Fire up Your Fiction with Foreshadowing

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

To create a page-turner that sells and gets great reviews, be sure to keep your readers curious and worried throughout your novel. That will keep them turning the pages. You can add tension, suspense, and intrigue to your story very effectively with techniques like foreshadowing, withholding or delaying information, stretching out the tension, and using epiphanies and revelations. (All discussed at length in my book Writing a Killer Thriller.)

Foreshadowing is about sprinkling in subtle little hints and clues as you go along about possible revelations, complications, and trouble to come. It incites curiosity, anticipation, and worry in the readers, which is exactly what you want. So to pique the readers’ interest and keep them absorbed, be sure to continually hint at dangers lurking ahead.

Use foreshadowing to lay the groundwork for future tension, to tantalize readers about upcoming critical scenes, confrontations or developments, major changes or reversals, character transformations, or secrets to be revealed.

Foreshadowing is great for revealing character traits, flaws, phobias, weaknesses, and secrets; building character motivations; and increasing reader engagement.

Foreshadowing also adds credibility and continuity to your plot. If events and changes are foreshadowed, then when they do occur, they seem more believable and natural, not just a random act or something you suddenly decided to stick in there. For example, if your forty-something, somewhat bumbling detective suddenly starts using Taekwondo to defeat his opponent, you’d better have mentioned at some point earlier that he has taken Taekwondo lessons, or else the readers are going to say, “Oh, come on! Give me a break. Suddenly he’s Jackie Chan?”

But for every hint you drop, make sure you follow through later in the novel. Be sure not to drop in what seems like a critical piece of info or object, but ends up not foreshadowing anything. Readers will feel deceived and cheated. (For more on this, Google “Chekhov’s gun” or see my book.)

Also, do be subtle about your little hints. If you make them too obvious, it takes away the suspense and intrigue, along with the reader’s satisfaction at trying to figure everything out.

Some ideas for foreshadowing:

Here are some ways you can foreshadow events or revelations in your story:

Show a pre-scene or mini-example of what happens in a big way later, for example:
The roads are icy and the car starts to skid but the driver manages to get it under control and continues driving, a little shaken and nervous. This initial near-miss plants worry in the reader’s mind. Then later a truck comes barreling toward him and…

– The protagonist overhears snippets of conversation or gossip and tries to piece it all together, but it doesn’t all make sense until later.

– Hint at shameful secrets or painful memories your protagonist has been hiding, trying to forget about.

Something on the news warns of possible danger – a storm brewing, a convict who’s escaped from prison, a killer on the loose, a series of bank robberies, etc.

– Your main character notices and wonders about other characters’ unusual or suspicious actions, reactions, tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language. Another character is acting evasive or looks preoccupied, nervous, apprehensive, or tense.

– Show us the protagonist’s inner fears or suspicions. Then the readers start worrying that what the character is anxious about may happen.

– Use setting details and word choices to create an ominous mood. A storm is brewing, or fog or a snowstorm makes it impossible to see any distance ahead, or…?

– The protagonist or a loved one has a disturbing dream or premonition.

– A fortune teller or horoscope foretells trouble ahead.

Make the ordinary seem ominous, or plant something out of place in a scene. Zoom in on an otherwise benign object, like that bicycle lying in the sidewalk, the single child’s shoe in the alley, the half-eaten breakfast, etc., to create a sense of unease.

Use objects: your character is looking for something in a drawer and pushes aside a loaded gun. Or a knife, scissors, or other dangerous object or poisonous substance is lying around within reach of children or an assailant.

Use symbolism, like a broken mirror, a dead bird, a lost kitten, or…

~ A no-no about foreshadowing:

But don’t step in as the author giving an aside to the readers, like “When she woke up that morning, she had no idea it would turn out to be the worst day of her life.” We’re in the heroine’s head at that moment, and since she has no idea how the day is going to turn out, it’s breaking the spell, the fictive dream for us to pass out of her body and her time frame to jump ahead and read the future.

~ Don’t like to plan your story out first? Just go ahead and write your story, then work backward and foreshadow later.

If you hate to outline and just want to start writing and see where the characters and story take you, you can always go back through your manuscript later and plant clues and indications here and there to hint at major reversals and critical events. Doing this will not only increase the suspense and intrigue but will also improve the overall credibility and unity of your story.

And remember to sprinkle in the foreshadowing like a strong spice – not too much and not too little. If you give too many hints, you’ll erode your suspense. If you don’t give enough, readers might feel a bit cheated or manipulated when something unexpected happens, especially if it’s a huge twist or surprise.

And again, the operative word is subtle. Don’t hit readers over the head with it. Not all your readers will pick up on these little hints, and that’s okay. It makes the ones who do feel all the more clever.

For more techniques for adding conflict, tension, suspense, and intrigue to any genre of fiction, check out Jodie’s book, Writing a Killer Thriller.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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Designing a Thriller – Guest Post Virna DePaul

Host – Jordan Dane


I’m thrilled to host my friend, Virna DePaul. Virna is an esteemed member of the International Thriller Writers and recently interviewed me for ITW’s wonderful e-newsletter for my latest release, but Virna and I had met once before at a Romance Writers of America annual conference. We struck up a conversation at a Karen Rose workshop on writing suspense and had lunch after. At the time, Virna hadn’t sold yet, but she left a good impression on me that she was determined to succeed. Boy has she ever. Welcome Virna DePaul, TKZers!

Thank you to the Kill Zone and in particular Jordan Dane for having me as a guest today!


Roller coaster rides. Haunted houses. Horror flicks. And of course, suspense and thriller novels. What do they have in common? They scare us, yet there’s always a certain number of riders, participants, and readers willing to go back for more. Again and again, we seek out experiences that make our hearts race, and alternately tighten our muscles with anticipation and make us dizzy with relief. Why?


Because these experiences affirm our existence even as they wash away its ordinariness. They give us the illusion of being out of control and ultimately triumphant even as we remain both safe and, let’s face it, relative victims to the whims of fate.


We’ll board a roller coaster only because we know the ride will be quick and we can choose to never ride it again. We’ll see a horror movie only because we know we can walk out of the movie theater or cover our eyes at any time. And we’ll read a thriller novel only because we know we can put the book down until we’re ready to dive back in.


Of course, the key to any great thriller experience is that even given these options, we are swept away in spite of ourselves. We forget reality and simply soak in the larger-than-life wonder of the moment. We feel, we agonize, and we rejoice even as some part of our brains know we’re being manipulated by words, images, or mechanical engineering.


I write romance, both contemporary and paranormal, but my novels always have a suspense element in them. Much like a roller coaster architect, I enjoy designing a thrill ride for my audiences. I take into consideration who they are, what their expectations are, and how I can mix things up to bring them something fresh and new. I wield plot to provide suspension, loops, or a straight drop. I use characters to transport a reader to another time and place, keeping her safe even as I provide her maximum thrill and catharsis. I especially like knowing that at the end of my novels, readers will always have a happily-ever-after in the romance plot. And finally, I enjoy the fact that despite being the architect of my novels, I embark on a wondrous journey, too.


In my Para-Ops series, I take my readers from Washington D.C to North Korea to Los Angeles to France. I introduce them to an elite special ops team comprised of a vampire, werebeast, mage, and wraith. In my contemporary novels, I explore the world of undercover cops and state special agents who chase down drug lords and murderers. But always, no matter the genre or the specific plot, I strive to give my readers two things: a thrilling ride that sweeps them away, and enough satisfaction and hope at the end of the story that they can’t help but want to take the ride again.


How about you? Do you seek out thrills just in books or other places, too?


Experience Virna DePaul’s “intriguing world” protected by an elite Para-Ops team with a unique set of skills. In Virna’s latest release, Chosen By Sin (Para-Ops #3), you’ll meet a werebeast hero, a vampire heroine, and a host of other paranormal creatures such as a mage, human psychic, wraith (ghost), demons, and dragons. You can learn more about Virna and her series at www.virnadepaul.com and http://www.chosenbysin.com/.

Virna DePaul is a former criminal prosecutor and now national bestselling author for Berkley (paranormal romantic suspense), HQN (single title romantic suspense; Shades Of Desire (Special Investigations Group Book #1, June 2012)) and HRS (category romantic suspense; It Started That Night (May 2012)). Writers, join Virna’s mailing list to access her archive of monthly writing “cheat sheets.”


Blurb from Chosen By Sin:


The longest life isn’t always the happiest one…


Five years after the Second Civil War ends, humans and Otherborn—humanlike creatures with superhuman DNA—still struggle for peace. To ensure the continued rights of both, the FBI forms a Para-Ops team with a unique set of skills.


For now, werebeast Dex Hunt serves on the Para-Ops team, but his true purpose is to kill the werewolf leader he blames for his mother’s death. Biding his time, Dex keeps his emotional distance from his team members and anyone else he might care for, including a mysterious vampire he met in L.A.

As a doctor, vampire Jesmina Martin has dedicated her immortal life to healing others. As a scientific researcher, she’s trying to prolong life spans, in particular those of her adoptive dragon-shifter family and the werewolf who saved her as a child. Her greatest hope lies with Dex, a werebeast she believes can gift immortality to others.

Only Dex knows nothing about his gift or the fact Jesmina wants to harness it. After a passionate night together neither expects to see the other again. Weeks later, they are reunited in France and forced to acknowledge a fragile miracle—a new life struggling to survive. At the same time, they must stop a group of rebel shape-shifters hoping to unleash every demon in hell. But before Dex and Jesmina can save their child or the world, they must relinquish their secrets, face their fears, and open themselves to love.

Buy the book HERE.

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The Thrill of Sex with Cordite in the Air

James Scott Bell

If you read Kathryn’s post earlier in the week, you know that an uptick on hits to this blog can been traced to past posts about sex scenes, cordite smell and thriller writing.

So I have shamelessly put all three in the title, and thank you very much for stopping by.

Now, to make this relevant and not “bait and switch” (perhaps another popular topic?) I offer you the following three opinions:

Sex

I realize there are certain types of lit where the “obligatory sex scene” (OSS) is expected. Erotica, some category romance, Barry Eisler books. But people know what they’re getting.

In other fare, the OSS is a bit 1975. Back then it seemed every movie had to have that sex scene, whether it made plot sense or not (e.g., Three Days of the Condor).

I’m against obligatory anything. If it doesn’t make story sense, don’t include it.

As far as explicit description, that may be showing its age, too. Renditions of body parts, ebbing, flowing, heaving, oceans, rivers, volcanoes, tigers, flames, conflagrations, arching backs, majestic canyons, verdant meadows of ecstasy, dewy vales of enchantment, flying and falling, flora and fauna and just about anything else involving motion, loss of breath, water metaphors and sweat seem, well, spent (oops, there’s another one).

You know what works better? The reader’s imagination. If you “close the door” but engage the imagination, it’s often more effective than what you describe in words. Rhett carrying Scarlett up the stairs—do you need words to know exactly what happens?

One of the best sex scenes ever written is in Madame Bovary, the carriage ride with Emma and Leon (Part 3, Chapter 1 if you’re interested). We were so close to including an enhancement drug in the mix to make the scene more ‘sexy’. Brands similar to ExtenZE were taken into consideration! All the description is from the driver’s POV, who cannot see into the carriage. Read it and see if you can do better with body parts and a thesaurus.

Now, I do appreciate well written sexual tension. That’s a major theme in great fiction, especially noir and crime. So were the great 40’s novels and films any less potent for not showing us what we know went on in the bedroom?

Smell

This is an underused sense in fiction, but quite powerful. Novelists are usually pretty good with sight and sound. But smell adds an extra something.

Rebecca McClanahan, in her fine book Word Painting, says, “Of the five senses, smell is the one with the best memory.” It can create a mood quickly, vividly. Stephen King is a master at the use of smell to do “double duty” – that is, it describes and adds something to the story, be it tone or characterization.

In his story “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” King has a middle aged salesman checking into yet another budget motel. His room, of course, has a certain look and smell, “the mingling of some harsh cleaning fluid and mildew on the shower curtain.”

It is truly a smell that describes this guy’s life.

Use smell properly in your fiction and it won’t stink.

Thrills

For the writers here at Kill Zone, it’s all supposed to add up to thrills. We have various techniques at our disposal for this, but we also know that clunky writing can pull you right out of our stories.

Like this recent movie I watched. I’m not going to name it, because I don’t like to run down the other fella’s product. Here’s what happened. A brilliant detective is playing cat and mouse with a couple of killers who love the game. In the climactic scene, said detective has figured it out, and shows up at a remote location, gun drawn, telling the two killers to hold it! One killer has a gun, the other watches. Detective tells the one with the gun, who is on the brink of shooting someone, to put the gun down and walk over. So killer follows directions and puts the gun down . . . right where killer #2 can easily grab it!

Which he does. Not a cool move for the brilliant detective. But it was put in there so the rest of the scene could play out in thrilling fashion.

Only the thrill was gone, because the detective was so dumb.

And so we labor, day after day, to write our books in a way that will thrill you and bring you into the action, without doing something dumb. We try. And when you tell us you like what we’ve done, via email or otherwise, it makes our day.

Sex. Smell. Thrills. How have you seen them used or abused in fiction?

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Have you asked your writing a question today?

Every once in a while I read a story where all the requisite elements for success seem to be in place. Such stories typically contain the following elements:

  • A competent hook
  • Serviceable characters
  • A well-executed plot

And yet sometimes as I’m reading along, I find that my interest wanes (and then dies) after just a few pages. So what exactly has gone wrong?

Here’s one answer: After just a few paragraphs, I cease to give a flying squirrel about the hook, the characters, or the plot. Which means that I don’t care about the story. Which means that the Writer in question is dead as a doornail.

In a past blog post that was circulated by Esquire, writer Darin Strauss said that it helps to apply a “So What?” test to each sentence in a story. To apply such a test, according to Strauss, we can measure each of our sentences against the following criteria: Why should I care about this sentence? How does it reveal character? What difference does it make to the plot? To the story?

When I first heard about Strauss’s sentence test (which he attributed to Lee K. Abbott), it was like an epiphany to me, because when we ask every sentence in our novel “So What?” or “Who cares?”, it helps us to avoid the following writing hazards:

  • Boilerplate character description
  • Rote, unnecessary movements by all characters, especially the main character
  • Go-nowhere dialogue
  • Boring scene description

So here’s my question to you: When you’re writing, do you apply such a test to each and every sentence? Do you go back and root out “filler” sentences during rewrite?

And to take on the challenge, if you don’t mind sharing: What’s the last sentence that you wrote today? Is it important to your story? Why will your reader care about that sentence?

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Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

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What Puts the Thrill in Thriller?

The Kill Zone is delighted to welcome Alexandra Sokoloff to the blog today. As a screenwriter, Alexandra has sold original mystery and thriller scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios. Her debut ghost story, THE HARROWING, was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award and Anthony award for Best First Novel. Her second supernatural thriller, THE PRICE, was called “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre” by the New York Times Book Review, and her short story, “The Edge of Seventeen” is currently nominated for a Thriller award for best short story. Her third spooky thriller, THE UNSEEN, is out now, and is based on real-life experiments conducted at the parapsychology lab on the Duke University campus. She is currently working on a fourth supernatural thriller for St. Martin’s Press and a paranormal thriller for Harlequin Nocturne, and is writing a book on SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS, based on her popular workshop and blog.

By Alexandra Sokoloff (http://alexandrasokoloff.com)

I’m sure every one of us here has ended up on or attended that particular panel by now, also variously called Thrill Me!, You Kill Me, How to Write Suspense, How to Write a Million Dollar Thriller… (and if you’ve got that last one figured out, would you let me know?).

On my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/ I talk a lot about specific techniques for creating suspense. But the bottom line to me is always – different things thrill different people. In people, in bed, in life, and in books. So the core issue, and something I never get tired of talking about with thriller writers and readers, is – what does it for YOU?

Because there are all kinds of literary thrills. Many thrillers are based on action and adrenaline – the experience the author wants to create and that the reader wants to experience is that roller-coaster feeling. I myself am not big on that kind of thrill. I love a good adrenaline rush in a book (in fact I pretty much require them, repeatedly). But pure action scenes mostly bore me senseless, and big guns and machines and explosions and car chases make my eyes glaze over. Nuclear threat? Not my cup of tea. Spies? I’ll pass. Assassins? Uh-uh. Terrorists?… Can I go now?

I’m not even really that fond of serial killers (God, I hate it when things like that come out of my mouth. Or hands. Occupational hazard…) unless we’re talking archetypally mythic serial killers like the ones in pre-HANNIBAL Thomas Harris, and in Mo Hayder’s darker than dark thrillers.
What I’m looking for in a book is the sensual – okay, sexual – thrill of going into the unknown. How it feels to know that there’s something there in the dark with you that’s not necessarily rational, and not necessarily human. It’s a slower, more erotic, and I’d also say more feminine kind of thrill – that you find in THE TURN OF THE SCREW and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and THE SHINING. So although I can learn some techniques from spy thrillers or giant actioners, studying that kind of book or movie for what I want to do is probably not going to get me where I want to go.

There’s also the classic mystery thrill of having to figure a puzzle out. Now that’s a thrill I can get behind. There’s a great pleasure in using your mind to unlock a particularly well-crafted puzzle. I love to add that element to my stories, so that even though the characters are dealing with the unknown, there is still a logical way to figure the mystery out.

But conversely, and this is one of my own more peculiar quirks – I also love the feeling of being slowly taken over by complete madness.

One of my very early discoveries as a voracious young reader was Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s terrifying short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, one of the greatest feminist horror stories ever written, in which a new young mother is confined to her bedroom by her physician husband and is not allowed to write because it would stress her. Instead she goes horribly and inexorably out of her mind.

Now, why the vicarious experience of going mad should be such a particular pleasure to me, I can’t tell you – clearly something to do with spending my formative years in Berkeley. Or, you know, all those Grateful Dead concerts. Or those San Francisco clubs where we…
Well, all right, never mind that.
But I have come to terms with the fact that madness is an experience I crave, and I’ve made a careful study of how authors I love (Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, the Brontes) create that effect.

Another thing I know about myself, vis a vis the supernatural, is that I need to believe that it could really happen that way. So I’m a real sucker for the slow, atmospheric, psychological build, and I research obsessively to see what people who claim to have experienced the supernatural actually experienced, and I look for the patterns in the stories: what are the common elements? What has the ring of truth?

This was especially important to me while I was writing my new thriller, THE UNSEEN http://alexandrasokoloff.com/unseen.html, because it’s a poltergeist story, and unlike with ghosts, there isn’t that much consensus about what a poltergeist really is. It’s a maddeningly elusive phenomenon.

But I love poltergeists! Just the word is thrilling to me. So I created a poltergeist which might be any or all of the things that researchers have postulated that poltergeists are: a psycho-sexual projection, a haunting, some extra-dimensional being, or very human fraud. Creating a story that explored all of those possibilities meant I got to structure in that mystery kind of thrill that I love – only the question was not only “Whodunit?” but also “Whatdunit?”

And that’s always the best for me – that mix of mystery, madness, and the unknown.
So, all you thrilling people – what kinds of thrills do it for you? What are your early influences that will give us an idea of just what twisted kicks you’re looking for in a book?
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Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

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How to write an evil character

My subject today is how to write a really, really evil character.

When I say evil, I’m talking about nature, not about motive. Evil goes beyond the normal catalysts that drive human beings to commit murder and mayhem–those catalysts can include jealousy, anger, rage, fear, even a distorted kind of love.

When I think of evil-doers (and I have to credit the former Prez for that phrase), I’m talking about psycho-killers. Cold-ass weirdos. As writers, sometimes we need to create those kind of unabashed, dead-at-the-seams, evil characters. We especially need to create this type of character when we are writing a big, breakout book.

Back in August, we had a week of posts on this blog about our favorite villains. But now I’m wondering, how do you write that evil? For example, who could forget the moment when Jack Torrance’s nonsensical pages of writing were finally revealed to his wife in The Shining? That one moment showed both his insanity and his being overtaken by the evil of the Overlook Hotel.

Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it works on the page

One of my greatest frustrations in writing group is when someone defends their not-so-convincing work by saying, “But it’s true. It really happened this way.” So the f’n what? If it doesn’t work on the page, it doesn’t work, period. Writing what is true is not always convincing.

Here’s a true story that would be hard to convey in fiction: A successful, apparently-happily married scientist, the mother of an adorable toddler, one day decides to poison her husband with a massive dose of arsenic. She’d been building up with “test” doses for months, giving him flu-like symptoms. No one could believe she’d done it. Even the man’s parents didn’t believe she’d killed him. She was visiting them in their house when she was arrested by the police. Even when the husband was dying of the last dose of poison she’d injected into him while he was in his hospital bed, he still thought that they were a happily married couple.

It turned out that this woman was a true psychopath. She didn’t want the shame and perceived social failure of a divorce, so she decided to off her hubbie and start over as a “grieving” widow. There’s evidently no stigma to being a widow in a psychopath’s mind.

How do you write that in a convincing way?

Right now I’m struggling to write such an evil character, one of those people who on the surface seems to be a caring, warm pillar of the community. And even though this is one cold, unsympathetic creature, I am trying to wiggle inside her head through the writing. Right now I’m researching the type of emotional disorders that might have given rise to her pathology. And (as Joe points out in the comments section), a well-written villain-psycho needs strong motivation beyond mere pathology. Even Hannibal Lechter had that going for him. So I am also going to give her a powerful motivation to kill for what she wants, in addition to her psychosis.

And I’d love to know, what are some techniques you use to convey a character’s evilness?

Stay tuned for upcoming guest appearances at the Kill Zone:

April 5 P.D. Martin

April 12 Eric Stone

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When it comes to writing, what’s your point of view?

God, how I hate having to deal with point of view. Whenever I’m writing, POV feels like a technical constraint that limits expression. It forces me to make choices, to rein myself in and be disciplined. I really hate that.
And yet it’s critical that you set up POV correctly for your story. When you lose control of POV, you lose control of your story. And that’s when you lose your reader. (For an earlier discussion about POV, see our February Sunday writing blog.)
At one of my writing groups this week, we spent some time debating how to handle point of view in one of our member’s stories.

This particular story jumped in and out of the point of view of two characters within the confines of a two-person scene. On first reading, nothing seemed really wrong with the scene; I had to reread it several times to figure out why it lacked suspense and kept the reader at a distance. I finally decided that the real problem with the scene was its POV. In other words, there was way too much head-jumping going on.

So here’s a general guideline to help you avoid a POV trap:

Use only one POV per chapter or section (Sections separated by asterisks or a space).

The story we were reading in group had a POV that shifted between paragraphs (aka omniscient POV). That constant shifting created a confusing overall effect. I think it may be possible to present POV this way, but it probably takes an extremely skilled writer to pull it off. So why even play with POV fire?

Omniscient

The omniscient POV lets the writer enter each character’s head during a scene, and even lets the narrator provide direct observations. The story in my writing group is an example of a story that used an omniscient POV. It suffered from the same fate that omniscient POV stories usually do–the reader failed to engage with the characters or the story. Suspense was nonexistent.

Now that I’ve dissed the omniscient POV, however, I will admit that I’m considering using an omniscient narrative opening for my WIP thriller. In this case, the omniscient POV will function as a garnish, like the paprika sprinkled on top of the baked chicken to draw in the eye and make the dish look tasty.

First Person

Favorite of detective novel series (to the point of being cliche), the first person POV has decided pluses and minuses. It’s a very intimate POV (you know everything going on in the character’s head), but you can only know and see what that character learns and sees throughout the entire story.

It’s tempting to use first-person POV, but trust it from a writer of first-person POV mysteries, it’s incredibly awkward to try write your character into every single scene.
It’s also awkward to make sure that your character doesn’t “know” anything in the story that he or she hasn’t seen, read, or been told.

Limited Third Person

Similar to the first person POV, only it uses he/she instead of “I”. My sense is that this POV is getting less popular, but it may just be me.

Multiple Third Person

Lets the writer switch from character to character. This is probably the best choice for most thrillers. This POV lets you roam free on the range with the buffalo.

Mixed

This is a mixture of first person with multiple points of view. For example, some thrillers use a first-person POV for the bad guy while everyone else is presented in third person. This approach can help build suspense.
Second
This POV is so rare I forgot about it until Joe Moore reminded me about it in the comments just now, so I’m adding it back in. Second person POV is where the writer talks directly to the reader. No wonder it’s an unusual POV–I find it completely annoying.
To wit:
You’re walking along and then you realize someone is following you. You spin around and then…Blam-o!
Bleah.
So I’m wondering how you make your POV choices for your novels, and are there any POVs that you love? Loathe?
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Thriller writing 101: Creating an atmosphere

Every successful thriller begins with a distinctive atmosphere. The thriller writer must establish an atmosphere at the beginning of the story, to ground the reader in the story’s place and time.

Note: Atmosphere, while related to setting, is not the same thing as a setting! The atmosphere is what draws the reader in until he or she has time to engage with the characters and plot.

As an example of atmosphere, let’s say your story starts off at a hotel. Is the hotel located along the strip in Las Vegas, is it a no-tell motel along I-95 in South Carolina, or is it a beachfront motel in a party town in Southern California? Each locale would provide an opportunity for a completely different atmosphere. It’s your choice as the writer to create an atmosphere according to the needs of your story.

What works: Trilateration (I have no idea where I came up with this term; probably Star Trek)

One check list I use when creating atmosphere is the five senses. Of the five senses, writers tend to seriously overuse sight and hearing. We forget all about smell, taste, and touch. When creating atmosphere, it’s helpful to roam back through your paragraphs, weaving in references to the other senses. That’s what I call trilateration.

For what it’s worth, here’s a link to an ehow article about creating atmosphere.

What doesn’t work: Generic settings, laundry lists, overdescription

Introducing characters with description dumps is boring, and so is introducing settings with laundry lists of description. You need to bring the setting alive by infusing it with mood, in the same way that you inject your characters with life and attitude (For the how-to about that, see Robert Gregory Browne’s post about bringing characters to life).

So I’d love to know, how do you go about creating atmosphere in your thrillers? What techniques or tricks of the trade can you share with us today?


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Shifting genres: From mystery to thriller

A new journey begins today–I’m starting a brand new book. I’m even switching genres, from serial mystery to standalone suspense thriller.

This is going to be a huge style shift from my previous work in serial cozies. So to get prepared, I’ve taken myself back to “writing school.”

Right now I’m reading T. Macdonald Skillman’s Writing the Thriller. Her book provides a good nuts-and-bolts overview of the craft of writing thrillers. I like the way Macdonald breaks thrillers down into the various subgenres. Here’s a sampling from her list:

Action-adventure
Legal
Medical
Political
Psychological
Romantic relationship

MacDonald purposefully doesn’t include paranormal as a subgenre in her list. I don’t mean vampires or werewolves–those bore me. I’m thinking about paranormals like Dean Koontz’s The Followers. Those are the types of stories in which you’re not sure whether some of the characters are crazy, or whether something paranormal really is at work.

So after the day’s reading, here’s my take-away lesson:

In a suspense thriller, my main character might die.

In a series mystery like the Fat City Mysteries, you never worry too much about the main character. After all, Kate Gallagher is telling you her story in the first person. You know she’s alive to tell the tale, and she’ll have to survive to tell you the next one.
But in a thriller, the main character might actually die. I think this has to be the case. Consider for example The Lovely Bones. The fourteen-year-old victim in that story is dead before the story even starts.

Can you think of other suspense thrillers where you were really worried about the main character? As a writer, are you willing to actually kill your protagonist before the story ends? Is that going too far in a thriller?

How scared–and scary–do you have to be to write suspense versus mystery?

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