I blogged today on Sidekicks as Secondary Characters at http://ffnp.blogspot.com/. Check it out and leave a comment for a chance to enter my drawing for a $7 gift card to TWRP.
Attended RWA conference today: State of the Industry Talk with publisher Lou Aronica, keynote luncheon with Nora Roberts, and two panels today on paranormals and writing in multiple genres. More details to follow when I’m home.
Bait and Switch Tactics are a means to keep your reader on the edge of her seat with gripping fear for your characters’ lives. What you’ll want to do is isolate your characters, then write scenes in each person’s viewpoint with a cliffhanger at the end of each sequence.
Take my main characters in SILVER SERENADE, for example. Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to kill Bluth, the leader of Tyrone’s Marauders. Jace, a hunted criminal, needs the terrorist alive to prove his innocence. Bluth has kidnapped his sister. Jace must learn her location to attempt a rescue, and Silver has promised to help him before she ends Bluth’s tyranny.
In one scene, Silver and Jace confront the terrorist leader in his lair. The purpose of this scene is to deliver important information to propel the action forward. To rachet up the suspense, I’ve isolated these people. Here is how the scene breaks down into several sequences [SPOILER ALERT!]:
1. Jace=s viewpoint. Jace and Silver, in disguise, present themselves as new recruits for Bluth=s terrorist network. They look for their contact, Gruber, at a saloon on the planet Al=ron. While sitting at the bar, Silver shrugs off a roughneck patron who makes a play for her. The fellow insults Jace, who kills him. After this display, their contact approaches and introduces them to the bandit leader. Impressed by Jace’s quick response, Bluth says they passed the first test. He=ll take Silver with him to his headquarters, but Jace must follow them alone in his ship. Jace fears for Silver=s safety. Or worse, will she use this opportunity to assassinate Bluth and leave him behind?
2. Silver=s viewpoint. She is on a firing range at headquarters for Tyrone=s Marauders, being tested for her skills as a sharpshooter. She passes the test. Her supervisor marches her to the detention center where the evil Bluth snatches a captive child from his mother=s arms and demands Silver shoot him. Tempted to aim her laser rifle at Bluth instead, Silver manages to demonstrate her skill in a less lethal manner. During their dialogue, she learns a piece of important information. Bluth leads her away, while she wonders what=s happened to Jace who has failed to show up. Has he been caught?
3. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace’s cover has been blown, and Bluth arrives to torture him in his prison cell. Bluth questions him about his contact, Gruber. Was Gruber duped by Jace, or is he a willing accomplice? Jace turns the interrogation around when he learns where his sister is being held and also gains news on urgent political issues. What chills him more is Bluth’s boast that Silver waits for him in his chamber, unaware the pirate knows her true identity.
4. Silver’s viewpoint: Silver seeks to rescue Jace. In the hallway, she hears approaching footsteps. She opens the nearest unlocked door and slips inside a stranger=s quarters. He turns out to be a financial officer for Bluth. After rendering him unconscious, Silver copies data from his computer. This information may help prove Jace=s innocence and may also help them cut off Bluth’s funding at its source. But this data will only be useful if she can escape the complex. How can she reach the detention center and free Jace?
5. Jace’s viewpoint: Guards arrive to march him from his cell, and he figures he’s marked for execution.
And so on. You get the idea? When I began this scene, I had no idea how it would play out. The sequences developed as I wrote, but each time I was in one character’s head, I left them at a critical juncture. Hopefully this will induce you, the reader, to keep turning pages to see what happens to them next.
In summary, to increase suspense, isolate your main characters and leave each one in jeopardy or fearing for the other’s safety at the end of each sequence. Switch back and forth, until they meet again. This technique has been used successfully in many thrillers, and you can deploy it for your story as well. Hook the reader and reel them in!
For the first time in my publishing career, I’m creating a character grid to keep track of my characters. I’m doing this three-quarters of the way through book number two in the series because it’s essential for what comes next.
It wasn’t necessary for my earlier Bad Hair Day mysteries because those stories all featured Marla Shore, hairdresser and amateur sleuth. We, the reader, viewed everything through her eyes.
But the paranormal romance series I’m working on now features warriors from the stars who join forces with a special group of Earth women to prevent a coming cataclysm. Each book involves a different warrior and his destined mate. Book One sets the story into play and creates the world building elements. By Book Two, my characters have scattered and each one has a specific job to accomplish. When all the guys come together at the end of this story, I have to know what each of them has been doing.
Have I confused you yet? It’s complicated, especially when you add my two villains into the mix. How are they reacting to the heroes, and what countermeasures are they taking? Figuring out this grid is giving me a headache, even though I have most of these details in my notes.
For those of you who write series with spinoff characters, what methods do you use to keep track of each character’s movements?
Are there times when you feel brain dead or too tired to think straight? Never fear, you can still accomplish something by doing a mindless task. Here’s a list of boring jobs to do when you want to be productive without much mental effort.
Organize your Internet Bookmarks or Favorites
Verify that the links are still valid on your Favorites list
Verify that the links are still valid on your website
Update mailing lists and remove bounces and unsubscribes
Transfer files from floppies (if you still have them) onto your hard drive
Back up your files to other media
Clean out and sort files on computer and in office drawers
Erase old messages you don’t need to retain in Email folders
File papers in your To Be Filed stack
Do research for your next scene
Convert your old version word processing files into latest version on your computer
Search for and eliminate duplicate photos and files
STARLIGHT CHILD, book three in my Light-Years Trilogy, is now available in digital format.
When terrorists kidnap the Great Healer’s daughter, Mara Hendricks offers her extrasensory powers to help rescue the child. She joins Cmdr. Deke Sage on a journey to the distant planet Yanura, but their mutual passion threatens to distract them from their goal. Sage is unwilling to open himself completely to this tempting woman, until he realizes that without her powers their mission will fail.
Mara Hendricks is assigned to the team sent to rescue her best friend’s abducted daughter. Her psychic ability aids in tracking the baby’s location. But instead of being impressed by her talent, the handsome mission leader is repelled by her unusual gift. Agonizing over his rejection, Mara realizes they’re meant to be together when she sees the rose light of love shining from his aura. Before their mission is complete, she vows to show her daring warrior the joys of enlightenment.
Commander Deke Sage is dismayed to meet the lovely cultural specialist assigned to his rescue team. Not only does she disagree with his political views, but she possesses a powerful weapon that threatens to undermine his goals. When they’re together, she lifts him to heights of passion he hadn’t known existed. Can he resist the spell she casts over him to complete his mission?
Writers who are plotters know what is supposed to happen going into a scene. At least, we know what we want to happen to our characters when they move from Point A to Point B. How they traverse that distance often comes as a surprise and may require a leap of faith.
For example, in my latest paranormal WIP, I entered a scene knowing what information my characters had to obtain. It seemed too easy. Were they just going to stroll into the lion’s den, get their scoop, and leave without opposition? Something bad had to happen. Haven’t we been taught to toss our characters into situations that test their mettle? So what could happen to them to throw them offguard?
Jennifer and Paz split up inside a fictional theme park in Hong Kong. Theme Parks are a key element in my paranormal series. What could be creepier than a happy place where everyone seems to be having a good time but something evil ferments below the surface? Both Paz and Jen each have an objective to accomplish. Starting with the heroine, she obtains the information she needs with relative ease. But just as she figures she’s got the goods and can leave, a ride attendant stops her. What ensues developed from the plot and my notes, but I hadn’t seen it coming. It introduces information important to the next books in the series and adds a new layer to the story. This twist was in my head all along. I just needed faith that the scene would carry forth the logic I’d built until now.
Ditto for the hero, who risks going deeper into bad guy territory to get what he needs. As I entered his viewpoint, I wondered how to complicate matters for him. Was Paz just going to jump in, collect his data, and leave so readily? Of course not! Yet I had not foreseen what would happen to him either. Just as it does with Jen, this twist ties in with later events.
I’ve blogged on Story Magic before, but these are perfect examples of how the blank page gets filled in via unexpected ways. It’s the writer’s subconscious at work, mulling over plot details, and these new twists pop up when we’re least expecting them. I thought of the heroine’s situation while driving in the car with my husband at the wheel (See Blog below about The Writer’s Mind). This is the glorious creative time when the story almost writes itself. Compare the plot outline or story synopsis to a skeleton. The creative process fills in the flesh on the bones.
Now if only I can figure out how Paz and Jen will free the dragon trapped in a cave.
I’m sitting in the car at a traffic light, and my mind wanders. My hero accesses the villain’s fortress to determine how they are keeping open a dimensional rift. He’s been there before but missed some important data. What is different this time? He has gone shopping in the interval. Did I have him buy electronics so he could use his spacefaring skills to assemble a sensor device? Oops, better add that into the story. What data would he collect this time that he wasn’t able to acquire before? He has to determine the rifts are being kept open by a particle generator. So it makes sense that he detects the particles. A constant bombardment of these particles from the other side could be what the evil Trolleks are using to force open the rifts. The pressure would have to be tremendous. I’ve already mentioned neutrinos in the story, but they pass through matter. What about anti-neutrinos? Or better still, something with mass. More research required! Or, I could just make up my own quantum particles.
The light changes to green. My mind shifts into reality. I’ll have to wait until I get home to follow this train of thought. As my foot presses on the accelerator, I’m also thinking that I need to look up Manga along with Islands of Adventure at Universal. My characters are entering a fictional theme park called Manga World. For a map and a model of the types of rides, I’ll use the Orlando site. I’ll just swap them with imaginary Manga heroes. Oh, have I arrived at the post office? File that thought until later!
No wonder my husband says he talks to me in the car and I don’t respond. That’s the hazard of being married to a writer. Our mind is always lost in another world.
As a mystery writer, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Well, here’s one for you: how about the local newspaper? Consider this story: Celebrity actress found dead at home; no signs of foul play; pneumonia following flu-like symptoms suspected as cause of death. Within months, husband dies from possible heart attack. Strange coincidence or not?
My mystery mind goes into high gear. If I were writing this story, how would it play out? Naturally, the celebrity (and it doesn’t have to be a movie actress. It can be anybody like a famous chef or athlete or stage star) leaves a substantial estate. If someone knocks the husband out of the way, who stands to inherit? I’m not familiar with all the hangers-on of the rich and famous, so I’ll have to make up my own list of fictional suspects. Disclaimer: This is totally fiction and made up from my own devious creative mind:
The Crooked Manager, who wants to cover up that he’s been pilfering from the celebrity’s funds.
The Greedy Relative, who inherits the estate because the celebrity couple is childless.
The Jealous Best Friend, who discovered the celebrity was having an affair with her husband.
The Financial Advisor, who’s in cahoots with the manager, and who needs money to feed his gambling habit or to pay for his insurmountable medical bills for the illness he’s been hiding.
The Makeup Artist, whom no one would suspect but who was always around the couple. She hates the celebrity and is getting revenge for a past wrong.
You get the idea? Who would you add to the list and why?
We have the Motives. Now we need Means and Opportunity. How would someone kill these two to make it look like natural deaths? Poison comes to mind. It would have to be something not detectable in toxicology texts, perhaps a substance that dissipates in the body. It cannot be injected so has to be absorbed either through ingestion or the skin or even eyedrops.
I like this! If my new mystery series gets picked up, you’re looking at book number four.
I’ve written on this topic before, but it continues to astound me. Facing the blank white page again this morning, I wondered how I’d ever fill my page quota. My characters had just been captured by the bad guys. They’d been isolated from each other, and I had no idea how they would escape. But when I started writing and entered the Zone, as we writers call it, the story just took over. I went into a trance-like state, where I’m not aware of my surroundings. I visualize the story and the words just come out. Before I know it, my page quota is done.
In today’s section, my heroine is taken to the enemy commander. During their conversation, she learns things important to the plot. She’s dragged away for interrogation. This segment concludes the chapter. The next chapter will switch between her viewpoint and the hero’s. They’ll each gain information, and a new character will be introduced. I don’t have to worry about that today. I finished my pages and can move on to other things, like writing this blog.
I’m also proofreading the eBook version of Moonlight Rhapsody, one of my earlier futuristic romances. Then there are the social networks, listserves, and numerous other promotional activities to keep me busy. Did I mention that I’m meeting a friend for lunch and have errands to do? Thank goodness I finished these pages early because now it’s time for the exercise bike.
This book is taking off already because I know the characters. It’s the second volume in the series, and I laid all the groundwork in book number one. Unlike a mystery with numerous suspects that have to be introduced for the first time, this paranormal romance focuses on the hero and heroine and the various secondary characters they meet during their journey. The hardest thing is remembering the mythology I created, but I have enough notes to help me along.
Whoever said (and I’m not exactly sure if this is correct), “I hate writing, but I love having written,” is right, although it’s the blank page I hate. I love having written once the story magic takes over and words fill the pages.
A recent article (http://tinyurl.com/yghvnku) implies Angels are the next great thing in publishing. After vampires and werewolves come zombies, but zombies play better as evil beings. Hence the next bad boy hero: an angel who’s done something so bad he gets kicked out of heaven. What could be more appealing as a romantic hero than a man with a sullied reputation who seeks redemption? He’s dangerous, driven, and supernatural. Only the power of our heroine’s love can save him. Consider this theme as another variation on the Beauty and the Beast archetype. The alpha hero rules again, only this time he’s bigger than life, bad, and yet yearning for a second chance. Get ready: A new flood of fallen angel stories are about to descend into our literary arms.
The Fallen Angel can also be a villain, like in the Cotten Stone thrillers by Joe Moore and Lynn Sholes. (http://www.cottenstone.com) More fallen angels will be showing up in theaters and books as the trend takes off.
Who decides these trends? Is it based on reader demand? Popular movies? Do editors decide what’s coming next? Or do authors take up the slack and start submitting a slew of stories with this theme? They will now, once the pronouncement about the Next Best Thing in Publishing makes the rounds. If you were tired of vampires before, prepare for an onslaught of angels. But wait….they don’t all have to feature dark heroes. We can have comedic ones who are sent to Earth with a mission. Well-meaning guardian angels. Angels who have screwed up but are good at heart, who’ve been returned to life to make up for their mistakes. Better reserve that pair of wings for Halloween already.
What’s next? I’m waiting for a surge of mythological super beings. You know, the ancient gods from Greek, Roman, and Norse legends. My paranormal romance series is based on Norse mythology. Any publishers out there listening?