I’ve been writing and learning about writing for a very long time and I guess over the years I’ve collected together a few of my own ideas and theories about what makes a book the best it can possibly be. I think the best gift you can give to any story is that “unputdownable” quality (if that’s even a word) that gets a reader hooked and won’t let go. And so it’s that quality in my novels that I’m constantly striving for.
So how do you get that page turning, nail biting suspense that keeps a reader wanting more. I believe the secret is in the narrative tension. This tension must exists in every single scene. Most “How to” books will tell you that. But my own personal theory is, don’t just use one type of tension. Use as many as you can! Three or more tensions in the one scene, indeed in every scene will give you that page turner.
Let me explain.
I have found that the most common forms of tension in narrative are the following.
1. Tension through danger : a character the reader cares about is in danger
2. Tension through deadline: there’s a timeline, due date, ticking clock placed on the main character to get something done or else everything falls apart.
3. Tension through mystery: stress in a character the reader cares about due to “the unknown” or stress in the reader because they know what “the unknown” is but the main character does not!
4. Sexual tension : pretty self explanatory I think
5. Tension through conflict : every character must have the potential to conflict with another whenever you need them too. Either due to personality, their history or their own personal goals.
There’s probably more than this but these are the ones (I’ve found) that are used most often in fiction.
In The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots, I loaded my main character Lena up with as much tension possibilities as I could find. She had deadlines, unknowns(or secrets) to hide or discover, she had a lot of sexual tension with Dan and she had heaps of conflict with just about every character in the book. The dangers to her personally were sexual harassment, getting fired, getting hurt (mostly by crazed kangaroos) and the mystery surrounding Dan just seemed to grow and grow. Some scenes contained several types of tension all running at the same time. It’s all about plaits and using as many strands as you can… all leading to that beautiful bow at the end.
Anyway, that’s just my thoughts for this week….
I get a lot of emails and comments about Dan Hullog who is Lena’s love interest in “The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots.” One of the most commons remarks is, “I really enjoyed your book, but I think I’m in love with Dan.”
One of the most hilarious notes I received was from a very love struck but determined friend of mine, who happened to know that some of the moments in “The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots” was based upon my own actual experiences. For some reason this led her to believe that Dan was a real person who was still waiting for Ms Right. She asked where he lived so that she could maybe just happen to run into him sometime. She was devastated when I revealed that like everyone else in the novel, Dan is a figment of my imagination.
All the same, it’s so wonderful to hear when a character really comes “alive” for readers. Likable characters, I think, are very important. But not too likable. In my opinion characters that are too perfect often seem fake or are difficult to relate to. As a writer, I’m very conscious of giving my puppets flaws, failings and even vices to make them more real.
The hero in my next book, “The Girl in a Hard Hat” was someone I had to work very hard on. The dilemma was he had too many flaws, failings and vices. I had to figure out a way to make him more likable. I ended up writing this list of attractive qualities in men to find the tweak to make him melt your bones fantastic. But it seemed like he had all the Mr Right criteria too. Good looking, great sense of humour, smart, athletic, honest, reliable, brave, giving, protective… the list goes on.
It took me ages to figure out the one thing that he didn’t have which somehow is more important than all the rest put together. It’s the ‘rescue’ element. The problem was my heroine was so self sufficient that she didn’t need anyone to help her achieve her goals. So when Mr Tall, Dark and Dashing stepped on the scene he always came off looking slightly redundant. So then I loaded my heroine up with a few more flaws and sent her back in the ring.
Turns out, it’s not just about character, it’s also about balance. In any case, I am now very happy with both my hero and heroine and with the story in general. I am definitely looking forward to sharing it with you all next year!
The other day I was putting some crumbed fish in the oven for dinner and my three year old son was helping me.
“What’s this, mummy? What’s this?”
I told him that it was fish for our dinner. He cast me a curious look. “Nemo? Mummy? Is it Nemo?”
My son loves watching the Disney movie, Finding Nemo. Desperate not to traumatize the little fellow, I said. “No, no, darling it’s not Nemo.”
To my shock, his expression grew cross. “I want Nemo. Get Nemo.”
Cutting a long story short, I had to get out the packet of frozen fish fillets from the freezer again, remove one and say to him, “Okay this one is Nemo,” and put it on the tray for baking.
“I eat that one?” he announced.
“Yes, you eat that one.” I responded.
Apart from feeling slightly disturbed that my son wanted to eat and in fact did eat one of his favourite cartoon characters, it had me thinking about the way I write. I know… but stay with me. I don’t plot my books. I do like to flesh out my characters before I start but once that’s done, I just put them on the page and see what they do. I find the process more exciting/enjoyable that way. My favourite part about writing is that I don’t know what’s going to happen next. In fact, if I’m writing and I’m getting bored, I usually know why. It’s because for the last chapter I’ve known exactly what’s coming up. So I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I figure if I’m getting bored then my reader is definitely about to put this book down. And I don’t want that!
To fix the problem, I usually scrap the whole chapter and go back to the point where I couldn’t predict what was coming next. Eg. The point where my son says, “I want Nemo. Get Nemo.” If I have to do that more than once in the same chapter it’s usually time to concede writers block and just put the thing away for a few days. But most of the time my method works. All writers are different though. I know some authors who plot whole books from start to finish before they even write, “Chapter 1.” But that’s not for me.
Well, enough pondering. Better get back to work.
Just a reminder….
If you’d like a more personal gift for mum, I’ll be at Dymocks Garden City (125 Riseley St, Booragoon) this Saturday between 12 and 1pm signing books.
See you there!
Apparently, or so I’ve been told, there has been an increase in depression amongst social media junkies. It all happens when they get online to see pictures on facebook of Kym’s amazing ski holiday, Julie’s gorgeous kids and Tamara’s great family day at the beach. Or they read on twitter, that Francine got a new house, Kelly is enjoying her new job and Laura just purchased some awesome outfit at some exclusive boutique up town. It’s no wonder they can’t help but look at themselves and think. “Geez, my life really sux!”
Yeah well, the the truth is, we can’t all be having a fabulous, successful, stress free time, all of the time. Your friends just show you the good bits as you do with them. Nobody wants to put a non-glamorous photo on facebook.
I’m here today to challenge norm. I say celebrate those bad hair days, your messy house, your snotty sick kids, your complete lack of enthusiasm in your current job and all those pictures that you would NEVER share on facebook. These are the moments that make life interesting.
And for me, it’s those moments that inspire the comedy in my writing. In fact, I’m forever writing those moments in my life down for fear that I might forget them when I need them later. There’s nothing more human or empathetic then a character that stops to look at themselves and exclaim. “OMG! How did I get here?”
Just to prove my love of these moments, I promised one of my best friends that I’d buck the system and stick a picture of myself in the morning on facebook! I’ve also attached it to this blog. Definitely not my best time of day, and yes those PJ’s are older than they look and the bottoms don’t match the top. My youngest is actually a girl but she’s wearing her brother’s hand me downs in this photo because I haven’t made it to the shops yet to get her anything girlie for winter. That bowl she’s trying to tip over is actually my breakfast, which I’ve been trying (without success) to eat all morning. That heap of junk it’s sitting on is my dining table which I don’t think I’ve seen in over a week.
So please, join the rebellion! Like my photo or stick up one of your own! Best way to fight depression is with laughter.
Have a great day!
I was very pleased to make the above announcement over the weekend after having finally set the title in stone with my publisher.
I started writing this book in January this year and am currently half way through. I’m really enjoying the story. So I’m hoping it will have a good reception. The story follows Wendy Hopkins, a girl who appears in the final chapter of “The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots.” She is the new safety Manager on the Cape Lambert Wharf and has a few interesting problems of her own. I hope to post a blurb soon!
My deadline is August and I seem to be on schedule. Actually, there isn’t really much give in my target considering I’m also having a baby in August too. That’s right, I’m going to be a mother of FOUR children. Don’t ask!
Many of my readers have been asking for a release date. Well, it all depends on whether I manage to make the deadline. If I do and I am aiming to, it will be a January release. But of course, being pregnant and having three kids to look after AND writing a book at the same time, is in fact, surprise, surprise, rather stressful.
So wish me luck! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that book comes before baby! I’ll keep you posted.
I never realised until I became a mum myself exactly how much sacrifice was involved. Not just of my leisure time or the extra things in life that I can easily part with if I need to. Every part of my existence is affected.
In fact, most of the time mums don’t get to choose what they give up. It just happens.
After all, if you are faced with the difficult choice of choosing between your child and your career or your child and your knitting class or your child and your hair appointment, dental appointment, coffee date, new dress… the list goes on… which are you going to choose? To me it’s a no brainer. Of course, I will choose my child.
If the sacrifice is difficult to make, I will try and explore other ways to satisfy both child and my own needs. But in the end, if it’s too hard, the child always comes first.
So what about writing – one of the bigger passions in my life. Since my first child was born nearly five years ago, it’s taken some large hits in terms of the time and attention I can give to it.
And I’ve given that up willingly for the sake of my children. Until… The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots was published. Suddenly, I have a new book to write, a deadline I have to meet and three children still depending on me. This time however, I went looking for alternative solutions other than self sacrifice.
Where do you think I went first?
The woman who raised me is then faced with a difficult choice. The daughter she loves or her own busy life filled with commitments and goals of her own. This time, as it has been many times in my life, my mother chooses sacrifice. This time, as she puts me first in her life, I realize how big that is. And how giving that is. And how lucky I am.
Thank God for mum.
In celebration of Mother’s Day this year, I’ll be doing a signing at Dymocks Garden City on the 12th May. So if you’re looking for a personal gift for mum, come on down and I’ll sign a book for you.
I don’t know what I’m doing for my own mum yet…. Definitely something special…