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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Suspense Technique #4

I don't know what kind of person you are. Maybe you're easy going. Things just roll off your back. Something doesn't go your way…no sweat. There's always the next time. Not me. Now in general, I am pretty easy going. I am a good listener. I'm calm. I rarely get so upset that I yell and scream or any of that. But when I set my expectations on something and it doesn't pan out…awwwwww shucks. I'm as mad as a hatter. I rant. I rave. I tell you if there's something I'm after I put "missile lock" on it and anything that gets in my way gets vaporized. I'm like a bull dog clamping down on a bone.

So why do I bring this up? Cheap therapy, you say? Well, maybe. But I really was just trying to preface the next Suspense Technique:


The whole expectations thing is pretty universal thing (maybe not to the degree I experience), but by and large when people set their hopes on something and it doesn't happen, we hurt or we get angry or in some cases, we try to get even. Heh, heh, heh.

When things don't meet our expectations, we get FRUSTRATED. Folks, this is the heart and soul of suspense. And not just at the beginning to hook the reader, but throughout the story to keep them hooked.

Here's what you do. You make it clear that your main character has some kind of goal he/she wants to achieve. Then you put every obstacle you can think of in the path of sed character to frustrate his/her efforts. You get to play God with the "smite" button as in the famed Far Side cartoon. Remember the golden rule of fiction: Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse for the main character, you make it worse.

But be careful. You can overdo this one. Every so often you throw your main character (and the reader) a bone. You let them have just a taste of fulfillment. And then…you yank the rug our from under them, and make them turn the page.

Here's an example:

There she was: Alison Wingate. She always walked home from school with the same group of her girlfriends. But at the corner of Maple St. and Elvis Lane, she always bid her friends a fond adieu. Six months, Bryce had planned it--since the beginning of summer. He'd had a crush on Alison since the 7th grade. Now they were seniors. And she'd finally dumped that meathead football player, Jake Thunder--butt or whatever his name was. Now was Bryce's chance. Every aspect of his plan had been meticulously mapped out. Nothing could go wrong.

Except that it could. Alison turned the corner, and Bryce stepped out into the sidewalk with the dozen exotic purple roses he'd ordered. But when Alison turned the corner, she wasn't alone. One of her girlfriends was still with her. Oh, no! Not Becky Snodgrass! Bryce looked at the roses and up the sidewalk to Alison and Becky. What if Becky thought they were for her? She would think that too. Becky had slipped him a most disturbing note during newspaper class. Bryce freaked. But what could he do? He saw Alison look up. Did she see him? He wasn't sure.

Roses and all, he dove into the bushes…and put his elbow right into a hornets nest. The black and white bees streamed out in an angry flood. He felt their stings even as he tore himself free from the bushes. Screaming, he came through the other side of the hedge, saw sparkling water and leaped for it.

He plunged deep into the swimming pool. The bees drowned but they stung him a few more times for good measure before they died. Bryce finally came up from the water and found himself face-to-face with a pit bull.

This is the 4th Contest in the Suspense Techniques Series. Come on, you know you want to make your characters miserable. Have at it. Winner gets either a signed copy of Isle of Swords or Door Within extended dance remix. ;-) Btw, I have not judged the previous entries. I'd still like to see a few more authors get involved first. And I use author correctly. Published or not yet published, you are authors.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Grand Slam Homerun--I can't believe how good this movie was.

I taught Language Arts in Anne Arundel County for eight years. My first year, someone handed me Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I read the book and just about fell out of my bed. I wondered, how did Katherine Paterson spy on me when I was ten without me ever knowing?! I was Jess Aarons. The crazy little kid who drew all the time; the one who made up adventures and imaginary worlds (shocked aren't you?).

So I was ecstatic to finally see a REAL movie made of such a wonderful book. My wife and I took all of our kids. I cannot possibly tell you how wonderful this movie was. Walden Media in cooperation with Disney stayed so true to the book (though the trailer would lead you to believe otherwise) that I found myself tearing up at parts that weren't sad, just accurate. That's so rare when a book goes to the sceen.

And afterward, my children and I spoke about things, things of God and heaven, and how we Christians never have to say goodbye, but only…until later. I'm telling you, RUN do not walk to see this movie! Tell all your friends and their friends. Introduce your friends to total strangers, and then tell them to see the movie also!

The Christian Community often decries the lack of quality family movies coming out of Hollywood, but we need to shell out the $$$ and support good stuff when it comes out. This is such a film. Katherine Paterson must be deliriously happy with the result. I know I was.

Author Talk with Christopher Hopper and Wayne Thomas Batson

You may remember a coupla weeks back I posted a few times about the tremendous opportunity I had to work with another fantasy author in what we termed, "Writer's Bootcamp." It was anything but a military drudgery. We had a creative field day, brainstorming and helping each other break through writer's block.

You may also remember that we spent quite a bit of time at a pub called The Banshee, crafting ideas in the spirit of (if not the genius of) Tolkien and Lewis. During that time, we set up a video camera and answered a few Frequently Asked Questions. Check out the video…if you're really bored. LOL

Oh, and if you're expecting "author clothes" and stuffy stilted "writer chat," you might not want to watch. ;-)

The video is above. Enjoy it if you have 10 minutes to kill. HA!!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Isle of Swords Final Cover!

Hey, Tommy Nelson Publishing just sent me the final artwork for the Isle of Swords cover! I'm getting SO stoked! Let me know what you think. If you were browsing the aisles at a bookstore, would you notice this?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

In the meantime...

I'll be posting Suspense Technique #4 very soon!

But in the meantime, I have a quandary I'd like to run by readers and retailers. I'm a Christian, and I'm a writer, and my publisher is a Christian Publisher. My mission as a Christian Author is twofold: write good quality fiction and hopefully get my nonChristian readers to start thinking about the big questions of life--question for which IMHO Jesus is the only answer. I wrote The Door Within books so that someone familiar with the Bible would pick up on the allegories, the parallels, and the symbolism. But I wrote it with the intent that ANYONE could simply enjoy the thrilling adventure. Truth is there, but I don't want to be preachy.

So here's the issue: my books go to Christian Bookstores and Secular Bookstores. In a Christian bookstore, The Door Within Series (and presumably Isle of Swords) can be placed in a number of sections and still be found by readers shopping for new books.

BUT, in the secular chains: Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc. my books are being shelved and displayed very differently. Borders shelves the books in with regular fiction, but the others put my books in "Religious Fiction" or worse, "Religion." The problem with the latter is that in these giant mainstream stores, the "Religious Fiction" sections tend to be squirreled away into tiny, very non-visible parts of the store. Guess how much traffic these little sections get? Yep. Not much--not compared to the regular fiction sections.

I've spoken to several store managers, and they agreed that it's the publisher who decides how a books should be labeled. The bookstores then shelve the stock according to the publisher prescribed label. So there's the rub: my publisher says where the books go, but I'm concerned that my books will miss half (or more than half) of my mission field.

Any thoughts? Where do you shop? And where do you look first? Or is this much ado about nothing?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Suspense Technique #3

The term "cliffhanger" embodies the concept of the 3rd Suspense Technique. It brings to mind visions of a main character (Sylvester Stallone, maybe?), dangling by one hand from the edge of a precipice. One wrong move, even a breath of wind, and your hero will plummet to a most unsavory death. And unlike the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons, this death will be pretty final. ;-) And on TV, the words "To be continued..." usually pop up at the worst possible moment leaving the main character in his/predicament (and you the viewer as well) until the next episode. Putting a character in peril is a great way to hook your readers. The 3rd Suspense Technique:
Certain genres are more conducive to this technique. Fantasy is certainly wide open for it. There are a couple of ways to pull off peril. One is obvious physical peril--an unsuspecting lass walking beneath a falling piano, a young guy racing his motorbike towards a gaping chasm, or as in The Door Within, a young hero being chased by a bad guy with two pointy swords.

There are also subtle ways to create peril. What you do is create implied danger. A menacing shadow, a stranger following the hero but staying just out of sight, the doctor looking at the hero's test results and shaking his head. I like this kind of danger because it allows the reader's imagination to go crazy. Lovecraft, the father of modern horror was a master of this. The villain you don't see is often scarier than the one you do see.

Here's an example:

1. Rachael stared at the gray expanse before her. Now that the bridge was destroyed, the web was the only way to cross the gorge and rescue her baby sister from the Varlocks. Rachel knew the web was strong enough to bear her weight. But, if it came to it, Rachael would gladly accept a quick fall and a painless death, smashed upon the rocks below. It was the alternative that concerned her more. The spider rumored to cling inverted beneath the web, waiting for the vibrations of something edible prancing upon her web--that was the fear. For death in the webs of this creature would mean long and slow, endless pain, as the creatures digestive fluids, cell by cell, consumed Rachael's flesh. Rachael clenched her fists and stepped out onto the web.

The contest and reward are the same for this technique. Good luck.