Thursday, January 27, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Still, I love action. I love watching it on TV or on the big screen, and I love reading it. Give me a heart-thumping chase scene over an introspective walk in the woods any day. Too much exposition in a novel, too much description, too many paragraphs and pages going on and on about chaos theory, and I start flipping pages. (Sorry, Michael. Much as I loved Jurassic Park, I’m pretty sure I actually read only 3/4s of the book.)
I also love writing action. As a thriller writer, I get to blow things up. Burn things down. Maim, terrorize, and destroy. Get all the meanness out of my system and onto the page.
Action scenes are fun to write. There’s no lengthy introspection, no character development, no scene-setting or descriptions – just short, declarative sentences that propel the reader through the scene:
Her foot caught. She pulled. Pulled again. Looked up. Phillipe and Ross were still at the edge of the waterfall, still hanging on. She pulled again, reached beneath the water with one hand and jerked at the boot lace. The knot held, the lace wet and swollen. She pulled again, ripped at the knot. Tore her fingernails. Didn’t care.
Action verbs are exciting all on their own. Nobody runs – they dash, sprint, dart, spurt, race and tear through the scenes.
Action scenes are also the only time an author can indulge in what would normally be an appalling overuse of em-dashes and exclamation points:
Phillipe – Ross – struggling in the water – the hot, hot water – boiling up her ankles, her legs, her thighs – the helicopter ladder dangling the rescue sling – but Ross – Phillipe – they were in trouble – they needed her –
“Go!” Ross screamed as he struggled to hold on to her stepfather. “Grab the cable! We’re right behind you! Go – go – go!!”
“Sheila!” Rebecca screamed. “Hurry!”
But action is so much more than superficial wham-bam. If that’s all there was to it, then watching the roadrunner chase the coyote off a cliff would be as gripping as watching “Inception” or James Bond.
The reason action scenes get the heart thumping is not because they’re exciting. It’s because the reader cares about the characters.
Back when I was working on my first novel, that understanding hadn’t yet become clear. Three-quarters of the way through the book, I got stuck on a scene where my characters were drifting in a small, engineless boat toward a huge waterfall (no, not the same waterfall in the excerpts above – apparently, those Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” stories about people going over Niagara Falls in a barrel made a deep impression on me when I was a child). No matter how I tried writing the scene, it felt artificial and cheesy. I knew the characters weren’t going to die, and since this scene took place three-quarters of the way through the book and these were the principal characters, I knew the reader would know the characters weren’t going to die, either. It all felt contrived and silly.
The one day, I suddenly realized that the characters didn’t know they weren’t going to die. It seems obvious now, but at the time, it was a revelation. I put myself in the characters’ heads, imagined the events as they were experiencing and feeling them, and the scene practically popped of the page.
Inadvertently, I’d discovered the key to writing a compelling action sequence. It’s not the short sentences or the strong action verbs or the exclamation points that carry the scene. It’s the emotion. Fear. Anxiety. Terror. Apprehension. Desperation. It’s us sitting in our comfortable armchairs feeling what the characters feel as they drift inexorably toward that waterfall that raises our adrenalin level. We’re not reading. We’re sitting beside them in the boat.
And that’s why I love action.
How about you? Why do you love reading or writing action?
Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. Her second just-published environmental thriller, Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming, finishes with a 40-page action sequence that takes place in the caldera of an erupting volcano.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
As a member of the 2009/10 ITW Debut Author class, I've benefitted from the experience and generosity of the writers who belong to this incredible organization, and am honoured to be writing the first guest post of its re-launch.
I have been asked to share my experiences in writing a back-to-back-to-back series. I am currently under contract to write four books for the Kate Lange legal thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED (June 2010) debuted six months ago, in which struggling lawyer Kate Lange unearths a legal conspiracy that rocks the foundations of medical research - and puts her in the path of a dementing killer.
INDEFENSIBLE (January 2011), book #2 of the Kate Lange series, released last week. In INDEFENSIBLE, the managing partner of Kate's firm is accused of domestic homicide. Held in prison for the murder of his ex-wife, Randall Barrett's defence lies in the hands of the one person who knows too well the taint of criminal scandal: Kate Lange.
My third book, TATTOOED, will be released in January 2012, and a fourth book in the Kate Lange series is also scheduled for release in 2012.
I’ve had the luxury of developing my series with two two-book contracts that were back-to-back. I sold DAMAGED in January 2009, in a two-book contract to write INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series. When I submitted INDEFENSIBLE to my editor in December of 2009, I was asked the following week to submit two more story ideas, and was offered a contract immediately after New Year’s in 2010. Having four books under contract has given me the freedom to breathe a little. As I develop the story line for the next two books, I can play with the supporting cast, knowing that I have more books to explore character arcs, bring back favourite characters, and respond to reader feedback. I am experiencing these benefits right now as I write TATTOOED.
However, it was a different story for books #1 and #2. One of the most unnerving elements of writing a multiple-book series back-to-back, is that you can be in the situation of writing the next book in the series without knowing how readers received the previous one. When I wrote INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series, DAMAGED had not yet been released. True to the sophomore book syndrome, I stressed – no, agonized -- over whether my audience would enjoy the development of the characters’ story arcs, and whether the shift to a heavier psychological suspense storyline would be received positively. (My husband now admits he wasn’t sure all of me would survive the process of writing that book.) I’m happy to say that it has, and the feedback about INDEFENSIBLE has been wonderful -- but that is the dice you roll when you write a back-to-back-to-back series. It is a bit like jumping off a cliff. Closing your eyes. And hoping for the best. Fortunately, I have a fabulous editor whose excellent judgment and perceptive suggestions have parachuted me thus far to a relatively soft landing.
For example, in DAMAGED, series lead Kate Lange survives an attack of a serial killer. She is just an ordinary single thirty-something woman, with her share of bills to pay and heartbreak. How, I wondered, would she react to the trauma of her experience? In INDEFENSIBLE, which takes place four months later, Kate is privately dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this experience – and yet to the world, she is a minor celebrity. Being able to explore the fallout of events from previous books is one of the reasons I enjoy writing back-to-back series.
On a final craft note, I do extensive planning before I write each book. Not only do I conduct detailed research, I write deep back story for my characters. Then I begin working in flowcharts, figuring out how events and motivations intersect. During this process, I chart timelines for plot twists and turns. By the time I reach the climax of the book, I often have the timelines plotted to the minute in terms of logistics for the action scenes.
The planning also helps me brainstorm ideas for the next book in the series. I've learned to have a few ideas up my sleeve because you never know when you might need them. For both my contracts, I was asked to provide further book ideas on very short notice. So, my closing words of advice for writing a back-to-back-to-back-to-back series are borrowed from the motto of the Girl Guides of Canada: Always be prepared.
Pamela Callow is the author of a legal thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED, her debut novel, was a Levy “Need to Read” Pick for June with Top Ten Bestseller display. INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series, released on January 1, 2011 to a top rating by RT Book Reviews. She is currently working on the third and fourth book of the series, as well as writing a short story featuring Kate Lange that she was invited to write for ITW’s Thriller 3 Anthology.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Happy New Year!
Today begins a new era for The Thrill Begins blog. Every Thursday, we'll provide new content from our debut authors on writing craft, the business, and fun anecdotal material for readers.
Please consider writing a blog for us. We'd love to have everyone participate. We'll support your commitment by getting the word out through our many followers on Twitter and the forum.
The new posting guidelines can be found at http://tinyurl.com/39x6tkc.
Questions? Contact Tracey Devlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.