Harpies & Gray Birds of Loneliness

angel & devilDo you feel like you have that devil on your shoulder when you write?—the one who says, “This is crap, utter nonsense, never should be published.”

You are not alone. Back in the years when I was writing freelance magazine articles, I heard that negative voice every time I had an article published. “Oh, that was just a fluke. You’ll never write another one worthy of publishing.”

And now, even though I’ve had five books published, I get bogged down in the rewrite of my sixth one, and continually hear the voice say, “You probably shouldn’t publish this one. Just give up on it. Nobody likes your character, she’s self-centered and whiny. You can’t fix it. Forget about it.”

Some days I listen to the negative voice and say, “OK. I’m just going to chuck this book.” But other days I think, No, you’ve done this before. You know what to do. Keep on plugging away. You’ll get there!

While it’s not comfortable, it’s good to know others struggle with the same negativity. My author friend and multi-published author, Jane Kirkpatrick, calls the voices her “harpies.”

grey birdJane Friedman recently wrote a blog titled “Creation and Doubt are Enjoined Twins.” She also references an article by Devin Murphy in Glimmer Train, “The Gray Birds of Loneliness,” where he talks about John Steinbeck’s negative, critical voices. This is from widely acclaimed authors.

No, we are not alone!

I hope we all can recognize this element of our writing personalities and balance it out with the positive voice of the angel on the other shoulder, telling us, “You can do it. You have the talent, the skill, and the perseverance. Don’t give up!”

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Published in: on September 4, 2017 at 8:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sneaky Snuck

How did the word “snuck” sneak into the dictionary and into our “approved” form of language?

This word is one of my pet peeves, and if you are an editing client of mine, I will strongly suggest that you use the “proper” form “sneaked” unless it’s in dialogue.

I think my reaction stems from growing up in an isolated rural area where most people were not highly educated (no denigration intended—they were wonderful friends and neighbors and would do anything to help each other in times of need. But a word like “snuck” that was used as slang by people who also said, “The kids had their pitcher took at school today,” is an indication of that same lack of education or care about proper English.

It’s like “ain’t.” That’s in the dictionary too, but it’s still not “proper” to use, except in slang dialogue.detective

According to wiktionary.org, “snuck” is an irregular verb form that originated in the late 19th century dialect, but is now listed as the “simple past tense and past participle of sneak.” It’s considered the nonstandard past tense—basically meaning that “sneaked” is the preferred word-choice, but “snuck” is also acceptable.

Merriam-Webster’s Etymology: akin to Old English snIcan to sneak along, Old Norse snIkja.

Here’s a link to an interesting article on “Sentence First: An Irishman’s Blog About the English Language http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/snuck-sneaked-in/

And this is a snippet from The Word Detective’s Q&A, who seems to agree with me:

“Yes, ‘snuck’ is a real word, although it has always been classified as ‘substandard English.’ ‘Snuck’ first appeared in the 19th century as a regional variant of ‘sneaked,’ and is still considered colloquial English, but is apparently gaining in respectability among literate folk. Still, ‘snuck’ is not the sort of word to use on your resume, although ‘sneaked’ is usually not a big hit on resumes either, come to think of it. In general, however, my advice is to stick with ‘sneaked.’ Unless you’re talking to Elvis, of course. I happen to know he says ‘snuck’.” http://www.word-detective.com/back-c.html

What are some of your “pet peeve” words that have sneaked into the English Language?

Published in: on June 9, 2017 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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May Round Robin: Romantic Setting

This month’s Round Robin topic is: What is the most inspiring, romantic, or dangerous setting you ever read or written?

 Mine is an unusual and (maybe a little dangerous) romantic setting. An excerpt from Cowgirl Dreams:

Lightning slashed through the murky sky. A thunderclap rattled Nettie’s teeth. The horses shied and tugged at the reins. Barely able to breathe, Nettie could no longer feel her hands. Her whole body was numb. She felt the saddle slip. They wouldn’t make it. She was going to fall. They’d both be hit by lightning. Dear Lord, help us, please.

 “Hang on, we’re almost there.” Jake shifted the heavy saddle to take more of the weight himself. “It’s okay. You can do it. Come on. Just a few more steps.” Together they staggered the last few yards to the old shack. Jake dropped the saddle on the refuse-strewn porch and tethered the horses under the roof overhang on the lee side. Then he pushed the door open and helped Nettie through the opening. She nearly fell into the room, relief flooding over her.

He pushed the door shut against the gusts of wind and rain and struggled to latch it. Then he knelt beside her, his wide eyes examining her face. “Are you all right? Are you hurt? Anything broken?”

“I’m okay.” Nettie looked up at him, gulped and blinked. “Oh, my gosh, your eye.” She sat upright and reached up to caress the rapidly swelling bump.

“I’m just fine.”

CowgirlDreams Front Cover“Jake, we coulda been killed.” She shuddered as the realization washed over her, then broke into great hiccupping sobs. He encircled her with his long arms and drew her face to his chest. He smelled like horsehair and tobacco. It didn’t matter that his sodden denim shirt stuck to her cheek. She closed her eyes and snuggled close inside his embrace as he stroked her wet hair.

The rain beat a vicious tattoo on the roof. Just like those hailstones on her head and back. Her skin still stung, and her hands were raw and tingling. She shivered again. The ice seemed to have penetrated her blood. Her teeth chattered. Never in her life had she been so scared. They were lucky to be alive. Safe in his arms now, her sobs gradually subsided.

Jake hugged her closer, his face only inches from hers. She felt his warm breath on her cheek.

He rubbed a hand up and down her back, sending warm shivers through her body. “I have to let you go for a minute and see if I can get a fire going.”

Nettie clutched at him. She didn’t want him to go, even a few feet away.

Murmuring in her ear as if soothing a skittish colt, he eased out of the embrace and off the floor. He picked up an old horse blanket from one corner of the nearly empty room and shook the dust off. Gently, he wrapped the worn, dirty wool pad around her shoulders.

Nettie glanced around the room, wallpaper peeling in strips, cobwebs strung over the windows, the floor rotted and splintered. Wonder what happened to the people who lived here? A wooden chair slumped on its side, a leg missing. Jake stomped on the remaining legs to break them, then the rungs and the back, into pieces. He pried up a loose floorboard to add to the pile of firewood.

Nettie watched him squat before the fireplace, moving with such confidence. Gosh, he knows just what to do. He whittled shavings from the wood, then struck a match from a little tin canister in his pocket. He’s so handy. And so caring. He protected me.

Jake blew on the flame, coaxed it to catch. Above the sunburned line on his forehead where his hat usually rode, his skin was fair. His reddish blond hair shone softly. The flame caught and grew, its flicker kindling a spark of hope in her. She heard the snap as it spread to the other shavings and sticks of wood.

Jake added more fuel to the fire. He coughed as it smoked, but then the smoke drew up into the chimney. He sat next to her again, cradling her in the curve of his arm. He took out a small flask from his pocket. “Here, have a slug of this. It’ll help warm you.”

She coughed at the harsh fire that ran down her throat. But it did warm her, and her shivers diminished as her clothes dried.

“Thank you for saving my life.” Nettie raised her face to his and kissed the corner of his mouth. Then, to hide her blush, she leaned against his strong body. He tightened his arm around her shoulders.

They’d made it. Together. They were together, and that was all that mattered right now.Dare Cover Final

Cowgirl Dreams is the first of the “Dreams” trilogy. The second novel is Follow the Dream and the third is the newly released Dare to Dream.

 

Now hop on over to check out these blog offerings!

Lynn Crain at http://lynncrain.blogspot.co.at/
Anne Stenhouse at http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com
Diane Bator at http://dbator.blogspot.ca
Geeta Kakade at http://geetakakade.blogspot.com/
Connie Vines at http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Beverley Bateman at http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Ginger Simpson at http://mizging.blogspot.com
Margaret Fieland at http://margaretfieland.com/my_blog
Fiona McGier at http://www.fionamcgier.com
Rhobin Courtright at http://rhobinleecourtright.com

A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

 

Published in: on May 24, 2014 at 6:00 am  Comments (7)  
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How Do I Write?

Today I am taking part in a blog post relay after an invitation from Shirley Corder http://shirleycorder.com/ who lives and writes inspirational books in South Africa. She has published Strength Renewed, Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer and is currently working on two projects: Out of the Shadows:Reflections of Lesser-known Women in the Bible and Naomi’s Long Road Home:Living with Heartbreak and Shattered Dreams. In addition to beingan author, Shirley is a registered nurse and cancer survivor (1997), and a pastor’s wife. She was born in Scotland, grew up in Rhodesia, and now lives on the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

To participate in this blog tour, I have to answer four specific questions, then pass on the baton to three more writers you can read about at the end.

3 book covers1. What am I working on? My first three novels are based on my rodeo cowgirl grandmother. The next novel will be the next generation, and based on my mother who immigrated to America from Germany after WWII. I’m calling it An American Dream.

 2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? This is always a difficult question to answer. I think it is different because it does follow my grandmother’s and mother’s lives. All of my books feature strong, independent women who have done something a bit unusual for a woman in their generation. In my “Dreams” trilogy, I tell the story of the growth of women’s competition on the same bucking stock as men and then how it gradually declined, ending in the early 1940s due to the wars’ influence and an all-male rodeo association.

3. Why do I write what I do? I grew up riding horses on a ranch and I did ride with my grandmother. I just wanted to tell her story. A lot of family history gets lost because nobody writes it down. I chose to fictionalize my family history because it gives me more freedom to develop characters and create a storyline, and sometimes to give a story the ending it should’ve had.

4. How does my writing process work? I’m a “pantser” rather than an outliner. Because of my background in journalism, I tend to write spare first drafts, so that draft is really my outline. Then, with the help of my critique group partners, I go back and flesh it out. I may do several rewrites before I’m ready to submit to a publisher.

And now, I pass the relay baton on to Tammy Hinton, Janet Oakley and Libi Astaire. Their posts will be up on May 26. Please visit them as well!

Tammy HintonAward winning author Tammy Hinton has accumulated a Will Rogers Medallion Award, Spur Finalist from Western Writers of America, Willa Finalist from Women Writing the West, and a Finalist from the Western Fictioneers group. She refers to her genre as women’s historical fiction. Her novels include: Unbridled and Retribution. Devoted to Antiquing appeals to those bitten by the collecting bug. Her short story, “She Devil Justice”, will be published in an anthology, date undetermined as of this writing. She and her husband, Herb, love the red dirt of Oklahoma.

Check out Tammy’s blog!

Janet OakleyJanet Oakley is an award winning writer of historical fiction. Tree Soldier won the 2012 EPIC ebook award for historical fiction and as well as the grand prize for Chanticleer Books Reviews. Currently, the novel is a quarter finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. It’s prequel, Timber Rose, launched on April 6, 2014. Another novel, The Jossing Affair, won first place in the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction for 2013.

In addition to writing novels, her published essays and articles appear in the Cup of Comfort, The Seachest, Historylink.org and the Mount Baker Experience. “Dry Wall in the Time of Grief” was the top winner in non-fiction at Surrey International Writers in 2006.

An historian and educator, she teaches hands-on history at museums, schools and historical parks. In addition to writing and historical pursuits, she loves gardening. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, loves its history and writes every day. No matter what. Janet blogs at Historyweaver.

Libi AstaireLibi Astaire is the author of the award-winning Ezra Melamed Mystery Series, which is set in England during the Regency era and follows wealthy-widower-turned-sleuth Ezra Melamed as he solves a series of “white cravat” crimes affecting members of London’s Jewish community.  Here’s Libi’s blog.

 

Published in: on May 19, 2014 at 6:08 am  Comments (1)  
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Old School Tech for Today’s Writers

typewriter-clip-artBy Dawn Copeman

editor of the Writing World e-zine

 I’m probably going to show my age here, but do you remember when all you needed to be a freelance writer was a typewriter or a word processor, envelopes and, if you were high-tech, an e-mail account?

I only ask because apparently, according to what you can see on the internet and in writer’s magazines, you couldn’t possibly be a writer today with such basic equipment.  To succeed in today’s competitive world, to be a better writer faster, you need specialist writing software, writing apps for your smart phone and tablet, and subscriptions to members-only guaranteed jobs sites and calls for submission sites.

But I ask myself, is any of this really necessary?

Some new writers seem to think so.  A young woman approached me recently and said she’d love to get into writing but couldn’t afford all the specialist writing software and apps she’d seen advertised.  I told her you don’t need all that to be a writer.

The basics haven’t changed.  Just because technology exists doesn’t mean it is the only or best way of doing something.

Tiffany Jansen’s article below shows us that you don’t actually need tech to be a writer, and that quite often, old school is not only cheaper but also more reliable too.

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting going back to the days of posting query letters with SASEs and IRCs.  Email queries are one of the small wonders of a modern writer’s life that I, for one, will forever be grateful for.

Similarly, I love being able to research writer’s guidelines online, rather than send off for them.  I also find it much easier to get a feel for potential new markets by visiting a website and reading articles online rather than buying several copies of the print magazine.

But surely, there are still so many aspects of a writer’s life that could be done just as well, if not better, the ‘old-fashioned’ and, dare I say it, cheaper way?

For example, do we really need to use our phones to make notes, to plan our writing?  Instead, might I suggest a cool iphoneold-school alternative called The Notepad?  The Notepad is a flexible, highly portable writing aid. It comes in a variety of sizes suitable for most pockets and bags.  Ordered minds can opt for a lined variety to keep their thoughts and musings in order, whereas for more creative, mind-mapping types, a plain paper option is available.

The Notepad can be used with a choice of input devices – the pen or the pencil.

The pen is for those who like to keep a definite note of their thoughts, whereas the pencil is better suited to those who prefer to self-correct as they write, as it is compatible with the word remover known as the eraser.

Likewise, do we really need apps to teach us how to write like Hemmingway?  Or writing software to teach us how to structure stories, create narrative arcs and create memorable characters?

You could try the cheaper, old-tech way of doing it.

Want to learn from the great writers at your convenience? Want a master class in plot writing and word crafting?  You need a “book.”

With a book you can study how any writer of your choice formed sentences, created characters and wove plots.  A book is a portable device that enables you to learn from the great writers whenever and wherever you want. Simply read the words of the writer of your choice and think about how they did what they did.  This amazing knowledge transfer system can be used anywhere and is now even available on tablets and smart phones.

Finally, if you really want to improve your writing skills, forget the super-duper Writer 3000 software and try this old-fashioned and inexpensive tip: practice.  Write regularly. Write by hand or on your computer.  Any blank surface will do.  Actually, the less distractions the better, as you then have no option but to write.

My young wannabe writer friend didn’t sound too convinced by all this old-tech, but I told her she had nothing to lose by trying it.

Personally, I’m glad we have the internet and the advantages it brings – grammar guides and exercises, calls for submissions, access to experts and research via easy to use search engines, etc.

But I’m also glad I started writing when things were less high-tech and so was my bank balance.

This article is reprinted from Writing-World.com. Dawn Copeman is editor.

Clustering Helps Writing

Cluster Diagram“Clustering” is a type of brainstorming or pre-writing that can help give you ideas either before you start writing or when you get stuck. With this technique you can map out your thinking using circles and lines to display“branches” of your ideas or connections between your ideas.

Choose a word, for example the name of your main character. Write it down and circle it. This will be the center of your cluster. Then randomly as each new word or phrase comes to mind, circle it, and connect it with a line to the word that sparked it. It can be other characters in your story, or a physical description, or inner characteristics. Attach each word that seems like an entirely new direction to the center idea.

But don’t allow that ugly inner editor to intrude–don’t get hung up on which words connect to what. The idea is to let thoughts run quickly without editing, censoring, or worrying about proper sequence.

Try this for 3-5 minutes, like a free-writing exercise. Keep adding to it when you think of new ideas. See where it leads you in your storyline.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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Books, Books, Books!

CowgirlDreams Front CoverThis week has been new book week for me. My editor from Globe-Pequot/Twodot Press sent cover designs for my novel series (they’re republishing Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream along with the new novel, Dare to Dream), and we went back and forth on the choices their designer had made. At first I was not happy with the new covers and felt they appeared to be “romances” rather than the “working” west cowgirls I’ve written about. But the publisher’s experience in sales and marketing prevailed, providing a “theme” for my novel trilogy.

I will share the cover for Cowgirl Dreams here. This one I did like from the beginning. The other two have some tweaks to be made yet and I will preview them at a later time.

Today, I also sent my publisher the manuscript for Cowgirl Up!, a non-fiction book about the old-time rodeo cowgirls of Montana. This book tells the story of women’s rodeo, from its heyday in the early 1900s when women competed with men on the same rough stock to its decline due to injuries and deaths, societal pressure, the beginning of the RAA–a men-only organization–and WWII. Alice Greenough riding bronc

Cowgirl Up! is a departure from my comfort zone in fiction. Even though I began my writing career in journalism, this is my first non-fiction book. As you might imagine, I’m a little nervous to find out if I’ve done the subject justice and if my editor approves of the way I’ve written it.

Wish me luck!

Published in: on January 31, 2014 at 6:05 pm  Comments (12)  
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10 Writing Tips From Bestselling Novelist Janet Fitch

As reprinted in the Los Angeles Times

by Janet Fitch

1. Write the sentence, not just the story

Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.writing

2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

3. Kill the Cliché.
When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair.Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.

4. Variety is the key.
Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.

5. Explore sentences using dependent clauses
A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.

Coffeepot Rock

Coffeepot Rock

6. Use the landscape
Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

7. Smarten up your protagonist
Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

8. Learn to write dialogue
This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.

9. Write in scenes
What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next. Make something happen.

10. Torture your protagonist
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

Janet Fitch is the author of “White Oleander” and “Paint it Black,” and she teaches writing at USC. It seems like every time I run into her at a reading, she introduces one or two or more of her students who she has encouraged to come along, people whose work she praises. This enthusiastic engagement makes her, well, nicer than many writing teachers, and that niceness might be why she’s posted a list of 10 writing tips that can help almost anyone on her blog. But the list shows that just because she’s nice, she’s no pushover in the classroom.

Published in: on November 22, 2013 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Kanab Writers Conference

I was thrilled to be on the presenters’ roster last weekend at the Kanab, UT, Writers Conference. I joined 11 other authors in giving workshops to 83 attendees.Writers Conference My workshops included “Marketing Your Writing” and “Show versus Tell.” I had a nice turnout and received good feedback.Presenters' boardMostly, I had fun doing it, and if I was able to give some help to other writers, that’s icing on the cake.Kanab red rocksKanab is a beautiful area, with sunrises accentuating the vibrant red rock hills and cliffs. Population about 35,000, Kanab is described as being in the “Grand Circle” area, centrally located among Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand Canyon (North Rim).

Published in: on November 1, 2013 at 6:56 am  Comments (1)  
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Why Do We Like Conflict?

OK, you’ve decided to write a story and you’ve created a character. Now you have to give her a problem to solve and put him in some kind of jeopardy. Life is a series of choices, and every choice implies a conflict. You make one choice and the consequences are _____ or you choose the other option, and the consequences are ______.

For a reader to care about your story, there has to be something at stake—something of value to gain, something of value to lose. One writer terms it “wrestling”—two strong forces meet, one triumphs over the other, for better or for worse.

Conflict can be external: a villain, an opponent, a set of circumstances, the environment or landscape. It can be internal: fear, distrust, uncontrollable rage, a number of things. A book can have both. In Lord of the Flies, what’s at stake externally is survival; internally, it’s fear vs courage. Every character should have the potential to conflict with every other character, whether that potential is realized or not.

Is it a fair fight? A motivation against no opposition is boring. A character who always gets everything he wants, succeeds in boxingevery task, wins the girl/guy with no problem, has no drama. Remember PLOT is a VERB. Likewise, pure victimization is not only dull, but depressing.

Conflict doesn’t come in oppressing or being oppressed—it comes in the struggle to break free. The reader wants the final outcome to be in doubt. He likes the anticipation of conflict, a situation created where conflict is waiting to happen. (i.e. Character A is a former Nazi and B is a Holocaust survivor. Neither knows this info about the other. They sit in a room & make small talk. All the while, we wait for the conflict to erupt. Maybe it never does. Maye it’s chapters later, after they’ve become friends.)

Which leads us to the next step: Storytelling is not about giving away information, but about withholding it.

Why do we prefer to sit down with a 300-page book (or in the case of Harry Potter, 800 pages), rather than just read a 2-3 page synopsis of a story?

Because we want suspense, we want to go on this journey, this adventure, with someone we can care about.

Suspense is about anticipation. It is about what we do not have, what has not happened, about what might happen. It’s about the process of watching events unfold. (i.e.While the victim is being stalked, suspense looms. Once the victim is murdered, the suspense disappears.) Waiting to find out builds suspense, drama.

Creating Suspense.

  1. The goal. What does the character want to achieve?
  2. The stakes. What is at risk for the character?
  3. Danger. remember that danger is a matter of perspective—it only needs to exist in a character’s head to create suspense.
  4. The Ticking Clock. A time limit heightens suspense.
  5. inability to take action. For example, in Hitchcock’s the Rear Window, the protagonist has a broken leg, hears the killer approaching, but is helpless to go anywhere.
  6. The Unknown. We can bear almost any form of torture as long as we know what it is we are getting into. But keep us in the dark, give us time to think about the possibilities and the suspense will be unbearable.

Kurt Vonnegut once said that a hero “should always want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.”  An instructor in a writing class told us there should be conflict on every page, even if the character is too hot or cold.

Here’s a great blog post by Kristen Lamb “Giving Life to Your Fiction.

What other ways have you written or read that create tension or conflict?

Published in: on October 25, 2013 at 6:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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