Just One More Chapter

By Joe Moore

Welcome to 2015. All of us at TKZ wish all of you the best of New Years. From a writing perspective, I hope you produce your best work yet. And from a reader’s perspective, may you discover a new author that thrills you beyond expectations.

As some of you know, I write supernatural thrillers with co-author, Lynn Sholes. We are at the midway point of THE TOMB, book 3 of a series. It is the eighth novel we’ve written together. We’re often asked how two people can write fiction. It’s pretty much a mystery, but I’ve pulled back the curtain in a previous blog post to answer the question.

What I want to reveal today are some of the secrets and tricks we use to keep our readers turning the pages to our thrillers. It’s important to remember that these are the techniques we use; they may not be right for you. They might even make you feel uncomfortable, but our job is to write the best, most exciting story we can. Here’s how we do it.

Probably the number one technique is short chapters. And when I say short, I mean SHORT. With few exceptions, we try to max out each chapter at around 1000 words. Many chapters are only 500-700. Now you’re probably thinking: What can you do with 500 to 1000 words? Answer: Only tell what’s important. Leave out the rest. What moves the story forward or develops the characters? That’s the questions we ask. Then we write it in 1000 words or less.

Number two technique is to end every chapter with a cliffhanger. Leave the reader hanging. Give them a taste of what’s to come, then stop. Here’s an example—the last paragraph from the opening chapter of THE TOMB.

I grabbed the binoculars and searched in the direction of La Pampa for Marquez and his driver. They were standing in front of the restaurant with their backs to me; the colonel talking on his phone. If I called him, he would see my caller ID and no doubt ignore me. For all I knew he was giving the command to start the assault. I thought of blowing the car horn to attract his attention, but that would also attract the attention of the two targets in the restaurant. The same problem if I got out and started yelling for the colonel’s attention. My last option was the one I chose. I pulled up the right leg of my jeans and removed the Walther PPK strapped to my calf. Slipping out of the SUV, I moved at a quick pace to the door on the side of the building. I reached for the knob, determined to follow the most wanted man on the planet.

Technique number three is to keep them hanging. The next chapter should take them someplace else, probably the continuation of the cliffhanger from two chapters ago. The reader finishes the chapter, knows it’s late and she should be in bed, but takes a peek at the next chapter and sees it’s the answer to a previous cliffhanger. And it’s only two or three pages. What does she do? She reads just one more chapter.

The fourth trick we use is to ask ourselves what the reader thinks will happen next. Then we do something different.

Writing in this fashion creates fast pacing, dynamics, and the unexpected. I love to read books like that. And I like to write them. I want to be placed in a position where I have to read just one more chapter. And I love doing the same thing to my readers.

How about you guys? Any secrets and tricks you want to share?

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Why do you write books?

by Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

At one of my recent fiction workshops I asked the attendees why they want to write a book. The responses varied, and all were interesting. Then I pointed out which responses I felt were good reasons and which were not so good. First the not so good.

Fame. Fame is fleeting and almost never comes quickly if at all. For all those striving to become famous, only a few ever achieve it. We’ve all heard stories of writers who self published and became rich. They make the news because they’re rare. If you’re writing for notoriety, reexamine your goals and objectives.

Money. I know a few professional writers who make a good living at the craft. I know many others who make money at writing, but not enough to support themselves and their families. They must be creative in supplementing their writing income—the most common form is to maintain a day job. The rest make so little money at it that one wonders why bother. If you’re writing to make a fortune, call me when you do so I can borrow from you.

Influence. There are some new writers whose main goal is to impress their readers, perhaps with their ginormous brains or voluminous vocabularies. If that’s the motivator you rely on, stick to scientific papers with limited circulation before your brain explodes in frustration.

Agenda. You have a moral crusade and you want to preach it to the masses. You figure you can do it through a novel and no one will figure out that it’s your personal agenda you’re expressing and not your protagonist. Readers are smart. They’ll see you coming a mile away.

Now the good.

No alternative. We write novels because we can’t think of a good reason not to. Wanting to write is not a reason—needing to write is. We simply need to get our stories told. Even if there is no one to read them. Even if we never make a penny. Even if they are for our eyes only. Although it is visually gross and probably tasteless, I always think of the baby alien bursting out of the crewman’s chest in the movie Alien. The story is coming out and there’s nothing we can do about it but sit down and start typing.

As a dear friend and mentor of mine once said, “We write because we’re ate up with it.”

So, TKZers, why do you write?

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Cotten-Stone-Omnibus-DP-TKZComing October 15, from Sholes & Moore: THE COTTEN STONE OMNIBUS. The complete Cotten Stone international bestselling collection—THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY, THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT and THE 731 LEGACY. Download from your favorite e-book store for only $9.99.

“Cotten Stone is a heroine for the ages.”
~ Douglas Preston, #1 NYT bestselling author

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Hippity Head Hopping

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

I teach workshops on a regular basis to mostly beginning writers. A common issue that often shows up in their first drafts deals with point-of-view shifting; specifically what’s called “head hopping”. Most of the time it’s done without the writers even realizing it. They want to make sure enough information is passed on to the reader for the story to make it clear and move forward. I’ve found that even after pointing out the problem, it’s a bit mystifying and confusing to new authors. It takes practice to understand where they’re going wrong. Unfortunately, head hopping comes with some undesirable side effects which I’ll cover below. First, here’s an example of POV head hopping.

Agent Miller watched his partner, Agent Cobb, as they suited up for the assault. Why was Cobb so secretive when he showed up at the staging area? Why had he seemed reluctant to talk about his upcoming promotion? Cobb always confided in him with personal issues. After ten years together, it wasn’t like him.

“You decide to take the gig,” Miller asked as the two suited up for the assault.

“Not sure,” Cobb said and turned away, not wanting his best friend to know that the promotion meant he would soon be Miller’s new boss.

Here we have the inner thoughts of both men. There are two points of view.

It would be easy to conclude that this is omniscient point of view. The omniscient narrator simply knows what both men are thinking. Technically, it is. But there’s a good chance the author didn’t use omniscient POV on purpose. If anything, it was out of inexperience. Omniscient POV is not used much in popular fiction these days. Its heyday came years ago when writers like to play god—all knowing, all seeing. In order to maintain an omniscient POV, the narrator had to know everything about everybody all the time. It’s an oppressive writing style that dilutes the mystery and personal conflict of the plot—one of the side effects I mentioned.

The biggest downside to head hopping is a lack of close, personal connection with the main characters. Readers love to get “inside” the heads of the protagonist and antagonist. They want to see and feel what the characters feel; what makes them tick. With head hopping, it’s more distant and somewhat sterile. Even cold like a documentary where the voice over narrator tells everything in a matter-of-fact fashion. In contemporary fiction, the reader desires to see the story through the character’s eyes, not the narrator’s.

So what’s the solution to head hopping? As an example, let’s rewrite the scene with the two agents. Pick a POV character, usually the protagonist and route everything through his eyes and thoughts. As the writer, put yourself in the character’s head. You’re not a psychic, clairvoyant or mind reader. You can only determine another character’s attitude through their actions, reactions and speech.

Agent Miller watched his partner, Agent Cobb, as they suited up for the assault. Why was Cobb so secretive when he showed up at the staging area? Why had he seemed reluctant to talk about his upcoming promotion? After ten years together, it wasn’t like him.

“You decide to take the gig,” Miller asked. He knew Cobb always confided in him about personal issues.

“Not sure,” Cobb said and turned away.

It was almost as if Cobb was hiding something about the promotion. Something that embarrassed him.

The basic information was revealed in the second version. The difference was that an element of mystery, even conflict emerged. It pushes the story forward and tells the reader something about both characters’ motivation.

So how do you manage multiple POVs?

It’s called the “handoff”. Sort of like when the quarterback hands off the football to the running back. The focus is now on the new character with the ball. In order to shift POV, you must hand off the POV from one character to the other. This can be done with a “drop” or scene change where the first POV character leaves the scene thereby “handing off” the point of view to the remaining character. An even better method is to always stay in a single POV per chapter, shifting only when the new chapter starts.

Shifting POV should be for a specific purpose, not random. Not doing so violates the most important rule of writing: never confuse the reader.

How do you deal with POV shifts? Any additional tips?

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shield-cover-smallComing soon:THE SHIELD by Sholes & Moore

“THE SHIELD rocks on all cylinders.” – James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of THE EYE OF GOD.

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Who is your audience?

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

A few weeks back, I blogged about What, How and Why do You Write? Today I want to discuss who you write for—who is your audience. The more you know about your end-readers, the more you can focus on connecting with them, entertaining them and creating loyal fans.

The first thing I suggest is to focus on an individual reader as you write, not a group. By doing so, you can envision and predict the reader’s response. For instance, it can be a friend that enjoys your work. Picture that reader as you write. Someone that you have received feedback from so you know their likes and dislikes. If your focus-reader has told you what she really likes about your books, then there’s a good chance other readers will like the same things. Maybe she’s said that your stories are highly visual almost like seeing a movie in her head or your characters always seem so down to earth or she loves how your books are like a magic carpet ride taking her to so many exotic locations. And on the flip side, listen to her dislikes. They’re equally important. These comments are keys to keeping your readers happy and coming back for more.

Next, think about your agreement with your reader. Basically it goes like this: if you’re willing to pull money out of your pocket, buy my book, and commit to spending a portion of your valuable time reading it, then I agree to deliver a level of entertainment that is equal to or exceeds what you have experienced in the past. You agree to fulfill the reader’s expectations. Not doing so can be deadly because negative word-of-mouth can rarely be overcome. The person hearing negative comments will probably never give you the chance to redeem yourself.

Remember what genre you write in and deliver the elements that readers of that genre expect. The readers of a particular genre all like the same type of stuff. Give it to them, but in an original fashion with new twists and turns.

Next is the manner in which your focus-reader consumes your book. Hardcover, paperback, ebook? Does she travel a great deal and likes to pass the time reading on the plane? At the beach? At bedtime? Over the weekend but not during the workweek? In public places such as a coffee shop or only at home? Does she always have plenty of time to read or does she have to steal time during her lunch break? Knowing the reading habits of your focus-reader helps you deliver the product that fits her needs and those of your audience.

Once again, concentrate on that one specific focus-reader. Her group will fall in behind.

Finally, remember that you are establishing a one-on-one, intimate connection with your reader. No matter where your book is being read, it’s just you and her. No one else is around. You are communicating with someone, usually a reader you’ll never meet, and it’s always up close and personal. You’re in her head, and hopefully in her heart. Keep focused on that intimate connection. Never let go of her in your mind as you write. She is your target audience. She is your path to success.

So, Zoners, do you envision your target reader as you write? Do you know her likes and dislikes? Are you dedicated to delivering to your specific audience?

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Coming this spring: THE SHIELD by Sholes & Moore
Einstein got it wrong!

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Using Thought-Reactions to Add Attitude & Immediacy

Captivate_full_w_decalby Jodie Renner, editor & author

In my editing and blog posts, I often suggest techniques for bringing characters and the scene to life on the page. A big one I advise over and over is to show the protagonist’s immediate emotional, physical, and/or thought reactions to anything significant that has just happened. This glimpse into the POV character’s real feelings and thoughts increases readers’ emotional engagement, which keeps them eagerly reading. (See Show Your Characters’ Reactions to Bring Them Alive)

Showing your character’s immediate thought-reactions frequently is a great way to let the readers in on what your character is really thinking about what’s going on, how they’re reacting inside, often in contrast to what they’re saying or how they’re acting outwardly. And it helps reveal their personality.

Here are some examples of brief, immediate thought-reactions:

A scene in Breaking Bad

No!

Damn.

What?
 
In your dreams.   

What the hell?

Give me a break!

These direct thoughts, the equivalent of direct speech in quotation marks, are silent, inner words the character can’t or doesn’t want to reveal. It’s most effective to italicize these quick, brief thought-reactions, both for emphasis and to show that it’s a direct thought, like the character talking to herself, not the slightly removed indirect thought.

Here are a few examples of indirect thoughts vs. the closer-in, higher-impact direct thoughts:

Indirect: She’d had enough. She really wanted to leave.

Direct speech: “I’ve had enough. I’m heading out.”

Direct thought: This sucks! I’m outta here.
 
(Or whatever. More personal, more unique voice, more attitude, less social veneer.)

Use present tense for direct thoughts.

If your story is in past tense, as most novels are, narration, indirect speech and thoughts will be in past tense, too. But it’s important to put direct, quoted speech and direct, italicized thoughts in present tense, and first-person (or sometimes second person), as they are the exact words the character is thinking.

Direct thoughts = internal dialogue.

Note: Never use quotation marks for thoughts. Quotation marks are for words spoken out loud.

A few more examples:

Indirect thought: He wondered where she was.

Direct speech (dialogue): “Where is she?” he asked.

Direct thought: Where is she? Or: Where the hell is she, anyway?

Note how the italics take the place of quotation marks when it’s a direct thought, the character talking to himself. Also, the italics indicate direct thoughts, so no need to add “he thought” or “she thought.”

Indirect speech: She asked us what was going on.

Indirect thought: She wondered what was going on.

Direct speech: “What’s going on here?” she asked.

Direct thought-reaction: What on earth is going on?
 
(Or whatever, according to the voice of the POV character.)

To me, using these direct thought-reactions brings the character more to life by showing their innermost, uncensored thoughts and impulses.

In these cases, italics for thoughts take the place of the quotation marks that would be used if the words were spoken out loud. But I advise against putting several long thoughts in a row into italics. In fact, do we even think in complete sentences arranged in logical order to create paragraphs? I don’t think so. Thoughts are often disjointed fragments, as is casual dialogue.

Since italics are also used for emphasis, be sure not to overdo them, or they’ll lose their power.

But do use italics for those immediate thought-reactions, the equivalent of saying out loud, “What!” or “No way!” or “You wish.” Or “I don’t think so.” Or “Yeah, right.” Or “Great.” Or “Perfect.” Or “Oh my god.” Only, for thoughts, take off the quotation marks, of course, so you’ll write: What! or No way, etc.

To me, italics used in this way indicate a fast, sudden break in the social veneer, a revelation or peek into the psyche of the thinker.

So try to insert direct thought-reactions where appropriate to effectively show your character’s immediate internal reactions to events.

But don’t italicize indirect thoughts.

To me, italicizing indirect thoughts (in third-person, past tense) would be the same as putting quotation marks around indirect speech, like: He said, “He wished he could come, too.” (Should be: He said, “I wish I could come, too.”)

So don’t italicize phrases like: Why were they looking for her? She had to find a place to hide!

(“her” and “she” refer to the person thinking.) Keep it in normal font, or change it to a direct thought and italicize:

Why are they looking for me? Where can I hide?

EXAMPLES FROM BESTSELLERS:

Some bestselling authors use a lot of italicized thought-reactions, while others just use them sparingly or not at all. It seems to be a growing trend, though, and I think it’s a great technique for highlighting the character’s inner emotional reactions effectively, directly, and in the fewest possible words.

Lisa Scottoline, for example, uses italicized brief thought-reactions a lot in her novels. They provide a quick peek into the character’s immediate thoughts, without a lot of explaining. Like in Daddy’s Girl:

The heroine, Natalie, has a small cut on her face, and her father, on the phone, asks which hospital

she went to. She says she didn’t need to, “It’s just a little cut.”

  “On your face, no cut is too little. You don’t want a scar. You’re not one of the boys.”
   Oh please. “Dad, it won’t scar.”

Later, a good-looking guy, Angus, makes a suggestion about lunch while they’re working.

   Did he just ask me out?

Later, as they’re working together, Angus tries to protect her, but she isn’t having any of it. The thought-reaction shows the contrast between how she’s really feeling and how she wants him to think she’s going along with his plans.

“I’ll get you out of here in the morning, and you’ll be safe.”
   No way. “Okay, you’ve convinced me.”

Andrew Gross uses frequent thought-reactions in italics very effectively in his riveting thriller, Don’t Look Twice. Here’s one brief example:

A chill ran down her spine. … Don’t let him see you. Get the hell out of here, the tremor said.

And Dean Koontz uses this technique from time to time in his novel Intensity. For example:

Chyna is hesitating about opening a door, then decides to throw caution to the wind:

   Screw it.
   She put her hand on the knob, turned it cautiously, and…

Then later:

   He was coming forward, leisurely covering the same territory over which Chyna had just scuttled.
   What the hell is he doing?
   She wanted to take the photograph but didn’t dare. She put it on the floor where she’d found it.

Note that these intensified thoughts are often at the beginning of a paragraph or set off in their own line, for emphasis. Or sometimes they’re at the end of a paragraph, to leave us with something to think about, as in later in the same book.

Lee Child’s The Affair has lots of examples of Jack Reacher’s critical thoughts in italics. Here’s one of many I could have chosen:

   He asked “Was I on your list of things that might crawl out from under a rock?”
   You were the list, I thought.
   He said, “Was I?”
   “No,” I lied.

(Not to nit-pick with a huge bestselling author, but in my opinion, neither the “I thought” or the “I lied” are necessary above.)

Lee Child also uses this technique a lot in The Hard Way, especially to show Jack Reacher’s mind busily working away while he’s talking to or watching someone, or to emphasize the importance of a bit of info he’s just learned.

David Baldacci uses this technique frequently in Hell’s Corner to show the direct thoughts of his
protagonist, Oliver Stone. Here’s one example:

Burn in hell, Carter, thought Stone as the door closed behind him.
   And I’ll see you when I get there.

Brenda Novak, in her romantic suspense, In Close, uses italicized thoughts to show the contrast between what the character, Claire, is saying and what she’s really thinking:

   “Maybe I could get back to you in the morning after I’ve…I’ve had some sleep.” And a chance to prepare myself for what you might say….

Even TKZ’s James Scott Bell uses this technique in his delightful novellette, Force of Habit. The spunky, rebellious Sister J, a former actress and trained martial arts expert, is being confronted by someone obnoxious who has recognized her. Her internal dialogue shows her (unsuccessful) attempt at calming herself.

   “Can you still kick butt?”
   She could all right, and she felt like kicking something right now. His shin, if not the wall. Think of St. Francis, she told herself. Think of birds and flowers…

Fire up Your Fiction_ebook_2 silversJodie 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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