You’ve all read a story or heard a story that just bores you to tears, right?
You don’t want to write that story UNLESS boring people is your goal. That’s a fine goal! You get to have that if you want it. Don’t let anyone take your goal away from you.
But if that’s not your goal? Let’s talk.
To not bore your reader, at the most basic level, you have to do three things. And these three things are the basic elements. Bare bones here, okay?
Keeping your damn word.
Just like in a relationship, when you write a book for someone or tell them a story, you set up an expectation in them that there is going to be a payoff there.
There is always an expectation the reader will have.
Will they catch the murderer?
Will James get out of the giant peach? Will the rich family get out of the town?
Will Lassie save whoever Lassie needs to save?
Your book is full of these promises and questions that you the author set out for the reader and that you have to answer. If you don’t? You’re a promise breaker! And you’ve ruined your relationship with your reader.
Making your damn character interesting (This has to do with plot too, actually.).
Your character has a journey. They make choices. The bigger the story and the scarier? The bigger the choices. The character in a thrilling story has to be the hero, the brave one, the choice-maker. Those choices lead you to a thrilling and amazing finale.
Making time matter
If you have your whole life to hunt down the monster that’s killing everyone in town, there’s not as much tension there.
If the bomb is going to explode in 10,000 years? Same thing. But the pressure of a villain who is killing people, the pressure of the bomb about to explode, the pressure of a destiny that might not happen if you don’t hurry up?
That’s a big deal. It’s a trope. Who cares? Use it.
There’s some other things that make a good thriller, too.
There needs to be high stakes. Time limits. Multiple problems increases those stakes.
There needs to be an actual threat to the characters or society.
There needs to be some things that you don’t expect to happen, happen.
The characters need to be multiple dimensions, not flat little cardboard figures or game pieces. But interesting.
There needs to be some cool action going on. That might be mind games. Mind games count. Car chases do too.
Cool locations. Your reader wants to explore the world from the safety of their bed/couch/porch/subway seat. Your book lets them do that. Use details. Make those locations real.
Writing Tip of the Pod
Think about your damn audience not just yourself.
Dog Tip for Life
Make your own excitement like Gabby. Every moment can be thrilling.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
I interviewed author Steven Wedel, and my cowriter for a couple of books, about where all his writing tension comes from. At first he said his daughter cell phone bills, but then he got all charming and agreed to the interview.
I was born in Stillwater, Okla., in 1966 and we moved to Enid, Okla. about a year later. Some of my earliest memories are of watching The Foreman Scotty Show on a black-and-white TV and winning a call-in contest on the show; the prize was a T.G.&Y. gift certificate. I played in the dirt a lot and had a fire engine peddle car I rode like hell on our back patio.
Somewhere back then, I recall my mom and aunt letting me watch Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” That scared me a lot.
Steve is the author of a bunch of scary books, mostly about werewolves and people.
So, Steve, what do you do to build tension in a scene?
I always come at my writing from a character-first perspective. So, for me, tension comes from creating a character readers really care about. My stories typically start kind of slow because I’m developing the lead character(s). I also write from the POV of the antagonist (keeping in mind that he’s the hero of his own story). This way, the reader sees the goals of both the antagonist and protagonist and can watch as they come closer and closer to confrontation.
Is it a big bang shock sort of technique for you or you more fond of the taking the reader down the dark and sinister hallway?**
Always go down the dark and sinister hallway! Hopefully there’s a big bang shock at the end of it. When I teach my Writing Horror class at the local vo-tech we spend a lot of time comparing Friday the 13th to The Exorcist. In the Friday movies, all you get is the big bang shock. One after another, characters you don’t care about are killed in creative and gruesome ways. In The Exorcist, you see Regan, her mom, and Father Karras in their normal lives. You come to like them before the evil invades their lives. When it does, it starts slowly, with noises in the attic, a quiet conversation about the loss of faith, etc. By the time of the final showdown, you really know these people and are deeply emotionally invested in their well-being.
Do you think that it’s easier to build tension in first or third person? And either way, as a reader (not as a writer), which do you prefer?
Hmm. That’s a tough one. In many regards, I think it’s easier to build tension in third person simply because if it’s told in first person the reader assumes the character telling the story lives. Also, because you can jump heads and show the motivation of the antagonist. That’s something you can’t do so well in first person because the reader can only see what that one character sees, only know what that one character knows. As a reader, I love the intimacy of the first person narrative, though.
If you think of suspense coming in different sizes (small, medium, super-ultra large), do you think it’s best to alternate these or are you into the steady diet of massive (or tiny) suspenses in your book?
I think of it as dating. Let’s say the goal is, umm … the honeymoon night activity. There are stages you go through in getting there.
“If I try to hold her hand, will she pull away and tell me how gross I am and how she’ll kill me if I ever touch her again?”
He thinks about that, stews about it, starts to do it, but she suddenly has an itch and her hand is gone.
He waits, waits, waits, then tries again. Success! She looks at him and smiles. Later, he wants to kiss her. The stakes are higher, so he’ll have to think about that one longer. After all, his breath probably stinks, he’s never kissed anyone before, doesn’t know how to form his lips, when to use his tongue, how long to hold the kiss, all that. But then it simply happens and it’s fantastic and you release a little of that tension. There are smaller goals, medium goals and that super-ultra large goal waiting at the end of the story.
When you write do you think the nature of your suspense comes from your characters or from the plot?
What? Are you my wife? You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you? Well, I have that affect on women.* Ya’ll just tune me out. I’m like the checkbook trying to say, “Do you really need another pair of shoes?” when you’re already at Shoe Carnival.
Plot is important, of course. You have to have something going on. This is why I don’t get into much “mainstream” literature. Too often, nothing really happens. Interesting people become boring if all they do is veg in front of the TV. Something has to be going on in their lives, and they have to react, anticipate, and act to shape the course of those events.
Last night I finished this new book where nobody was killed, the foundation of the planet wasn’t threatened, and no ship capsized to kill hundreds, but a lot happened to this one fascinating young girl who was writing letters to John Wayne. In the grand scheme of things, what was going on with her was pretty small potatoes, but in her world the events were huge. That’s what’s important. It was completely believable that Lily became a “girl hero” in the context of her story, but she wasn’t going to be defusing atomic bombs in that story. The plot will grow out of the characters.****
I’ve tried developing stories where the plot is more important and I end up with cardboard cutout characters that are just moved across the board like the little plastic pegs in the little plastic cars in the Life game.
Steve, you are awesome! Thank you so much!
*Reader, he does NOT have this affect on women. It is the opposite. I swear to you. ** Reader, we talk about these techniques in an earlier post. *** Reader, does it annoy you to be called reader? If I sent you strudel would it make it better
**** This is my book he’s referring to. Steve is nice like that.
NEW BOOK ALERT!
My little novella (It’s spare. It’s sad) is out and it’s just $1,99. It is a book of my heart and I am so worried about it, honestly.
So, last month Carrie was on an airplane, where she was trapped on a Philadelphia runway for awhile. Okay, hours. And someone kept expelling gas out the rectum.
In Shaun language that means fart.
Anyways, they were all trapped there, smelling this smell, and it was bad. Not bad enough for them to cancel the flight, which has allegedly happened in the past, but it was bad.
We’re not talking about the nice kind of dutch ovens from Le Creuset where you make phenomenal meals. We’re talking about the kind where you’re in bed with someone and you make a bad smell and then yank up the covers and trap your loved one in there so they must smell the smell and they can’t escape.
What does this have to do with writing?
Dutch ovens are all about being trapped in a situation you’d rather not be in, right? That tension and need to escape is a big part of writing, especially writing thrillers.
Writing Tension Tip #1
Writers need tension in their story, but you don’t want to kill your reader with that tension. Your tension has a goal and a purpose. It’s not just thrown in there for no reason. It’s like when you’re in a fight. You don’t throw a punch without a purpose. You want to knock someone down.
Tension is like that.
But if you let it all loose at once (think bad gas) and then trap someone in there with it? They’re going to want to escape. If there’s no point in the tension except for tension then the reader is going to be overwhelmed and try to escape.
Writing Tension Tip #2
However, your hero? You want to trap them. You want that hero to be stuck in the dutch oven and trying to get out. Trapping your hero makes the reader sympathize with the hero.
Trap your hero. Put her in an impossible situation. Make him work to get out of it. Have them trapped emotionally and physically and need desperately to escape. All the tension must be around that.
Writing Tip of the Pod
Trap your hero but not your readers.
Dog Tip for Life
It’s best to expel gas silently and blame the humans.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?
HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON
On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more.
WHAT IS PATREON?
A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.
HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!
BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!
Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!
No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?
It’s writing tip Wednesday and I’m going to have some fast tips this week and next about making thrillers. Yes, you know those stories that make your heart pound with anxiety, where you aren’t sure what will happen next, where you are secretly saying, “Who comes up with this?”
Here are the pointers!
First, structure. Thrillers have pretty dynamic structures that escalate throughout the story. And there have been a million people who have written about this well and even created diagrams.
Seriously. The stakes have to be high for the hero to jump through all the hoops she has to jump through to make things right. Her stakes should be personal and high.
Make the clock tick
If you only have 23 hours to save your puppy, things are going to be even more charged up.
Do a Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler said, “When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun.”
It doesn’t have to be a gun. It doesn’t have to be a man. Just have something super exciting happen that’s somewhat shocking.
A wolf leaps into the room.
A robot hand breaks through the wall.
A woman screams.
Cardi B shows up at your character’s doorstep.
Big Foot serenades your character from outside the window.
Let the Bad Guy Make Sense (to himself)
When you are good, evil doesn’t make much sense, but that’s because we are seldom the villains in our own stories, right? The bad guy’s actions need to make sense to him. Plus, it will make your readers think, “Oh… I have a little sympathy going on. What’s that mean?”
Just like any major character, it makes sense to really understand who your villain is. It keeps him from being two-dimensional. Nobody wants a flat character.
I’m going to be hanging out at the Augusta Civic Center (Maine) on Saturday, Sept. 8 as part of a Maine Literacy event. It’s open to the public and cool. It’s from 10-2.
ENHANCED PAPERBACK RELEASE!
Carrie Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Flying, presents another science fiction adventure of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana in Enhanced.
Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.
Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.
They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.
“Witty dialogue and flawless action.”—VOYA
“YA readers, you’re in for a treat this week. Hilarious and action-packed, this novel is sure to be the perfect summer read.”—Bookish
“Funny and playful, with a diverse cast of characters and a bit of romance and adventure, Flying is the perfect light summer read.”—BookPage
Order Your Copy:
I made a video about copy editing my next book, co-written with Steve Wedel. It’s called IN THE WOODS and its scary self arrives in 2019. BUT HERE IS THE GOOFY VIDEO!
Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLEis still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.
The Final Time Stoppers Book
What is it? It’s the third TIME STOPPERS book!
Time Stopper Annie’s newfound home, the enchanted town Aurora, is in danger. The vicious Raiff will stop at nothing to steal the town’s magic, and Annie is the only one who can defeat him–even though it’s prophesied that she’ll “fall with evil.”
Alongside her loyal band of friends Eva, Bloom, SalGoud, and Jamie, who still isn’t quite sure whether he’s a troll or not, Annie journeys deep into the Raiff’s realm, the Badlands. The group will face everything from ruthless monsters to their own deepest fears. Can Annie find the courage to confront the Raiff and save everyone, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?
What People are Saying About The Books:
“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” – School Library Journal
“The characters show welcome kindness and poignant insecurity, and the text sprinkles in humor . . . and an abundance of magical creatures.” – Kirkus Reviews
“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –School Library Journal
For signed copies – email firstname.lastname@example.org for Sherman’s or email email@example.com let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!