Archetypes; Unmasking Your Villain; and the Final edit

I am currently in the throes of rewriting my mystery novel and doing some deep character work on my hero. A couple of Sundays ago, Jim mentioned Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters in a reply to a comment by me. Years earlier I had tried reading the first edition of her book, but it hadn’t clicked. This was back when I tried learning craft by osmosis, rather than by application and practice. After Jim’s mention, I decided to give 45 Master Characters another try and picked up a copy of the revised edition.

This time, it’s resonating deeply with me. Her take on mythic character archetypes, as well as the heroine and hero’s journeys, is brilliant, and I’ve been using the book to get a better handle on my sleuth and the supporting cast.

That got me thinking about today’s TKZ Words of Wisdom, and I dove into the archives to look for posts on character archetypes. So, the first excerpt today is from a post by Jordan Dane describing twelve character archetypes, providing a goal and a fear for each. The second excerpt is from Joe Hartlaub and deals with unmasking a previously hidden villain at the end of a book–the Scooby Doo reveal. The third, by Clare Langley-Hawthorne, discusses the final editing pass of your novel. As always, each excerpt is date linked to the original post. Please jump in with your thoughts on any or all of these.

Let’s take a closer look at character archetypes. In researching this post, I found a more comprehensive list of 99 Archetypes & Stock Characters that Screen Writers Can Mold that screenwriters might utilize in their craft. Archetypes are broader as a foundation to build on. Experienced editors and industry professionals can hear your book pitch and see the archetypes in their mind’s eye. From years of experience, it helps them see how your project might fit in their line or on a book shelf.

But to simplify this post and give it focus, I’ll narrow these character types down to Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung‘s 12-Archetypes. Listed below, Jung developed his 12-archetypes, as well as their potential goals and what they might fear. Goals and fears can be expanded, but think of this as a springboard to trigger ideas.

TYPE/GOAL/FEAR

1.) Innocent

  • GOAL – Happiness
  • FEAR – Punishment

2.) Orphan

  • GOAL – Belonging
  • FEAR – Exclusion

3.) Hero

  • GOAL – Change World
  • FEAR – Weakness

4.) Caregiver

  • GOAL – Help Others
  • FEAR – Selfishness

5.) Explorer

  • GOAL – Freedom
  • FEAR – Entrapment

6.) Rebel 

  • GOAL – Revolution
  • FEAR – No Power

7.) Lover

  • GOAL – Connection
  • FEAR – Isolation

8.) Creator

  • GOAL – Realize Vision
  • FEAR – Mediocrity

9.) Jester

  • GOAL – Levity & Fun
  • FEAR – Boredom

10.) Sage

  • GOAL – Knowledge
  • FEAR – Deception

11.) Magician

  • GOAL – Alter Reality
  • FEAR – Unintended Results

12.) Ruler

  • GOAL – Prosperity
  • FEAR – Overthrown

Jordan Dane—April 4, 2019

 

Scooby Doo is firmly ensconced in the American culture. The plot of each cartoon episode is very similar, with a crime occurring, Scooby and his pals investigating, and the villain of the piece being unmasked, literally, at the end. I think that I first heard this type of climax referenced as a “Scooby Doo” ending during the second of the three climaxes to the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It has been a vehicle used in mystery novels long before that. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, except that 1) it sometimes doesn’t work and 2) sometimes it needs a little work. I ran across an example of the former several months ago while reading a thriller that was one of the many nephews to The Da Vinci Code wherein the protagonist’s adversary was running around killing people while wearing a tribal mask and attempting to obtain an instrument of antiquity which would permit him to destroy the universe. The protagonist got the mask off of the evildoer near the end and the book ended. “Rut row!” The book was okay, but the ending was a total disappointment.

That brings us to a book I read this week in which the author uses the Scooby Doo ending to great effect by taking the story a step or two beyond it. The author is the morbidly underappreciated Brian Freeman and the book is Season of Fear, the second and latest of the Cab Bolton novels. (Please note: it’s not quite a spoiler, but there’s a general revelation ahead. Read the book regardless). The premise is fairly straightforward. Ten years ago a Florida gubernatorial candidate was assassinated by a masked gunman, throwing the election into chaos. A suspect was identified, tried, convicted, and jailed. In the present, the candidate’s widow is running for the same seat when she receives a threatening note which purports to be from the same assassin. Indeed, he eventually turns up, and his identity is ultimately revealed in a grand unmasking. But wait. Freeman, after giving the reader enough action to fill two books and expertly presenting a complex but easy to follow plot, gives the reader more to chew on. Things don’t end with the revelation of the identity of the doer; instead, Freeman moves us a couple of more steps forward, revealing a potential unexpected mover and shaker who was a couple of steps ahead of everyone, including Bolton. This has the double-barreled effect of making the climax much more interesting and setting up a potential adversarial setting for Cab Bolton in a future novel. Nice work.

Again, Scooby Doo endings are okay. They’re fine. But if your particular novel in waiting has one, and seems to lack pizazz, don’t just take the doer’s mask off, or reveal their identity, or whatever. Take things a step further just as the curtain is going down, and reveal who is pulling the cord, and perhaps yanking the chain. It may be a character that was present throughout your book, or someone entirely new, or…well, you might even want to create a character and work your way backwards with them. But stay with the mask, and go beyond it.

Joe Hartlaub—March 14, 2015

 

I’m on the final round of revisions to my current manuscript and considering a new editing process. In the past I have always tended to bite off more than I can chew when revising – trying to look for plot inconsistencies, character missteps (blue eyes one chapter, brown the next), typos, repetition, dull dialogue, boring exposition and errors all at once. What I’ve found is that about midway through the process, I get completely mired in the editing process and start dismantling what is essentially the final version of the novel, as I lose confidence in both the story and myself (you know, the usual author angst!). This time, however, while I am waiting for beta reader feedback, I am looking at adopting an alternative approach and would love some advice.

My current system involves editing throughout the writing process – from editing the first draft (which pretty much equals rewriting) to doing a final line edit on the completed manuscript before I turn it in to my agent. It’s what happens in these later stages that I need to refine. What I am considering is parsing the final editing into multiple discrete re-reads looking for:

  1. Plot/timeline issues alone – checking for holes, inconsistencies, and errors.
  2. Character issues alone – checking for inconsistencies, misdescriptions etc.
  3. Stylistic issues – repetition, boring/dull descriptions etc.
  4. Final line-edit – looking for grammatical and spelling errors and typos.

Although I’ve looked at all these areas already (multiple times!) while editing previous drafts, with the final version, it’s time to have one more look as invariably I still find errors. My concern is that trying to re-read the final manuscript multiple times to look for these discrete set of issues will be time-consuming and slow (and may possibly drive me demented!).

What I’d love is feedback/comments on what final editing process has worked for you.

  • Do you try and do everything all at once?
  • Do you reread with specific areas in mind?
  • Do you get others to do a final line-edit?
  • How do you balance the need for one last look at all the critical areas in a manuscript against being driven crazy after the 50th reread?

Clare Langley-Hawthorne–January 12, 2012

***

So, there you have it. Jungian archetypes, Scooby Doo-style reveals, and the final editing pass.

  1. Have you ever created or revised your characters through the frame of archetypes?
  2. Have you ever done a Scooby Doo style reveal of a villain in one of your novels?
  3. How do you handle your final editing pass?

Homegrown Thrill Rides

Homegrown Thrill Rides: A checklist for suspense, what is the domestic thriller,  and tips on writing one.

As a now retired librarian turned full-time fiction writer, diving into the vast Kill Zone archives for three nuggets of wisdom is the perfect role for me here at KZB. It gives me the opportunity to share so many insightful posts on craft, publishing, and much more. For today’s post, I want to take a look on creating “homegrown thrill rides.” It begins with a sampling from a checklist on how to create suspense and tension for the reader, a necessary ingredient in any thrill ride. We then turn to excerpts from a pair of posts on the domestic thriller: defining it, and a few of the key factors to consider in writing one.

Please weigh in with your own thoughts. I have included a few questions as prompts for comments after the excerpts. Date links are provided to the full posts which can provide further fuel for thought and discussion.

Experiment with these devices to increase suspense and intrigue:

__ Sprinkle in some foreshadowing – drop subtle advance hints and innuendos about critical plot points or events.

__ Withhold information – use delay tactics, interruptions at critical points.

__ Stretch out critical scenes – milk them for all they’re worth.

Surprise or shock your readers:

__ Add in a few unexpected twists. Put a big one in the middle and another big one at the end.

__ Use surprise revelations from time to time – reveal character secrets and other critical information the reader has been dying to know.

__ Have your main character experience at least one epiphany – a sudden significant realization that changes everything for them. Try putting one in the middle and one near the end.

__ Write in some reversals of feelings, attitudes, expectations, and outcomes.

Keep adding more tension. Increase the troubles of your protagonist by using these plot devices:

__ Ticking clocks – every second counts.

__ Obstacles, hindrances – keep challenging your hero or heroine.

__ Chases – your protagonist is chasing or being chased.

__ Threats or hints of more possible danger ahead.

__ Traps and restrictions – your character becomes somehow trapped and must use all their resources to get out of the situation.

Create a memorable, satisfying ending.

Design a big showdown scene, an extremely close battle between the hero/heroine and the villain.

__ Write in a surprise twist at the end.

__ Leave your readers satisfied – the hero wins by a hair, the main story question/conflict is resolved.

–Jodie Renner, June 12, 2013 

 

I wanted to talk about a sub-genre known as the “domestic thriller.” I’m not sure when this was coined, but it’s quite popular now, especially after Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller, Gone Girl. More recently, A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window has kept readers flipping the pages.

My research didn’t uncover a hard-and-fast definition of the domestic thriller. It seems to be a cousin of the psychological thriller, but with a home setting and (usually) a woman as protagonist and (usually) a male as the villain. A title like It’s Always The Husband (Michele Campbell) will clue you into the vibe.

I don’t, however, consider this a new genre. It’s at least as old as Gaslight, the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. You’ve probably seen the 1944 movie version for which Ingrid Bergman won the Academy Award as Best Actress. (I actually like the British version better. Released in 1940, it stars Anton Walbrook and the absolutely amazing Diana Wynyard. Catch it if you can!)

Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) may rightly be deemed a domestic thriller.

I would classify many of Harlan Coben’s books as domestic thrillers. Suburban setting, ordinary person, crazily extraordinary circumstances.

Which is my favorite kind of thriller. I’ve always loved Hitchcock, and he was the master at the ordinary man or woman theme. My favorite example is the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much starring James Stewart and Doris Day. The idea, Hitchcock once explained, came from a scene he pictured in his mind. A foreign, dark-skinned man, with a knife in his back, is being chased, and falls dead in front of some strangers. When someone tries to help him, heavy makeup comes off the man’s face leaving finger streaks on his cheeks.

So Hitchcock did that very thing. He had Stewart and Day as tourists in Morocco, and in the marketplace one morning a man with a knife in his back falls at Stewart’s feet. Stewart gets the face makeup on his hands.

Of course, right before he kicks the bucket the dying man whispers a secret of international importance into Jimmy’s ear, and we’re off and running. The bad guys want to know what Jimmy knows and they’re willing to kidnap his son to find out.

–James Scott Bell, May 6, 2018

 

Keys Factors for Writing Domestic/Psychological Thrillers

1.) Set your domestic thriller in familiar settings. Give the reader comfort until they realize your novel doesn’t take place in Mayberry. Set your story in a small town, on a commuter train, in a home with a family who could live next door to you, or create a situation that seems harmless at first until it escalates into a terrifying tale. Much like Stephen King is partial to turning everyday objects into nightmares–I’ll never use a turkey carving knife again–it’s important to think through an effective setting that lulls the reader into a false sense of security until you pull the rug out.

2.) Make your story hinge on familiar subjects. I’ve suggested a few below, but I’m sure you could come up with more that could be turned on its ear with escalating tension. Use your own personal experiences to discover what might touch your readers.

  • A marriage that doesn’t need much to send it over a cliff
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Neighbors from Satan
  • A clandestine love affair
  • School rivalry/Helicopter moms competing against each other
  • Parenting – Lots of possibilities
  • Family relationships
  • Boyfriends/Girlfriends/Jealousy

3.) Now ask yourself the critical question of “what if…” What are the worst plot twists that could happen in the world you’ve created? Think WAY out of the box. Use a dartboard to add some unpredictability to your brainstorming.

4.) Make your character(s) real. Imagine people you have known, but elevate them into a major player’s role in your story. It helps to start with the familiar to make it real, but then your character would take on his/her own journey. Remember, your characters need to be real and not supersized into movie star status. Take “every man or every woman” and force them to step into an horrendous plot. Make your starring character(s) believable.

5.) Give your characters flaws that could prove to be fatal. It’s a balancing act to pick vulnerability that doesn’t make them appear too weak. Give them insecurities they can overcome in a believable way, without making them whiners. Force them to face their insecurities. Are they capable of overcoming their worst fears? Give them a chance to do it. Will they? Dig deep with a journey for your character to survive through your plot. They must struggle to gain ground or appear that they never will. Nothing trite will work here. It must seem insurmountable. I found a great resource for character flaws – 123 Ideas for Character Flaws

–Jordan Dane, January 3, 2019

***

  1. How do you go about creating suspense in your fiction?
  2. Do you read domestic thrillers? Write them?
  3. What tips or advice do you have?

 

To Read or Not To Read

To Read or Not To Read? That is the question.

 We had some requests for specific authors’ posts during a recent Words of Wisdom discussion, so I have searched the archives and found three posts from those authors, on the same subject – reviews and feedback, and how to handle them. I hope you enjoy the discussion, add your own comments, and even respond to others’ comments. The livelier the better.

I’ve invited the original authors of the posts to join us. We hope they will stop by.

Don’t Read Reviews

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here’s my advice: don’t read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your Good Reads’ ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here’s the thing. As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended–and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t. I’m always startled when I get feedback from beta readers–everyone always manages to come up with different favorite sections, and least favorites. So, when taking their advice, I usually try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt. – Michelle Gagnon (1/31/2013)

 

Writing Obstacles

4.) Listening to Naysayers – Everyone has advice on a topic they have no experience with. It’s rare that people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” have actually even started one, much less finished one. Yet that doesn’t stop them from shelling out advice. Some advice I got was: write what you know, write a shorter story because it’s easier, write for a house that lists what they’re looking for in great detail (i.e., category romance) so you don’t have to think too hard. Surround yourself with positive people and those who support your writing endeavors.

5.) Putting Too Much into Writing Contest Feedback – Generally I found contests to be a good experience. They got me noticed and looked good on my writer resume, but you have to take them with a grain of salt.

As I studied the craft of writing, I entered various national writing competitions to see how my work stacked up. These were mainly through the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their many opportunities to compete. There was a rush when I received word that my entries were named a finalist. Even my first entry had some success and the first time I entered the Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors in the RWA, I was a finalist. These things can go to your head and you have to stay focused on your objectives. Good feedback and negative feedback can have an effect on you, just as good or negative reviews can. Keep things in perspective.

In contests you get lots of judges’ comments and editor/agent comments when you final, but you have to take whatever works for you and disregard the rest. You must develop a sense of your voice as a writer and not chase every suggestion, otherwise you will lose your instincts by constantly needing reassurance you’re on the right track. – Jordan Dane (2/4/2016)

 

Writing Reviews

But I’m thinking I should change my ways. According to an article in the Economist, it’s the sheer volume of reviews–not whether they’re good or bad–that sells books.  People are much more likely to “click through” and buy a book if it has received lots of reviews, research indicates. Even when that volume includes a healthy slice of unfavorable reviews, the book still sells better. In fact, it’s better to have some negatives–readers mistrust books that have only favorable reviews.

In her MySpace blog, author Deb Baker discussed the importance of her reviews, and issued an appeal for more of them. She’s right on the money. When it comes to reviews in today’s online marketplace, volume counts.

So, I’m thinking we should join together and become an army of critics. We could post reviews of all the books we’ve read to get the numbers up. Or we could find a midlist writer who has, say, only 9 reviews, and bump him into the double digits (the threshold for boosting sales).  It doesn’t matter if you liked the book or not. Just post your review.  It would be our own version of crowdsource marketing.

Do you like to post reviews, and do you think writers should post reviews about other books online? Have online reviews played a role in your book’s success? – Kathryn Lilley Cheng (2/23/2010)

 

  1. How do you handle reviews and feedback?
  2. How do you think you should handle reviews and feedback?
  3. Any other comments on reviews and feedback?
  4. What do you think about Kathryn’s “army of critics” – “crowdsource marketing?” I’m ready to join. How about you?

First Page Critique: Where to Start the Story – Secrets of the Home Wood

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

twilight forest moon


Below if the first 400 words of an anonymous submission from a follower here at The Kill Zone. My feedback is on the flip side, but please share your constructive criticism. Let’s discuss this submission.


Secrets of the Home Wood: The Escape
Why didn’t he just stay by the creek? It was quiet and peaceful there. The trees that hung their heads together over the creek, were enormous in girth and mossed with age. He used to like sitting with his back against a willow on the creekside, but lately that just led to staring through the swaying branches to the path on the other side of the creek. And then his thoughts would turn bitter as they circled for the hundredth time. How could they go back without me? Dang summer cold. He was better now. Maybe he could just go through and surprise them. Yeah, that would go over well.


Why didn’t he just stay by the creek? He had flung a stone into the creek and as he watched it ricochet off the rocks and sink beneath the water, he was reminded of the battle. He had looked forward to going back with his parents to help set up the King’s library and the school. He earned the right. Tugg told him he had become a warrior…well, a furless warrior were the exact words, but that didn’t change what he’d done. He felt different over there. He felt he could do things and be what he couldn’t at home. He had saved his friend Pugg’s life and then held his head while he died. He had fought in a battle to save a kingdom and on this side of the portal he had to go back to being ordinary Jon. A kid with responsibilities on the family farm and a best friend he could no longer share everything with. And now look where that had gotten him!


“Jon! What is the matter with you?”


Marly stood with one hand on his arm and the other fisted on her hip. They each stood astride their bikes on the gravelled shoulder of the Concession Two road. Her green eyes sparked with hurt. A cool, late summer breeze trickled between the mature trees that lined the road and lifted the red curls on her forehead. Something boiled in his gut when her next words were borrowed straight from his mother. “Have you lost your marbles?”


Jonathon jerked his arm out of his best friend’s grasp.


“What’s it to you?” He said rudely. He regretted his unfair words immediately when her bow-shaped mouth dropped into an “O”. Too late to take it back. He rode it out. “Look. I’ve got to go. Gramp’s waiting for me.”


Before he could say something else he’d be sorry for, Jonathon leaped onto the seat of his bike and pedalled furiously away. He gave himself a mental boot. How could he talk to his best friend like that? What was the matter with him? He should turn right around and apologize. No. He couldn’t. If he did that, he might break down and tell her the secret. He had thought that coming to see her would distract him from the misery of his thoughts but he didn’t take into account how well she knew him. She knew something was up with him. Marly had been bugging him more and more lately saying he had changed in the last couple of months, was different, holding something back. He couldn’t go back to her just yet.  He’d call her later after he had gathered his thoughts as his Mom would say.


The thought of his mother made him pedal even faster. They were all supposed to go back together. How could they go back without him? She and Dad had been gone two weeks. The burn of resentment flicked around his heart, again. He was supposed to go, too, dang it. And to make it worse, he couldn’t even let off steam to Marly about it. “Let off steam.” Worst. Now he was channelling his grandfather. 


Feedback:
The start of any story can be challenging for any author. We focus on the first 400 words in our TKZ review process, because industry professionals, who are inundated with countless submissions, can usually determine whether they will want to read more or reject the work that quickly.


In an excellent TKZ post, The Great Backstory Debate, by our own James Scott Bell, Jim talks about starting with a character in motion or a disturbance happening in the character’s world that jumpstarts the story at a key spot that should intrigue a reader. New writers may begin a story that way, but they often add back story dumps or too much introspection that “tells” the reader what is happening, to catch them up with events that have already happened. That’s what is taking place in this story.


The first two paragraphs are back story, until a voice calls out to Jon (a disturbance), saying, “Jon! What is the matter with you?” The author might have a better beginning at that point, but there is also “the secret” mentioned in the second to last paragraph. Depending on what the author has in mind, I could see Jon and Marly having a tense talk to lessen his internal monologue, where Jon is obviously holding back before he pedals away, with more of a hint as to the secret. 

NO EXPLANATION OR BACKSTORY. The author should have patience to reveal whatever the secret is in due time. The main thing is to STICK WITH THE ACTION and get the reader caught up in the MYSTERY ELEMENTS of what Jon is keeping from Marly and why his family might have left him behind because of it.


DIALOGUE can lessen the introspection and minimize the author’s tendency to add what Jon knows from his past. Force Jon to stay in the moment with Marley and only allow the reader to glimpse his reticence to talk, so the reader might wonder why. Or have him wanting to race off to stop his family from leaving him behind, if that is part of the story. SHOW DON’T TELL what is truly happening and wait to reveal the mystery later.


ADVERBS –  During my edit process, I look for adverbs, generally words that end in LY. If a sentence is worded correctly, to convey the author’s intent, an adverb is redundant and unnecessary. Here’s an example from the submission: “What’s it to you?” He said rudely. He regretted his unfair words immediately… In this example, the word ‘rudely’ is redundant because the snappy remark from Jon is indeed rude, plus he regrets saying it immediately. Overuse of adverbs can be seen as weak writing in the eyes of industry professionals.



HOUSEKEEPING – There are typos in this short intro. I’ve highlighted the misspellings in yellow. My Word software caught the errors and underlined them in red. Authors should use the benefits of this type of software application. Submissions to industry professional should be error free. Don’t give them an easy reason to say no. I also wasn’t sure if the names TUGG and PUGG were the same character, yet with a misspelling. Reading the work aloud could help catch errors like this.


That’s my overview of the submission from this brave author. Please share your thoughts to help with ideas on how to improve this introduction.

First Page Critique – FORBIDDEN

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Our first 1st page anonymous submission for 2015 is FORBIDDEN. I’ll have my feedback on the flipside. Enjoy.

FORBIDDEN Excerpt:

Voices of excited Middle Eastern travelers echoed throughout Samarra’s crowded airport. A large man bumped into Eliza and muttered, “Laanah aleiky.” (damn you). She cringed and turned her back to the frenzy. 

Her knowledge of the Arabic language and Islamic culture drove home the risk she was taking – travelling alone in a country with a history of treating women harshly.

Habitat For Humanity has requested Eliza meet fifteen American volunteers at Samarra’s International Airport. United Air was now overdue. After another hour, she again checked the airport’s arrivals digital board. ‘United Air 719 – DELAYEDFriggin hell, they’re almost two hours late. Eliza fidgeted with her hijab (head scarf).

As she gazed at ‘DELAYED’, a vision overshadowed the surrounding clamor. Bloodied bodies, flames in a dark void and screams impaled her with waves of horror. She barely contained a shriek. Stop it, just friggin stop it! A sense of foreboding urged her to run. Find the next plane out of RIPT and get the hell back to Dubai.

“Breathe,” she whispered. She inhaled and exhaled slowly. “Again.” She shivered as the vision faded. Thank God I can easily control those damn visions.

Certain her odd behavior glowed like a neon sign, she scanned the long concourse for a dark and quiet alcove, or a bathroom. Nothing close. She turned her back to the perceived prying gazes and walked to a bank of floor to ceiling windows.

 

Lights of the tarmac and runways glowed. She listened to a jet’s engines roar as it reached takeoff speed. The last departing flight to leave the Republic of Islamic States and Provinces (RIPT) disappeared in the night sky like a homesick angel.

Trapped. She gasped. Her anxiety soared out of control. One of her strongest triggers erupted. Wild eyed, she watched as a void swallowed a family standing beside her. Her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) psychosis began its torment. A horrific memory surfaced, seized her body and mind.

Instantly, her mind switched to the horror of four years ago. She fought against a seatbelt. It pinned her to the driver’s seat of her van. Screams of desperation. Her sons, Nathan and Noah engulfed in flames, still alive. Oh my God, my boys ….

She restrained a shout for help. No, no, no. I’m at the airport. I’m waiting for American friends. The floor swayed. She grabbed a window’s pillar, closed her eyes.

 
Feedback:
1.) The first paragraph is too brief to fully set up the imagery of a crowded airport before a large man bumps into Eliza. I didn’t feel the need for the language translation in parenthesis. If the description had been better, Eliza would get a good picture that the man was in a rush and disgruntled as he dismisses his rudeness with an over the shoulder slight. Anyone who travels has “been there, done that” and Eliza wouldn’t have to speak the language to know the gist of what he’s saying, so no need to translate for the benefit of the reader in parenthesis, which draws the reader from the story.

2.) The second paragraph is more “telling” than “showing” of the risk she is taking. The author could have shown Eliza’s body language as she, a woman traveling alone in a male dominated country, navigates through a crowded airport trying to keep a low profile. Does she look anyone in the eye? How does it feel to wear the traditional dress when she’s clearly not used to it?

3.) I would have appreciated knowing what country this takes place in at the top of this submission, as in a possible tag line, to orient me as a reader as to location and time of day. I had to look up that Samarra is in Iran.

4.) The first line of paragraph three has a tense error. ‘Habitat for Humanity has requested…” is present tense when everything else is in past tense. It should read, ‘Habitat for Humanity had requested…’  

5.) The translation of hijab in parenthesis, ie (head scarf), pulled me from the story. It reads as if the author is proud of his or her research and is trying to be authentic by using the correct word, yet adds an awkward translation that detracts from the story. Whenever I have a crime scene forensics procedure or a technical word, I find a way to explain in context as soon after I use the word, so the reader can surmise the meaning without having to resort to a footnote or parenthesized meanings. In this case, the author might have used: As a woman traveling in public, she had to wear a head scarf that covered most of her face. The hijab had grown hot and her scalp prickled with sweat.

6.) With very little world building or description, the reader is thrust into a confusing vision experienced by Eliza. And again, the action is more “telling” than “showing.” As a reader, I was pulled from the story with the sudden switch that read as a contrivance to create an air of suspense or mystery. It confused me and I had to reread to figure out if I missed something. The transition didn’t flow and seemed forced. The author might have given hints of foreshadowing to lead to this vision, like having Eliza grow more agitated with a mounting headache, with her desperate to control the onslaught of something familiar that she can foresee coming.

7.) As Eliza fights for control over her breathing, an italicized inner thought “tells” the reader what the author wants them to know, that she is easily in control, yet that doesn’t appear to be the case as her struggles intensify. So the ‘thank God I can easily control…’ phrase seems to be false or too quickly contradicted.

8.) I can’t be sure of this, but it appears there is a typo in the sentence, ‘Lights of the tarmac and runways glowed.’ The typo is the word ‘of’ should be ‘off.’ Is that how you read it, TKZers?

9.) While Eliza is stressing over her visions, I was distracted with two more parenthesis: RIPT and PTSD. In my opinion, if the full name is given for these, then it is unnecessary to add them in parenthesis right after. I’ve seen this done in corporate memos to allow the writer of the memo to use the acronym later, but that isn’t generally done in fiction. Just as I suggested in point #5, a way to bring in the acronym can be added in context later if needed.

10.) Lastly, the flashback at the end, from four years earlier, is too brief to fully make the horror read as real. A mother watching her sons burn to death would be catastrophic and the wording distances me from what should have been a painful scene to imagine. Then on the last line she cries out, “no, no, no, I’m at the airport.” That sudden reference, because it was italicized, read as part of her flashback and not her trying to regain control. The author might fix this perception problem by simply removing the italicized section where she is back in present day, but the memory is too sterile to be believed. It lacks believable emotion for me.

In summary, the author should have patience to set the stage for the world building in this foreign country and give Eliza more time to show how her visions work and how tormented she is. Other than the quick setting at the airport and the sudden jolt into an odd vision, there is no real action in this opener. The scene is confined to Eliza’s mind and her tortured past without a good enough anchor into the present to ground the reader. I want to care about Eliza and what happened (or will happen to her), but this introduction has too many quick snippets of something difficult for the reader to follow.

What do you think, TKZers? Share your thoughts and give your constructive feedback to this courageous author.

Seasons Greetings

AWREATH3It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2015. From Clare, Jodie, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 5. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library partway down the sidebar, for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.

Key Tips for Creating a Genderless Character for Villain Options

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




In my critique of Cruel Sacrifices, an anonymous submission, I brought up the topic of creating scenes with a genderless character and TKZ follower Paul Duffau asked for a post on the subject. You asked, Paul. Here it is. 

The technique of writing a genderless character can be effective to allow an author more options for suspects so the reader can’t easily determine the gender of a villain. One of my favorite ways to create a mystery/suspense “whodunnit” is to build a case against a slew of suspects. By the end of the book, I can flip a coin and make the final decision on who is guilty. By making a killer neutral and without gender, that expands my choices. More fun for me.

I’ve seen many books written with scenes where a villain is described as “the man” or “the killer.” As an author, that pulls me from the story, because I see the craft behind the use of the generic term. It’s obvious the author is trying to build suspense by letting the reader see a glimpse of the diabolical bad guy without fully disclosing who it is. I’m sure I’ve done this too, but in my last two thriller novels (Blood Score and The Last Victim), I challenged myself by creating a genderless character to broaden my suspect list and make it harder for readers to figure out who the guilty are. 

Scenes with my genderless character were difficult to write. It’s easy to slip and add a pronoun of he or she, so edits must be thorough. And it’s hard to come up with different ways to describe this person. It’s also a challenge where to place these scenes throughout a book to add tension and mystery, but try it. It adds complexity to your writing and can make for a better “whodunnit.”

1.) Omniscient POV – In select spots during the scene, I write in omniscient Point of View (POV). I try not to carry this on for too long. I want the reader to clearly know this is my bad guy and I add a generic descriptor later to ground the reader into the head of my character, but the shock value of seeing the bodies through the eyes of the killer (the artistic elements to the brutal crime) seemed to create a more macabre effect and give insight into my serial killer.

Excerpt: The Last Victim (Jordan Dane)

Moonlight cast its slate glow onto a lifted hand, fingers gracefully posed toward the dark heavens. They would point to the worthy pinnacle of the masterpiece. The bare skin of a sculpted leg made a beautiful silhouette against the full moon, toes perfectly poised to catch the glimmer of the night. Frozen flesh glittered under the stars in the right light. The crystalline webbing of ice turned blanched skin into an intricate texture with a shine that reflected the dark sacred night.

Too bad the meat had to thaw. To rot.

2.) Generic Character Description – Without gender, I used a description of “the driver” to describe my bad guy. This type of generic description can be used for anyone, men or women.

Excerpt: The Last Victim (Jordan Dane)

Cutting a scream loose, the warmth of a blood shower, the thrill of seeing the soul leave the body and knowing God’s hand played no part in it—those were rare and powerful addictions—but none of those things matched the final moment when hope left their eyes and they accepted their fate. Sated and drunk on memories, the driver tossed sturdy work gloves aside and climbed into a truck when it was time to go, started the engine, and turned on the music.

The voice of Ray Charles sang. ‘What a Wonderful World’ brought a fitting end as the truck jostled along the gravel service road toward the busted gate few people knew about—heading through the trees into the dark sacred night.


3.) Deep POV – Focus on the action and see it through the eyes of the character. My killer is suffering from withdrawals and the need to kill is escalating. So rather than focusing on HIM or HER, I distract the reader by concentrating on the action or what he or she is obsessed with. In deep POV (in our heads), we wouldn’t define ourselves because we already know who we are. We would simply let random thoughts race through our minds, driven by what we see or think. Deep POV, coupled with omniscient view, can give the illusion to the reader that they are in the head of a killer, yet not give away the gender of a bad guy.

Excerpt: The Last Victim (Jordan Dane)

One final glance in the rear view mirror made it hard to leave, but the stunning silhouette of the Totem against the moon stirred the question that remained. Who would top the next creation? There would definitely be a next time and it had to be someone worthy. It wasn’t enough to kill perfection once.

Hitting stride, the Totem Killer had only gotten started and had cross-hairs on the next one. A name. Another perfect one. Everything had been planned with each detail thought out. Nothing would be rushed.

The driver had a pick up to make and wouldn’t go home empty handed.

4.) Unreliable Narrators – Detectives or sleuths can assume a gender based on a criminal profile or perhaps the strength it would take to perpetrate a crime or the statistically expected Modus Operandi (MO) for one gender over another. FBI profiles can project a male killer simply by MO if the crime is heinous enough NOT to indicate a female assailant, for example. So your main heroic character can be the unreliable narrator, or witnesses can lie or tell their version of the truth as they see it. A big reveal can come later to turn things around, but that’s what is so fun about peeling back the layers of an investigation.

5.) Red Herrings – A mystery craft technique, called a red herring, is used to create a clue that leads down a false path in the investigation. This can contribute to the illusion that the killer is one gender, when it can easily be discovered later that the clue was misinterpreted or someone lied to mislead the police. If you couple this method with your generic character POV, it can keep the reader guessing. And news flash: killers lie to throw cops off their scent or they plant evidence or pretend to be a victim to mislead investigators. That makes the chase more fun. A good killer is a chameleon who could conceivably get away with murder. The more diabolically clever the killer, the more brilliant your sleuth would have to be. Make your hero earn his status by giving him or her a worthy adversary.

6.) Scene Timing – If a scene is written through the eyes of the dastardly genderless villain (at a distance, for example), followed by a subsequent scene where the character walks unassumingly on the page with a name, that could influence the reader into thinking “it can’t be him/her. He/she can’t be in two places at once.” If the scene is written well enough, it can appear there is distance and the reader assumes there are two people, when the character could be one and the same.

I used all of these methods to build upon the mystery of my killer’s identity and push off “the reveal” as late as possible in the book. Leave twists in the plot, even toward the end, and make your readers sweat it out.

Has anyone else used a technique not mentioned here, to create a genderless/faceless villain? Or what books have you read where an author kept you guessing on gender? Please share.

Wishing you happy holidays, TKZers! Hope 2015 is special for all of you.

First Page Critique of Cruel Sacrifices

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 
Happy holiday season, TKZers! What better way to spend the season than partaking in a little murder and mayhem. For your reading pleasure, we have an anonymous first page critique entry entitled: Cruel Sacrifices. My comments will be on the flip side. Enjoy. And to work off those holiday calories, join in with your comments.

 
July 4, 2011/Baton Rouge, Louisiana
“Please don’t do it! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to!” the girl cried.


“Oh really, now?” the killer calmly stated.
  
“Yes, I am so sorry! Please don’t kill me!”


The killer looks into the girl’s eyes. The killer saw only fear and misery there. Then the killer glanced down at the girl in disgust. The killer never thought that they will see the day that this whining creature will be on her knees, begging anyone for anything. The killer remembered when this girl used to hold her head up high, played guys and then throw them away like trash. Party like it was the end of the world. This girl cared for absolutely no one but herself. The girl’s whimpers brought the killer back to the present.


“I’m sorry, okay, I didn’t mean to hurt him!” her tears fell onto the ground. She tried to get up but slipped again on the hard concrete. The killer cocks the pistol, aiming it with perfection on the girl’s face.


“Get up!”


The girl gradually got up. She shook all over. A violent tremor went through her. She glances around at the fireworks in the distance. She yearns to scream for help. She knew what would happen if she did. She didn’t bother to test it. She glanced quickly back at the killer, at the nose of the pistol aimed at her.

What kind of gun is that? She thought. Is that a Glock or a Magnum? She didn’t know the first thing about guns. She sniffled.


“You broke his heart; you do know that, don’t you? He cried that night in my arms. He never went to sleep that night,” the killer told her.


“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. It was just a joke! You have got to believe me!” the girl broke down again.


“It was just a joke to you! My brother’s heart was only a game to you, you wench!” the killer screamed at her, eyes full of rage.


“Please! Don’t shoot! I really did like him, ya know.” The girl wrapped her arms around herself. “It was only a game! We were only joking, please!”


“That was no game! No joke! You humiliated him in front of everybody! You broke his spirit, lost his trust, his outlook on life,” the killer quietly told her, with a pang of sadness.



Comments:
1.) This is obviously a flash back with a clear tag line as to time, date and location. A reader can clearly see what is happening when. I like the use of tag lines to orient the reader in a quick fashion. Also the scene starts with a dialogue line and pulls the reader into the scene right from the first line without too much back story or explanation to slow the pace.


2.) The description “the killer” is used before the killer kills. That begs the question – in whose POV are we? A killer would not usually refer to themselves as a killer, especially if they haven’t killed yet. It implies the killer is something coming from the girl facing the gun. Picky I know, but it drew me out of the intro.


3.) The overuse of the reference “the killer’’ is distracting to me. (It’s used 11+ times in this short intro.) I think this is because the author does not want to identify the gender of the killer, but there are more subtle ways of avoiding gender in the narratives by establishing the POV as the person with the gun, then focusing on what he or she sees (ie the girl).


EXAMPLE:
The killer looked into the girl’s eyes and saw only fear and misery. Perfect. Whiny little bitch probably never imagined the day would come when she’d be on her knees, begging for her pathetic life. This girl used to hold her head up high, played guys and then threw them away like trash. She cared for absolutely no one but herself. Her whimpers meant nothing. After what she’d done, how could she expect mercy?


4.) Nearly the whole short paragraph before this line, starting with ‘the girl gradually got up…’ is in the girl’s POV. I would recommend picking one point of view and sticking with it. I generally select the person with the most to lose. In this case, it may be the girl with the gun pointing in her face. She’s scared out of her mind, maybe only seeing a shadow with a dim light reflecting off the gun. Perhaps the killer doesn’t say much, to not giveaway the gender. But if the author stayed in the killer’s point of view, it’s easier to hide gender. Whatever the reason, pick a character to place the POV and stick with it during the scene, rather than weakening the introduction by ‘head hopping’ between characters.


5.) There is a tense problem throughout. Lines like – the girl cried & the killer stated – are past tense, yet there are examples of present tense, ie ‘the killer looks into the girl’s eyes’ and ‘the killer cocks the pistol’.


6.) There is also a point of view problem. The start of the story appears to be in the killer’s POV, yet later it switches to the girl’s, ie ‘What kind of gun is that? she thought.’ And even in the killer’s POV, the perspective is muddled (ie ‘the killer screamed at her, eyes full of rage’ – How can the killer see his/her own eyes filled with rage?).


7.) In addition, if I had a gun in my face, the last thing I’d be thinking of is ‘what kind of gun is that,’ especially if I didn’t know guns. If the scene is written in the girl’s POV, the author could focus on the physical manifestations of fear, which in turn would ramp up the suspense.


I sense the killer might have more justification than revenge for his/her brother’s embarrassment – maybe the brother committed suicide and there is no going back. Whatever the premise, I have a sense that this author understands pace and tension. There’s a natural storytelling skill here. We have all had to relearn grammar and author craft issues, like point of view. Hang in there, author.


What say you, TKZers? Any constructive criticism for our brave author?

I Am a Recovering Plot Pantser–There, I Said it

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane


book-woman-reading-free-ms



On Monday, guest Steven James had an excellent post on “Fiction Writing Keys for Non-Outliners.” I loved reading his thoughts on trusting the fluidity of the process and chasing after rabbit trails. I can relate to this as a writer. On Tues, our esteemed TKZ contributor, P. J. Parrish, expressed an argument in favor of more structure in her subtle post, “Sometimes You Gotta Suck It Up & Write The Darn Outline” in which she wrote about her love/hate relationship with outlining. These arguments got me thinking about my own process that has evolved over the years.


I started out as a total “pantser,” meaning I came up with a vague notion of characters or a story idea, then started writing to see where it would go. In general, I found this to be liberating and it unleashed my inner story teller, but I found (over time) that I ran out of gas about half way through and hit a wall. I always finished the project. I believe it’s important to finish what you start, if for no other reason than to learn how to get out of tight corners. There’s a true feeling of accomplishment to salvage a story that seemed to be headed for a dead end, and through practice, I learned what pitfalls to avoid. But as a writer under contract, I realized it would be a better use of my time to do some advance thinking on structure, rather than hoisting a shovel to shore up plot holes.


So I found a hybrid method that satisfied my “pantser” free spirit yet provided enough structure to serve as a guidepost – my lighthouse in the fog. I posted a more detailed presentation on TKZ HERE, but I wanted to highlight what this method does for me now.


SAWG YA Presentation - 3-Act Screenplay Structure Diagram 091612


NOTE: A word of caution on any detailed plotting method: A plot structure can become rigid and restrictive if it inhibits the author’s exploration into a new plot twist or character motivation. As Steven James said, some rabbit trails should be explored. For me, this is the fun of storytelling – to uncover a hidden gem of creativity.


When I’m first developing an idea, I break it down into turning points (the 3-Act Screenplay Structure “W”) to get a general notion on structure. It helps me simplify the plotting/outline method into 5 turning points (the W). I can handle 5 things. I use this to write proposals and brainstorm with my crit group for their plots or mine. Rather than getting bogged down by character backstory or other details, I focus on “big ticket” plot movements to provide some substance.


The transition scenes between the turning points are still a mystery that can be explored, but in a synopsis, I can provide enough “meat to the bone” for an editor to get the idea and pair it up with a multi-chapter writing sample. Once I start writing the rest of the book, I can still explore rabbit holes and surprise character motivation twists to embellish the framework I’ve started with. I get my proposal out to my agent (with writing sample, synopsis and pitch) and keep working on current material. While I’m waiting to hear on a sale, I can set the material aside because I have a synopsis to act as a guidepost when I can get back to it. This method has also helped me plot out a whole series, to build onto the storylines (over a series of novels) and ramp up the stakes.


Focusing on turning points from the beginning (before I commit to the writing) has inspired me to spin major plot twists and “play with” the options I should consider. I can reach for complete 180 spins in a “what if” way. As an example of 180 degree turns, I’ve been inspired by the TV show CSI Vegas this season. Many of the episodes are so well written, they make a 180 turn at every commercial break and hit their marks with great twists. I’ve enjoyed this season so much that I record and go back over the plot by taking notes, to see how the writers developed the story. That’s what really good turning points can do for a book/TV show. They pull the reader/viewer into the story and challenge them to figure out where the plot is going. Who dunnit?


So I’m a reformed pantser who has found a way to keep a sense of free spirit, yet write with a framework when I’m ready to go. I feel more efficient, but I still have the flexibility to explore rabbit trails and trust my natural story telling ability.


I’d like to hear from you: How do you handle rabbit trails? Do you put all the work up front in the form of a detailed outline, or do you prefer a lighter touch to “discover” something as you write? Are you a hybrid plotter/outliner too?

Let’s Discuss the Latest on Self-Publishing Resources

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




Just a short blog post today from me, but I could really use your help. I’m interested in hearing from those who have good resources for self-publishing regarding formatting and sales ops. Since we have a wealth of experienced followers on this blog, I’d like to hear your thoughts to broaden my horizons. Self-publishing is a HUGE topic, but I’d like our chat to be focused on the questions below.


Here are some of the things I’m interested in getting updated on:

Format Questions



1.) Do you have format service companies or individuals you would recommend?
I’d like to find a one-stop company or individual who formats for all the major sales outlets: Amazon, B&N, ITunes, Kobo. Please share your experiences.


2.) What format add-ons do you recommend (as far as website links or features) that have worked for you? (ie website links, mailing list signups, retailer sales links, etc.) In other words, what marketing tools do you add to your formats that you would recommend?


3.) Within your format of text, are there navigational aspects or enhancements (bells & whistles) you would recommend to add to your content? (ie chapter list with links to easily navigate within your book, audio enhancements, etc. Some of these might be costly, but I’d love to hear any new ideas.)


4.) Does anyone have a special format service provider for Lightning Source? I hear the LS set up is expensive and corrected proofs must be reloaded. This could be cumbersome, but I hear the quality is good and LS does hardcovers with different distribution outlets. It’s something I’d like more information on.

Sales Enhancements



5.) Regarding sales outlets, are there any new players worth considering?
If you have a site, please post it and comment as to why you would recommend it. I’m thinking the sites mentioned above encompass the majority of sales, but if you’ve found other sites worth considering, I’d love to hear about them.


6.) Has anyone added sales/purchase capability onto their website where a reader could buy from the author directly? I’ve seen this done via a secured PayPal app, but had concerns on sales tax and shipping. I wondered how this worked (for anyone who has experience).


7.) I know promotion is a big topic, but for the purposes of discussion and brevity, what one promotional activity or service provider do you use without fail and would recommend to anyone?

Editing & Cover Design



I haven’t mentioned editing, because again that is a must have for any author and the cost can have a wide range, depending on services needed from line edits to book doctoring. I also haven’t asked about book cover designers. I work with Croco Designs and love Frauke Spanuth. But feel free to mention any other self-publishing services you’ve found helpful.


I bow to your infinite wisdom, TKZers. Please share your thoughts.