kept on edge as the story races on. You can’t put it down. The atmosphere is dark and menacing, and you are swept forward to what seems an inevitable grim conclusion.
 
 
 
 

Cold and Frost

Temperatures have plunged again here in the UK and the pavements have become slippery again.    Plus, internet connection poor again.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a third novel, a psychological thriller set around a stately hall, involving five music students.   The hall has a dark history and one of the students inadvertently reignites the past, leading to fatal consequences.  Five years later, central character Gavin and the other survivor of the hall Lucy find themselves in trouble.  Much of the story comes from Gavin’s perspective in the first person, but some sections are told from Lucy’s viewpoint using the third person. 

In the following sample, Lucy takes on the role of viewpoint character:

‘What’s this?’ she says to herself.

There, lying on the post mat in the hallway, is an A4 packet, hand delivered. She stops short. Glances around.

A photograph drops to the floor.

A photograph of herself, done in black and white.

There are five photos in the package, all of her. 

In one, the photographer has captured a shot of her in central Manchester on her way to a wine bar to meet a girl she knew from Uni. In another, she’s walking past the local church, reading an email on her phone. The next photograph shows her leaving a supermarket. The fourth has been taken near Manchester Piccadilly. In the final snap, she’s heading towards her local pub, talking hurriedly on her phone. The most frightening photograph of all, since the photographer has included the date the photograph at the bottom of the image and she remembers the occasion clearly, the clothes she wore that day….the day former music student Gavin called her back from London and they arranged to meet.

The stillness closes in, growing audible. That day, someone was following her, but she didn’t realise it. They know all about her and Gavin.  Although the stalking seems a recent thing, it has been going on for much longer in practice and the person has been tracking her movements for more than three months.

The landline phone rings, startling her.

She grabs the receiver.

Silence.

‘What do you want?’ she says.          

No answer.

She detects faint breathing in the background. 

Male breathing.

A man watching her, following her about.

Photographing her and editing the images in black and white.

Posting photo packages through the door of her flat. 

‘The police have been,’ she lies. ‘And they’re on to you.’

Silence.

Cruel, tormenting silence.  She hates silence, always has hated silence. How the person on the other end of the line understands the power of silence.

The caller hangs up.   

Meanwhile, my other two novels – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey and EggHead (teen fiction) – are available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for my debut novel Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

Limited Internet Connection At Present….

Having trouble getting a connection at present, so I’ve not posted as much as usual. 

Currently, I’m working on a third novel, Silent, another psychological thriller set up in the north of England.  In the story, a group of piano students spend a week together in a stately hall, but events from the past combine with present uncertainties, producing an atmosphere of danger and paranoia. 

In the following excerpt, central character Gavin returns to the hall five years after events spiralled out of control. 

Flowers scattered nearby.

Wreaths.

Wreaths ripped to bits and tossed on top of a single pile of rubbish.

Who the hell’s killed a sheep and placed its head by the remains of these flowers?

What type of sicko would do something like that and destroy the wreaths?   

I feel eyes staring at the back of my neck. 

Eyes studying me.

I swing round, but there’s no one around.

Just tall hedges and bushes and the views in the distance.

‘Who’s there?’ I call. 

No answer. 

Just echoing silence.

Mocking silence.

Meanwhile, my other two novels – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey and EggHead (teen fiction) – are available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for my debut novel Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

Both Novels Available on Amazon

My second novel – EggHead by Lawrence Estrey –  is now available on Amazon.co.uk in paperback form and as an e-book.  

In EggHead, an adolescent boy has to take action when a strangers starts a bullying campaign against him, but the boy’s actions backfire, leading to him having to leave home.  He then settles in a secluded coastal town where he finds himself unable to cope and is drawn into further trouble and danger…

The novel falls into the categories of Teen Fiction and Young Adult, but also crosses over into mainstream fiction.

Currently, I’m working on a third novel about a group of music students living in a house in the countryside.

Meanwhile, my first novel, a psychological thriller – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available in paperback and as an e-book from Amazon.  Check out the reviews.  

A sample from Secrets:

A fresh downpour has started. I make my way down the hill, stopping when I hear footsteps. Nothing. I continue on through the icy wind to the clearing where I’ve parked my car. The dog’s barking gets louder in the distance. Nearby, more branches snap. Silence again. The white van is still parked a few yards from my car. 

I feel it then. An invisible presence, the same one I felt a few nights ago near my flat in London. I hear movement in the trees that separate the clearing from the deserted field and I shine the torch in all directions.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller