Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

Great Writing Advice on Plot, Tone, and How to Begin

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Jessica Barksdale Inclan led a fabulous workshop this past Saturday at the Mt. Diablo Branch’s California Writers Club. Here are a few great ideas she shared: 

 If your work is too dark throughout?   Toni Morrison had this problem in her acclaimed novel, Beloved. The author said she “engineered moments of lightness.”

Don’t know where to start?   “Write little pieces and they’ll start talking to each other.”

Why would anyone want to write in second person? It’s good for hiding pain. Read the poem “House of Horrors” by Tom Sayars.

Her best words on plot?  Plot is tension. It’s developed by presenting a promise and then dropping bits and pieces in along the way. Your writing should be like a mystery. Don’t show everything at once.

Current trend: Editors hate prologues.  Call it chapter one!  They hate introductions.  Call it chapter one!

 Writing Prompt:

1.  Read your current project or a piece you have written.  Does the tone provide different feelings/emotions?   There should be a balance of light and dark, highs and lows.  Use Toni Morrison’s advice if there isn’t.

2.  Try writing a poem, essay or short story in second person.  Or take one of the pieces you have written or a character you have developed and try this point of view here.

3.  Read a work you have written and check to see you haven’t told too much too soon.  Is there enough suspense and tension in your writing?  You may have to take away or drop in more hints of mystery to create a better plot.

Organize your Writing like Target Shopping Center

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Today visited Target to purchase ONE item, but of course we always check out the DVD section, in case they have a $5.00 one that might be a classic.   We waltzed in to discover a shiny remodeled store. 

Instead of placing the DVDs in the front like before, we had to meander through many other aisles before finding them at the back.  Of course winding our way through other brightly colored attractively arranged sections  reminded me those pretty blue placemats and bowls with clever tight-sealing lids I couldn’t live without.

Finally reaching the DVDs, I muttered, “I wonder why they put them all the way back here?”  My hands were full of this and that.  My husband’s hands were too. 

He looked down at our stuff and said, “Gee, I WONDER why?” 

Duh.  Target wanted us to wander around and take our time see what they had to offer.   

Do this in your writing, too. 

Make your reader go deeper in your novel to find what they are looking for.  The answers shouldn’t be out there right away, easily discovered.  That’s no fun!  It’s more intriguing if the reader has to dig, search, and wander around a bit to find out what is going on.

No matter if you are 9 or 90, writing for kids or adults, a short story or a novel, your first page should place a question in the reader’s mind, begging them to turn that page and wander on for more. 

I picked up a used copy of Mary E. Pearson’s young adult novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, flipped it open, and saw the previous owner’s name in the cover. 


Turning to the first page, I read the first several lines of the book.  (A book I’ve previously read and loved, btw.)

I used to be someone.

Someone named Jenna Fox.

That’s what they tell me.  But I am more than a name.  More than they tell me.  More than the facts and statistics they fill me with.  More than the video clips they make me watch. 

On the side of this paragraph, Nicole had written in pencil, Why do they make her watch them?

I love the way Nicole reads.  She has comments sprinkled throughout this book written in pencil.    Some are questions about what the character’s motivation is, what a word means (followed by the definition after she looks it up) and others are her personal predictions of where the story might be going.  If she likes a moment in the book, she’ll underline it and writes thought that was nice

The best part about Nicole is how she makes a personal connection to the story.  She’ll write:  connection:  My grandparents always try to get me to eat more, when Jenna’s parents try to get her to eat when she doesn’t want to. 

That’s what it’s all about, really.  Connecting with our readers.  Mary Pearson did that with her story and Nicole. 

It’s your turn.   You can do it yours and your readers too.

Point 1. Make sure you have a sense of mystery and suspense in your story.  Ask yourself, where can I take out some information and tease the reader with bits of clues instead?

Point 2.   Read like a writer.  Like Nicole!  If it’s YOUR book, write comments in the margins.  Critique it like a writer.  How did the writer get you to feel the way you do?  If it’s not your book, place a stack of post-its in the front of the book.  Post a note where you love the passage for later study.