We’re all novels in progress. We’re writing a new chapter each day from sunrise to sundown. We never have writer’s block since our writing is the acting out of our lives. The people who come into our lives our among the characters in our novel. Some will appear briefly. Others will be part of the drama that unfolds as we live each day. Writers create. Since we are writing our novel with each waking moment, we can choose what we want to happen in our novel. We can create the life we want to live. We’ll have our ups and downs, we can create how we respond to each of them. We can write a great novel with our lives.
Make The Marble
Michelangelo reputedly said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Writers must free their angels as well. But first you need the marble. The marble in this case is all the primary material that will come to form the basis of your novel. For many of us, that involves research.
Cooks know there’s something called a mise en place: You read the recipe, if there is one, and assemble your tools and ingredients. It’s another way of saying that the cooking begins before you begin cooking.
The same thing is true for writing. The writer’s mise en place is in fact a place. Do you have a place where you can think, where you can dream and explore? A private office is wonderful, but it isn’t essential. I’ve written several books on various dining room tables. . . . Your writer’s mise en place will help you settle into your creative mind, reduce outside distractions, and signal to your subconscious that you’re about to begin. Instead of avoiding all the heavy thinking and struggling that you might be putting off, you can let the physical world gently lead you into the story.
The best thrillers stab the heart, throughout. They do it by getting readers to experience the emotions of the scenes. How can you do that? First, by experiencing them yourself. Sense memory is a technique used by many serious actors. Here’s how it works: You concentrate on recalling an emotional moment in your life, and recreate each of the senses in your memory (sight, smell, touch, sound, etc.) until you begin to feel the emotion again. And you will. The actor transfers that to her role; the writer, to the page.
Another method is the old Raymond Chandler advice: When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun. It doesn’t have to be an actual man with an actual gun, of course. It can be anything that bursts into a scene and shakes things up. Here’s the key: Get your imagination to give you the surprise without justification.
Make a quick list of at least 10 things that just pop into your mind. For example:
- A woman runs in screaming.
- The lights go out.
- A car crashes through the wall.
- Heart attack.
- SWAT team outside.
- Marching band outside.
- TV announcer mentions character’s name.
- A baby cries (what baby?).
- Blood drips down the wall.
- Justin Bieber comes in with a gun.
Some things on your list will seem silly. That’s OK. Don’t judge. Look back and find the most original item, and only then find a reason for it.
There’s nothing like a stunning twist or shock to keep readers flipping, clicking or swiping pages. Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.
Harlan Coben is one of the reigning kings of the art of surprise. “I’ve rarely met a twist I didn’t like,” he has said. His method, if it can be called that, is to write himself “into a lot of corners” and see how things work out. That’s one way to go. Forcing your writer’s mind to deal with conundrums is a great practice.
“How much more chilling is the bad guy who has a strong argument for his actions, or who even engenders a bit of sympathy? The crosscurrents of emotion this will create in your readers will deepen your thriller in ways that virtually no other technique can accomplish. The trick is not to overdo it—if you stack the deck against your villain, readers will feel manipulated. Start by giving your antagonist just as rich a backstory as your hero. What hopes and dreams did he have? How were they dashed? What life-altering hurt did he suffer? Who betrayed him? How did all of this affect him over the course of his life?”
It’s hard to begin a novel. Heck, it’s even hard to begin a blog post. Why? You only have a few lines to grab a reader and draw them into your world, and the pressure is on.
While we often obsess over plot, pacing, and other mechanics of storytelling, the open is one of the most important (and difficult) elements to master. It’s a promise that you offer to your reader. Nail it and readers will stick with you, even if other elements of your story aren’t perfect. But if you don’t start your novel off in the right place, readers will grow bored or get confused and eventually give up. Not good.
A lot of writers make the mistake of starting out with background information, but you should delay that until later on in your story. Don’t spend time with too much preamble. Plunge your reader into the heart of the action to hook them right away.
Point of View
A point of view is the perspective an author uses to give a glimpse into the world he’s created. The reader may experience this world directly through the inner thoughts of a character or distantly from the perspective of an objective observer. Point of view is an important literary device for exploring a story. The point of view an author chooses can determine how the reader understands and participates in the story. Point of view can be used to express the feelings, thoughts, motivations, and experiences of one or many. It is the angle that the story is viewed through.
5 Writing Tips
- Use writing prompts to work your way out of writer’s block.
- Write for your readers not for success.
- Avoid adverbs whenever possible. Adverbs tell and don’t show because they draw a conclusion. Here are a few examples of adverbs: Sweetly, beautifully, hatefully, and suddenly.
- Avoid using dialects or phonetic spelling. It takes the reader out of the moment.
- Cut it if you, as a reader, would skip it.