Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Butt Grabbing Stories

What holds your attention when you read a suspense/thriller novel? The suspense keeps you reading, especially when the author deploys grabber hooks that make you turn the page. But what is it beyond the obvious that keeps you reading?

In my last three blog posts, I talked about plot and characters. Look for novels that hold your attention by combining characters you can believe in with a plot filled with suspense, thrills and action. When you care about the people in the story, you keep reading to learn what happens to them. And you keep reading because you enjoy “being with them.” Good characters become like friends or family so you want to hang out with them whenever you can. This is one reason readers like to re-read novels.

Plot holds your attention when something important is at stake for the characters. The characters have to change the world around them in some way such as eliminating the bad guy or the monster. Along the way, the characters change in important ways as they learn lessons from their adventures. You can’t go into the heart of evil without coming out changed in noticeable ways.

As you read your next novel, look for the way the plot interests you and notice how the characters are not the same at the end of the story as they were in the beginning. Think about what happened in the plot that forced the characters to change. Focus on the main character the first time you read the story. Then go back and focus on the other characters.

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Characters make the difference in suspense

Some suspense/thriller stories revolve around famous or important people. Abraham Lincoln has become a vampire slayer, for example. I prefer the stories where ordinary people face extraordinary circumstances. These stories make you feel like, hey, that could be me facing a space alien, psycho killer, vampire, or worse. What would you do? Do you have that deep down intestinal fortitude to jam the stake through the vampire’s heart, after he wakes up?

Characters you can relate to help you enjoy reading the story. It’s one thing for the characters to be sexy like Hollywood stars. These characters are attractive, of course. But the characters that hold your interest are more like your brother or sister. Or the kid next door. Or your cousin Iva from Cleveland. They have acne scars. Their hair never seems quite right. He ought to really just shave the mustache because it doesn’t work for him… or her. Regular just plain folks grab our attention and hold it in ways that Hollywood sex queens cannot.

Main characters usually can be counted on to be reasonably attractive. Otherwise, you wouldn’t keep reading the story. But there also needs to be that element of everyday folk about them. As you’re reading your next suspense/thriller novel, watch for the way the author describes the main character. How does that description attract you to the character? Consider how the author makes the character real for you. Is it the pretty girl’s sexiness? Or is it her lonesome quality because her mother abandoned her at a young age? What makes the character work for you?

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Suspense Journey as Quest

Bang, bang, shoot ‘em up adventure… or… Why are The Birds behaving that way? … or I’m your father, Luke.  Or how about… Let’s go to Troy and steal Helen back… or Hey, King Arthur, I bet I can find the Holy Grail if I ride around England long enough… Suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat and turning the page… at least the good ones do. How do authors move you as a reader through the plot of their story?

One common plot device is the quest journey. The quest is a complicated plot form that would require a book to fully explain. As a reader, you can keep it simple. There are three phases to a quest that you should be aware of. The first is the “Let’s get going” phase where something happens to motivate the hero or main character to take off on a journey of discovery. One fun thing to look for in this section is the hero almost always turns down the invitation or is reluctant to go on the journey. Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying that the Father would remove this cup from him. Or Luke Skywalker telling Obi Won Kanobi that he has to stay home and help his uncle.

The second part of the quest is the journey itself. Sir Gawain heads off in search of the Green Knight. The private eye sets out to find the killer. The boyfriend sets out to find his missing girlfriend last seen at a nearby motel. During this part of the story, our hero keeps running into obstacles, gets beat up and left for dead, or simply loses his or her way until the final, climactic scene.

The final act is the “Ta-Da, We did it!” section. Dorothy and friends kill the wicked witch. Luke turns his father back from the dark side. The private eye figures out whodunit.

The quest is a clean story with a beginning, middle and end. Not all stories work this way. In Hitchcock’s The Birds, the birds attack for no reason to spoil a perfectly good romantic comedy and turn it into a horror story. Instead of a journey of discovery, there is only hiding and running away. And at the end, when you expect that “Ta-Da” moment, there is none. Instead, you’re left with the birds waiting for the right moment to attack again with the main characters trying to escape in a convertible. The Birds works as suspense, although the slow build up at the beginning may be too slow for modern movie goers.

The old movies used a plot device where they built the story slowly until the big crash when the monster is revealed and the movie heads into a roller coaster ending. Today, you are more likely to go straight into the roller coaster just as it starts down that first hill. That old style helped the movie viewer forget that the movie was a thriller in the first place. You hear about the new suspense movie, you buy your ticket and popcorn. You plop down in your seat and find yourself staring at a romantic comedy that’s not particularly comic but you sort of forget that it’s really a suspense horror story until wham the birds strike and you wake up, jump out of your seat, and enjoy the ride.

Bringing this home to the suspense novel, look for elements of the quest in the stories you read. If you spot a reluctant main character in the beginning of the story, chances are you are reading a quest-based plot. If so, you may want to Google “quest story” and learn more about what this method of storytelling is all about. The more you know about the quest, the more you will enjoy your reading and the easier it will be for you to figure out what will happen next before it happens.

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reading the Quest Story

Suspense/Thriller fiction is often built around the quest. A quest requires the main character to solve a mystery, find something that's missing or solve a problem. The quest teaches the main character something about life so that he or she is a new person at the end. My video goes into this topic.


To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Not Exactly Hardboiled Noir

In noir fiction, you have a fatally flawed main character who ends up dead or worse. The writing is cynical and dark. Most of my fiction gives you the hard hitting, cynical style of a noir drama, but my stories end up in a good place. It’s not possible for a noir story to have a happy ending, so my novels are not true noir.

So why bring this up?
Noir fiction tells a compelling story about life’s losers and ne’er-do-wells. My characters pass through a loser phase but then find redemption. I’m taking the loser and saving his soul by dragging him or her through some muddy places.

I like to lighten the mood with humor. In Fulfillment, humor relieves the tension in an otherwise dark world of the first century C.E. In Faerie Tale, which I’ll release this summer, humor again provides the necessary relief from a frightening world.

In my current work in progress, which shall remain unnamed for the moment, I’m using a heavy amount of humor to the point where I may lose the deep noir darkness, but I’ll keep some of the gray tones. So you may say that I’ll be reversing the style from noir with a touch of humor to humor with a touch of noir.

Style distinguishes an author’s work. Once you have read a few novels by the same author you will be able to pick out the author’s writing even if the name is not given. Style is one of things that makes your favorite author your favorite.

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Monday, May 14, 2012

You Noir What You Noir

In this video I talk about my dark, mysterious "noir" writing style. Enjoy.



To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Watch How the Author Deals with Good Vs. Evil

Suspense stories invariably deal with the battle of good versus evil. Modern suspense writers often make it difficult or impossible for the reader to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Yet, the conflict of good and evil is at the heart of western literature. The way the author handles the moral conflict indicates how he or she views the world, or at least the world of the story.

Is your vampire good or evil in the book you are reading? What about the terrorist? One country’s terrorist is another country’s national hero. Same is true of the spy. Is King Kong good or evil?

In Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense movies, you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. Hitchcock created his films during an age when making this distinction was important to the art of film making. Today’s film makers and suspense authors seem unconcerned about the moral implications of their work, yet it is impossible for them to leave their moral stamp out of their work.

As a suspense novel reader, you have an opportunity to learn about the moral compass that guides the writer. Understanding the moral climate of a work gives you a deeper insight into the action. You'll gain a better understanding for why the characters behave the way they do. And you'll make better guesses as you try to predict what will happen next.

You also gain a richer reading experience by considering the author's moral viewpoint in light of your own. How does the novel affect your own sense of morality? For example, is it really okay for the main character to cheat on his spouse? Did the main character do the right thing when she blew the villain’s head off with a shotgun in the last scene? Just because a vampire makes a good lover, does that make it right for him to turn his love interest into a vampire?

Considering the moral implications and values reflected in the suspense novels you read helps you evaluate your own moral compass. If the author’s moral viewpoint seems out of kilter with your own, is it your morals or the author's that need adjustment?

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Suspense Often Mixes in Other Genres

As you're reading a suspense/thriller novel, stay alert for elements of other fiction genres. Authors like to mix in their choice of mystery, sci-fi, horror, romance or other genres. Mystery and suspense go hand-in-hand. The main action will be about what happens next in the story, but the characters also may be trying to solve a mystery that occurred in the past. By mixing suspense and mystery, the author creates a sense of foreboding as you worry about whether the killer will strike again. And you worry about which of the characters is the killer.

I like to include an element of romance in my suspense stories as do many of the authors I read. Just because the world is about to explode doesn’t mean you can’t take time out to fall in love. Suspense stories add an element to the romance as you become concerned if the bad guy is going to kill the girl before she realizes he’s the killer. It may be a match made in heaven, but that doesn’t mean the author can’t kill off the young beau before the wedding.

Sci-fi almost always includes a big element of suspense so there’s no reason not to mix a little sci-fi with a suspense novel. A new technology may be the very thing the terrorist needs to blow up New Jersey before the lovers meet on the beaches of Wildwood.

And what would a good suspense story be without a monster? While we’re mixing in the monster, let’s make him a lover like King Kong or your favorite vampire. The werewolf can be a romantic interest during the day and the villain at night. It’s all up to the author. The more mixing and matching of genres and characters, usually the better and richer the story.

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Riding the Suspense Roller Coaster

The suspense or thriller novel builds your anticipation of what will happen next. It succeeds by working on your emotions to build a sense of dread, awe or whatever feeling is appropriate as you anticipate what will happen next in the story. Fear and terror are often involved, but other emotions can come into play as well, such as love as you anticipate two people coming together in a suspense-filled forbidden romance. Worry and anxiety play a big role in thriller stories. The author is free to play with any and all emotions while gearing the reader up for what happens next. 

For example, in the film Psycho, Hitchcock spends a lengthy portion of the movie developing Janet Leigh’s character before killing her off in the infamous shower scene. Why spend so much time on a character who is not the main focus of the film? Hitchcock wants you to be emotionally involved with the murder victim before he kills her off to heighten your reaction to the shower scene. Because you care about Marion Crane (Janet Leigh’s character), you experience a greater sense of terror and a heightened sense of loss when she is murdered.

My novel, Fulfillment, is a suspense yarn woven around the original Christmas story. Have you ever wondered about the young girl chosen to become the mother of Jesus? What was she like? Unlike Hitchcock, I throw her into the muddle with Satan before you get to know her. You’ll learn about her as the story of her war with Satan moves forward to the inevitable birth of Jesus and beyond. For the character of Rachel (“Rachel weeps and will not be comforted”), I spend several chapters developing this delightful young mother just so you can fall in love with her and then experience the depths of her despair when the soldiers arrive.

The idea of the thriller or suspense novel is to take you on an emotional roller coaster ride. If you like roller coasters, watch Psycho or read my novel. Enjoy.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Suspense, Terror, Romance, Oh My!

Writers choose a genre of fiction that works best for them. I focus on suspense/thriller while mixing in elements of other genres. This video covers the types of fiction I blend together to make a story.



To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Bag Lady

 Welcome to the return of Scary Suspense Theater featuring a tale from the light side of suspense. Enjoy.



To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Character and Plot Work Together

When you read a suspense/thriller novel, which interests you most: plot or character? Today’s action-packed films, TV shows and novels pile action upon action without giving you a pause for a rest. In such stories, do you even have time to think about the characters? Or are you satisfied knowing some girl is in distress and some hunk is about to save her if he can only get past the bad guys? Is the fun in the act of killing the bad guys while taking a beating?

Or do you care that the girl in question is an innocent college freshman kidnapped from her dorm with her roommate? Maybe she has more debt than she can handle and works a part-time job at a coffee shop where she has a crush on the head barista. Do you care that she dresses in conservative attire and reminds people of a latter day Grace Kelly? In the scene where she was kidnapped, were you moved more by the sweet sound of her golden voice singing in the shower or the rough hands of the kidnapper reaching through the curtains to grab her and drag her kicking and screaming away?

Do you care that the hunk out to save this young lady is her father? Do you feel his anguish as he considers what the kidnapper is doing to his daughter and her roommate? Or do you focus on the particular form of eastern fighting technique he learned while serving as a Navy Seal? Are you looking forward to the girl being restored to her life or to the battle between ex-Seal Dad and a handful of drug-crazed kidnappers?

If you’re reading suspense/thriller novels, my guess is your interest is in the plot or action of the story. You want to see how the dad saves his daughter and read the battle scene where dad rescues the girl and kills the bad guys.

Reading suspense/thriller novels rewards you with exciting “what happens next” action. In the first read through, enjoy the action. If you take the time to read the story a second time, stay alert to the characters. Take time to learn who they are. You may discover a second or third story lurking behind the main action. You may find a romance between a sweet young lady and a starving artist barista. Or you may find a touching story about a father’s love for his family despite his years away from home serving his nation in the military. These secondary stories are well worth the reading and breathe life into the main action of the story. It’s one thing to witness the action of daddy saving daughter, but it’s another thing to feel the father’s pain or experience the daughter’s terror in a way that only a friend or family member can.

If someone kidnaps a stranger, that’s news. If someone kidnaps your friend, that’s personal. By focusing on the characters in a second read of a suspense/thriller novel, the story becomes personal.

To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Characters Form the Heart of Suspense/Thriller Fiction

If you are like me, the first time through a suspense/thriller novel, you’re focused on the action of the story, also known as the plot. Along the way, you are well aware of the characters and the issues the characters are dealing with because, let’s face it, there is no way to separate plot from character.

You may not want to read every thriller twice, but the ones you enjoy the most are worth a repeat visit. The second time around, focus on the characters rather than the plot. You already know what happens next. Now, you want to go deeper into how the characters are impacted by the action.

Start with the main character
What is the main character’s big problem at the start of the story? In my novel Fulfillment, Mary is a happily engaged teenager with no problem to deal out of the ordinary, thank you very much. But then Satan intervenes in her life which leaves her wondering why so much evil is out to get her? The answer comes from an angel visit, also early in the story. How Mary grows through her experiences on a journey that is both physical and spiritual is at the heart of her personal story. In my forthcoming novel, Faerie Tale, the main character has to fulfill a quest which forms the main action for the story while also growing my main character as a human being. But the supporting cast also grows. For example, Peevy begins the story as a man-hater. Watch how she changes through the story when I release the novel later this spring.

As the story you are reading progresses, look for how the characters solve their problems. One challenge is the main plot in which someone or something is out to cause harm. Look beyond this main plot. What else is an issue for the characters? How does each character deal with their issues? How do they grow or mature as the story progresses? How are the characters different at the end of the story compared to the way they were at the beginning?

In some suspense/thriller stories, the characters don’t go through much of a change. The author is telling a simple action story in which some people have to deal with a monster. That’s it. Story over. This approach is used in some series novels where the main character remains pretty much the same from novel to novel.

The second time you read a novel that is part of a series, look for subtle indications of change. You won’t find many unless the author plans to “grow” the character over the course of the series. Stay alert for mention of things that happened in the main character’s past life before the story began. These little insights tell you more about why the main character behaves the way she or he does.

The novels you really enjoy reading work so well because the author has built more into the story than the plot. By paying close attention to the characters on your second read, you’ll begin to see how the author builds a story that has an appealing complexity to it. This complexity is often compared to an onion where once you peel away one layer of the story, you discover another layer underneath. The more layers you peel off, the more you discover. Look for this depth as read and re-read the book.

To learn more about my novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reading for Plot

If like me, you’re hardwired for suspense/thriller stories, then you want to know what happens next. Sure you care about the main characters. Will she live or die? Will the boy marry the girl? But that first time around, we’re focused on the monster. How are they going to kill that thing?

Plot-driven fiction concentrates on the action, usually because the action is bigger than life. But all stories have action. All stories have plot. The difference when you read a plot-driven story is your satisfaction comes primarily from the action of the story rather than the changes the characters may undertake during the action.

In suspense/thriller genre fiction, the story opens with something bad happening but the reader isn’t clued in yet as to what the terror is. As the story continues and more bad things happen to good people, the reader realizes who or what the monster is. The characters in the story figure out who the monster is usually about one-third of the way through the novel. Once they know who is doing it, they go about the business of killing the beast. This journey or quest leads to a climactic battle in which the forces of good triumph over evil in the traditional suspense/thriller.

In more recent stories, the “monster” turns out to be not so bad after all. So the author lets the vampire off the hook in Twilight and the space monster gets his space ship back and leaves the earth unharmed in the film Super8. The real "monster" in Super8 isn't the monster at all. It's the air force officer who abuses the monster. But the space monster ends up killing his share of good guys as well as the evil air force officer.

This shift away from good versus evil reflects today’s culture where morality has degenerated into a philosophy based on “it’s all good.” In traditional storytelling, it ain’t "all good." There are good guys and bad guys. The main character’s job is to stop the bad guy. While it's important to understand we are all capable of good and evil actions, suspense/thriller stories work best when the forces of good battle the forces of evil with a clear victory for good. Otherwise the quest fails. Keep in mind suspense/thriller stories are bigger than life with no need to muck around in the depths of sloppy morality.

Read it again, Sam
One of the joys of the second time reading an action-driven story is discovering the characters. For example, in my novel Fulfillment, which is about God versus Satan, Mary starts out as an innocent, fearful young teenage girl. By story’s end, she is a strong woman who protects her infant son from the vilest of evils. In my soon to be released novel, Faerie Tale, an ex-con who has been beaten down by life after a wrongful conviction, grows into the strong, forceful personality well able to take on demonic forces. So just to contradict myself a little bit, mucking around in the depths of sloppy morality can add to the character development in a suspense/thriller story, but the author should tell this story from a moral base firmly rooted in good triumphs over evil.

To learn more about my novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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