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Archive for December, 2011

Writers: Make Technology Work for You

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 17, 2011

 

 

 

 

Sean the Blogonaut follows up last week’s post with:

Making technology work for you

I mentioned in my previous post that while you should maintain a web presence, incorporating social media that your writing needs to come first.  Thankfully we live in the future and there are technical solutions to this quandary.

This post concentrates on Twitter and Paper.li and how you can bend social media to your service as a writer.

 

My personal approach:

I have been using twitter since Jan 15, 2008, both as a socialising tool and to promote my blogging.  It’s still the highest source of referrals on my blog.  Once you get beyond a couple of hundred followers though, it becomes nigh on impossible to read every tweet in your stream.  It quickly looses its usefulness or becomes a huge time sink.

I quickly abandoned the default twitter web page in favour of third party software that allowed me to filter and break into columns, the various groups of people/interests I followed.

My personal preference was Tweetdeck, but there are others out their including Hootsuite and Seismic.  Once you have understood the basics of twitter I’d advise checking out one of these services to streamline your twitter experience – some even incorporate posting to Facebook.

 

Enter Paper.li

Even with the use of Tweetdeck, I found that I was missing out on a large chunk of news and information, which for a commenter on the state of Speculative fiction was a problem.  Enter Paper.li

For those of you who are not aware Paper.li is a service that allows a user to collate tweets with links and automatically generates a “newspaper styled” web page each day (there are twice daily and weekly publication options), featuring these links.

There are thousands of these electronic news papers, covering all the things that people tweet about.  Readers can subscribe to individual papers; they don’t even have to be on twitter.  The feature list for the service continues to grow and the last few months have seen them release add-ons that allow greater control for curators.

And it’s free.

What prompted me to start a paper?

Initially, I just wanted a central location of the most tweeted information for that day so that I could quickly scan the news and blog on articles that interested me.  I formed The Book Bloggers Daily – a paper that collates links from the people on my book blogger list and others who use various keywords associated with book blogging.

Aside from this rather selfish notion of collecting information for me, it soon became apparent what a great tool it could be for promoting authors and their posting or tweeting.  Book Blogging was a fairly broad focus though so I stated a second paper focusing purely on Australian Speculative Fiction.

This then expanded to cover both New Zealand and English Speaking South East Asia (largely inspired by the efforts of Charles Tan).  The Austral-Asian Spec-Fic Daily is its current form. The Daily is a collection of author and bloggers, tweeting on Speculative fiction and sometimes other interests as well.

I envisaged it being a great way to promote a selection of writers who are disadvantaged because of their location. Australian writers are beginning to reap rewards of exposure at various international conventions, but the American market is still elusive.  English speaking South East Asian authors by contrast are almost invisible.

It’s my hope that by curating the daily it might in some way help to raise profiles. For me it creates a central location for authors to promote their work and others, without them actually doing anything but tweeting their interests.

Increased exposure without the legwork.

 

Should I start my own?

It’s entirely up to you. The service is free and takes almost no technical know-how.  I tend to think it’s better to focus or pool resources, so if you can identify a paper that already covers your genre it’s probably worth approaching the person that collates it and asking to have your twitter handle added to their list.

On the other hand you could just construct it as a private (in the sense that you don’t promote it on twitter) paper.

 

Join me up, Sean!

If tweeting Speculative Fiction authors want to be added to the list they can tweet me at @seandblogonaut . If you are just interested in subscribing there’s a subscription button on the website.

 

I hope the article has been useful.  If you’d like me to expand on any points, I’ll be lurking below in the comments.

 

 

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Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

An alert from Writers Beware

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 16, 2011

Dymocks have launched a publishing arm. Writers need to be informed when they sign up for something like this. Here’s what Writers Beware have to say:

 

First they quote from the contract, then they critique it.

The Author grants to D Publishing a licence…to exercise, including by way of sub-licence, all rights in the Work other than its first volume and electronic publication rights (Subsidiary Rights). Without limiting the preceding, Subsidiary Rights include:

(a) anthology and quotation rights
(b) condensation e.g. magazines, newspapers and ezines
(c) radio and TV straight reading
(d) sound recording
(e) reprint under sub licence
(f) adaptation in other media, including but not limited to internet, apps or other software, collectively, ‘Licence’.

 

These terms would be a problem if you encountered them in the contract of any small publisher. From a self-publishing service, they are truly awful. And they’re just the start. Dymocks can also change the terms of the contract at will. It reserves the right to publish tie-in editions, if a film or other media adaptation is made. The royalty structure is confusing (and, from the looks of it, actual royalties will be low). The payment terms for subsidiary rights sales aren’t adequately defined. Royalties are paid and accounted only twice a year. And there’s a confidentiality clause that could preclude authors from sharing sales information.

 

For the full article see here.

Posted in Publishers, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

One last photo

Posted by richardharland on December 12, 2011

I misunderstood – the photos I put up last weren’t from Montreuil’s official photographer. But this one is –


That was at the literary Battle of the Books, when I presented a couple of books to the winner (Sarah, the one who looks so happy!)
The photo is © Eric Garault for
CPLJ, 2011

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Sean the Blogonaut on Writers, Reviewing and Websites

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 11, 2011

Rowena has very kindly invited me to discuss how reviewers find an author via their web presence, what they look for on author web sites and finally, what they look for in a book.

Who is Sean and why should I listen to him?

Good question.  I am a teacher, a book blogger, interviewer and a reviewer.  I have been focussing on speculative fiction for the past year but I have had a life long interest in reading and authors. I review for traditional publishers, small press and conduct audio interviews for Galactic Chat. Now I’m wary of self proclaimed experts so I won’t pretend to be one.  I can only let you know how I get to know of authors and their works.

Getting noticed

Cory Doctorow is fond of quoting Tim O’Reilly, “the big problem [for Authors] isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”.  I think it’s always been an issue for authors.  It’s just been compounded with the ease of self publishing.

So what follows are some tips for getting someone like me to notice you as a writer and become an honest advocate of your work. I say advocate here because I don’ see myself fitting into that role of an academic, critical reviewer (which isn’t to say I won’t offer constructive criticism).  I like finding good talent and letting likeminded people know about it.

Traditional publishers generally do a good job of getting you reviewed, or setting up interviews etcetera. In my experience though, social media and the use of the blogging/internet community is something they are just starting to come to grips with, often trying to seize it as a marketing opportunity, which runs against the grain of the egalitarian book blogging community.  In my opinion social media outreach and community engagement with your readers is probably best done by the author. So without further ado here are my information conduits:

Podcasts – Book people talking about the books they love.  I owe most of my recent purchases to listening to shows like The Coode Street Podcast, Galactic Suburbia and The Writer and The Critic. If there’s not a podcast that services your genre, consider starting one.  If you can, get a mention or even a guest appearance on podcasts by engaging in some of the activities below.

Twitter – is probably my best source of information on what authors are doing and saying.  A note here though, Twitter is a social media platform – engage with people. Don’t market your book at them (or do so with subtlety).  These are people not customers (yet).

Websites and Blogs – have a web presence, a free blog or a self hosted site with an RSS feed.  Have a place where you can talk about your book, yourself and your interests. If I like hanging out discussing things on your blog, I’ll tell others and I’ll link to your blog when you have news.

Goodreads– Get on Goodreads at least as a reader but preferably as an author as well.  I have other readers who I respect and who I know have similar tastes to me.  I’m informed of what books they are reading and what they think about these books.  Make it easy for us to find you there.

None of these are a guarantee and I have missed out some avenues that I don’t use.  The point though is to generate multiple pathways to your work, for you to grow a network honestly and organically.

Combine this approach with the works and networks of others and you have a web of mutually supportive connections that will nourish you.

Excellent examples of this approach are the ROR blog, and the various web incarnations of Marianne de Pierres. Watch how authors like Rowena, Marianne and publishers like Alisa Krasnostein contribute to a “rising tide that floats all boats”.

It’s not all work either.  I promote my writing on twitter (it’s my biggest source of site visits) but I also spend time just conversing with people socially.  All of the above activities require some effort but they also provide something in return.

But, “protect the work”.  No good having a web presence without work to promote.

What you can do to help?

Everyone is busy.  I know you have just spent the better part of two years getting a book to print, not to mention the carcases of other works abandoned on the journey, but here some things you can do to make it easy for people to sing your praises.

  1. Have a Press Kit, a page including a bio and jpegs of you and your works that bloggers can use in their posts.
  1. Collect links to interviews written and audio on your blog/website in one central location. When I research an author for an interview I listen and read all the other interviews they have done so that I don’t end up going over old ground.  I want to ask the author engaging questions that make the experience a new one for them as well as the listener.
  1. Social media buttons, Twitter, Facebook, and Google + make it easy for people to keep track of your pronouncements.  I don’t use browser bookmarks any more, I ‘m hooked up to RSS feeds & social media updates.
  1. Use commenting systems that allow users to be notified of new comments – anything that contributes to a community building up around your blog (my recommendation is Intense Debate).

So now that I have noticed you?  What do I look for in a book?

Book reviewers, whether we are semi professional bloggers or newspaper columnists are grizzled veterans.  We have seen it all before and we can be a hard crowd to please.  The craft side of the equation is up to you, it’s something you develop only by doing, but here are some things that I look out for when reading.

Characters: You get me interested and caring about the characters and the premise of you novel/story almost doesn’t matter.  Stephen King did this for me in 11.22.63. I couldn’t have cared less about the plan to save President Kennedy, I wanted the guy and the girl to get together and live happily ever after.  As a reviewer I’m looking for “real” characters, whether they are orbiting Titan or defending Helms Deep. I want drama and tension and a little romance.

Originality or a new angle: reading lots of work within a genre really opens your eyes to how crowded with ideas it is. So to get yourself noticed, you have to come up with a fresh angle or something original. Trent Jamieson’s Death Works series is a good example of a fresh take on a number of horror/fantasy staples.  You have a world that blends mythology, both Classical and Christian, an Australian location, demon possessed zombies, the Grim Reaper and a garnish of self deprecating Aussie humour.

Pacing: for genre fiction you need the novel to be well paced.  This can be a steady rhythm or a white knuckle ride. You don’t want to give the reader a chance to put it down because, let’s face it, you are competing against visual mediums and other less taxing forms of entertainment.

An example of excellent pacing in a fantasy setting is Rowena’s King Rolen’s Kin; I’ve mentioned a couple of times that she should try her hand at a techno-thriller.  A well paced novel helps the words disappear, immerses us in the story, page count ceases to matter. If you can make me as a reviewer forget that there’s another 300 pages to go I will be eternally thankful.

Emotional engagement:  I have a rule that I generally only give five stars to books that get under my skin to the point where I have an emotional experience.  To some extent this last point arises out of a combination of those above.  Without well developed, believable characters you can’t form an emotional tie, and a book that languishes in the minutiae of a relationship never moving forward will bore the reader.

I read and reviewed Quentin Jardine’s The Loner early this year, presented as a faux biography – the pacing was steady, and the characters interesting and real.  It was outside my reading preferences, a tale of a sportsman turned journalist.  In the last 30 pages though, it gutted me emotionally, I felt physically ill due to empathy with the main character.  Jardine had made those characters so believable and real that I experienced physical symptoms.

It’s rare to get all of these, or all of them in equal measure.  And there’s some I am probably missing.  But that’s not necessary for entertainment.  And truth be told, reviewers aren’t all cut from the same cloth so even a couple of these will get your work talked about.

If you can make a book blogger or a reviewer a fan, then you have a genuine and honest promoter of your work.  You may have noticed that I have mentioned writers associated with ROR, it’s not some cosy little in group referencing.  I sing their praises when I blog and when I teach because they stick in my head.

It’s fairly easy to tell when someone is promoting for the sake of getting a reward.  You want honest advocates of your work and if you can manage to do that you have an honest and organic support team at your disposal that you don’t have to pay.

I have given you some insight into my approach to reviewing and book blogging. Hopefully you can take something away from it.   Perhaps, in the spirit of community you’d like to discus your own experiences and opinions in the comments.

For instance what has been your experience with reviewers? Do you have some you trust to recommend books? Has your book been reviewed in such a way that left you gnashing your teeth?

Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeandBlogonaut

See the Austral-Asian Spec Fic. Daily

(Look out for the article next week on this site and how useful it is for writers).

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Plotting, Promoting your Book, Reviews, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

Au revoir, Paris!

Posted by richardharland on December 10, 2011

On our last full day in Paris we went to Versailles – completing Aileen’s wish list of things to do, and mine was already complete. We celebrated our last night in the apartment with a bottle of good French champagne and, er, pizzas. Well, we’re half class. It had to be something takeaway, and there’s a really good pizza place right next to the front door of our apartment block. The guy who makes the pizzas is from Bangladesh. Paris is certainly a multicultural world, though mostly African rather than Asian.

Actually, I tell a lie because that wasn’t our last full day, though it should’ve been. We spent the morning packing at leisure – including the bit we’d dreaded. The divan bed when folded out had a tilt on one side, so we made a bigger bed facing the other way by folding out a chair that also converted into a bed. But the way it converted – we couldn’t make sense of it when we tried to turn it back into a chair on our second day. We thought we’d never fix it. But in the end, on the last day, worked it out after about half an hour.

We had a final lunch, went to our local cafe for a final coffee, and said au revoir to our little apartment, au revoir to our local metro and supermarket. Here’s the wooden staircase going up to our apartment (OK, at the end of this write-up, I can’t make the image appear where I want) and our very-close-by metro station (ditto).

We took a taxi to the airport – and the first thing we saw when we looked at the Departures board was that our KLM flight to Amsterdam was ‘annule’ – cancelled! I went to the KLM counter, and they explained we’d already been booked onto an Air France flight going to Hong Kong, followed by a Qantas flight to Sydney. So we didn’t avoid Qantas in the end after all!

We had several hours to kill, because the new flight wasn’t due to depart till 11.40 p.m. And in fact we were still on the tarmac at midnight – hence our last full day. But it turned out better for us because we didn’t have the extra flight and airport stop at Amsterdam, and because our stop in Hong Kong iwas 2 hours instead of the 7 hours we’d have waited at Kuala Lumpur. So we ended up arriving in Sydney more than an hour earlier than the original flights.

We came back to a perfect Australian day – sun shining, blue sky, blue sea (on train journey back to Wollongong). I now know how lucky we were, because when we left Wollongong for Paris, it was the start of a downpour here, and it didn’t stop raining until we came back. Now Paris is suffering the absence-of-Aileen-and-Richard effect – the temperature has dropped and looks set to continue around 7 degrees for days. It’s happened like this other times too. We ought to hire out our weather-enhancing powers!

Meanwhile, here are a few more images from Montreuil, selected from all the ones Gilberte sent me, taken by the official photographer at the event.


Me in steampunk gear, signing.


Me and the lovely Bénédicte at the Hélium stall.


Gilberte standing between Aileen and me, Marie (who helped at the stall) to the left of me, some of the young readers from the Montreuil club at the front, and Valérie and Élodie (librarians and organizers of the club) on the far right.
Now the staircase and metro –

Posted in Authors and Public Speaking, Promoting your Book, Steampunk | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Calling YA Novelists …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 6, 2011

Do you have a YA book written?

Can you write with an authentic voice for YA?

Then this may be for you.

Hardie Grant Ampersand Project.

They say:

‘ Speculative elements are welcome, so long as they adhere to the rules of the real world. The difference is in the execution; for example, Tomorrow When The War Began is a real-world exploration of war as it could occur today, but The Hunger Games is not.’

Who are Hardie Grant Egmont?

Worth checking out.

 

Posted in Editors, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Writing for Young Adults, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Weather-gods

Posted by richardharland on December 5, 2011

A little early morning blogging. Today’s the last day of the Salon de Montreuil, and I’ve got a couple of hours signing to do. Aileen’s already gone off to re-visit Rue Mouffetard, an open air market sort of street we fell in love with when we stayed close by last time in Paris. I think she plans to dawdle from patisserie to patisserie, cafe to cafe.

She’s taken her spoon with her for getting back into the flat. To open the door, you turn the key through two locks, then a little bit extra to draw back the latch – and that last bit is very stiff. Aileen’s long fingers can’t manage it on their own, so we re-discovered the lever principle – she inserts the handle of the spoon through the hole in the part of the key you grip, then presses down on the spoon to turn the key. A triumph of human ingenuity!

OK, many hours later … We’re just warming up after taking an afternoon stroll around Père Lachaise cemetery. It’s an enormous place, bigger than Rookwood in Sydney, and filled with countless ‘sepultures’, which I guess means sepulchres – like miniature houses. All different styles, medieval and Renaissance and classical, some huge and showy, others, well, like little stone sentry boxes. They have a door at the front, often with a metal grille so you can see inside. Sometimes the doors are open or have fallen in, like this sepulchre Aileen’s ghouling around in –


The sepulchres are all packed in close side by side, an enormous city of the dead.

We started out looking for famous names, the sepulchre of Heloise and Abelard, and Moliere and La Fontaine. But after that it got more and more difficult – although we bumbled around looking for Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and many more, the only other one we actually found was Balzac, the French novelist. Meanwhile, it was growing colder and colder! It was a mostly sunny, but usually also means a cold day – my raincoat and padded jerkin weren’t enough to keep me warm.

Earlier in the day was my last session of signing at the Hélium stall. I shall miss it. I signed quite a few copies after a slow start – but I was also the subject of a great many photos, in my aviator’s helmet and steampunk goggles. Then, saying goodbye to everyone at the end, well, it seemed very strange and a little sad to think that we wouldn’t all be meeting again the next day! But I think Sophie and Gilberte, Bénédicte and Hélène, Cécile and Elsa – I think they’ll all need a week to recover. I had the easy job!

Posted in Authors and Public Speaking, Promoting your Book, Steampunk | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Lazy morning, busy afternoon

Posted by richardharland on December 4, 2011

Lying in bed this morning – I don’t have to do signing until midday, then I get to meet with the Salon de Montreuil young readers. So I’ll do some blog now and finish off later.

We ate at a nearby estaminet last night. Did I mention we’re in a great area for restaurants, bars, nightclubs? (Thank God they didn’t have a party upstairs last night!) We’ve taken to enjoying as much French cuisine as we can. We went a bit cheaper one night, and learned our lesson – good cooking costs around 17€ for a main course dish ($25 Australian), and there are heaps of places for that. I guess haute cuisine would be on a different scale again. For wine, you can get pichets (mini-carafes) or quarter bottles – perfect for us, because I usually want red and Aileen wants white.

For lunch, if we’re chez nous, we have a baguette with prosciutto-style jambon cru (Whoo! See how I’m getting pretentiously French!), smelly French cheese, cherry tomatoes, duck (my only attempt to cook in the apartment – I was just amazed at being able to buy thick fillet of duck in the supermarket) – and for me at. He moment, this scrumptious 1999 Bordeaux red I found in a different supermarket for a mere $20. Ah, the good life!

I’ll have to be v careful with photos from now on. My camera battery is almost exhausted and I didn’t bring a charger. I suppose I could always email myself photos from my mobile, if my French SIMcard lets me. (Strange system, where you have to identify yourself with passport or proof of identity to keep using a SIM – but since you get 15 days before they cut you off, it’s no worry for us.)

Hah! Back from Montreuil, and I just discovered that I’ve been keeping my blog on Ripping Ozzie Reads (which I’m v happy to do, as long as I don’t overdo my column inches) – but I haven’t been publishing to THIS blog. Which is why, all of a sudden, the last four days have popped up all at once!

Today was great. First, two hours of signing … And the best bit about it was the number of people who were buying Le Worldshaker because someone else had recommended it to them. That’s the best! Here’s me signing at the Hélium stall (hmm, photo seems to come up later in the blog entry …


Then came the meeting with the Club de Montreuil – a group of young readers, voracious readers, who meet and argue over their favourite books – and I’m so happy to say Le Worldshaker was a favourite! I think of it almost like the French salons of previous centuries, when they judged books, recommended books, and generally influenced public opinion about books.

So, of course, it was wonderful to talk to such special readers. The librarians, Valérie and Élodie (hope I spelled that right) did a great job of helping me to understand the questions, and I answered in French. There were some v thoughtful questions! I finished off with a Mr Gibber/M. Gibbon reading and gave away all the posters I’d brought with me.

Here’s a photo taken with the club members afterwards. I’ve become really fond of my steampunk goggles! Because I’m doing this with an iPad app, I can’t publish a large-size image, but as soon as I get back to my laptop in Australia, I’ll put up a better photo.


Merci, club de Montreuil, c’était un grand plaisir de vous rencontrer!

Posted in Authors and Public Speaking, Promoting your Book, Steampunk | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Rain and fans …

Posted by richardharland on December 3, 2011

So sad – we can see the end of the Paris is it approaching, and we’re nowhere near ready to go!

Here’s me in my steampunk goggles, aspromised


I put them on now and then when doing signings this afternoon, and for interview photo afterwards.

Today we got rained on – not heavy bucketfuls of rain, Australia-style, but it lasted the whole morning, varying back and forth between drizzle and light shower. Aileen and I enjoyed the St Ouen flea market experience we went to another at Montreuil (not far from the Salon or Book Fair). Whereas Montreuil was more serious vintage and antiques oriented – and more expensive – Montreuil was mostly clothing, secondhand or cheap, a treasure trove of everything imaginable. We were selective only because we have to keep inside weight restrictions for the flight home. I bought apadded jerkin, Aileen ought an amazing skirt and a dozen other small items. Only problem was the rain – these were open-air stalls – plus the fact that my fold-up umbrella turned inside and then started coming loose from the prongs. It was only half an umbrella by the end.

So we headed back to our apartment. I was on for two hours signing at the end of the afternoon, then had an interview with Nathan, a big fan of the juggernaut books, and his brother and friend. I really feel as if I have ‘fans’ in France more than any other country – young readers who don’t just like the books, or love the books, but who get right behind them and influence others to read them. It’s a great feeling to have that special level of support!

Posted in Creativity, Steampunk | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Part Two of Ian Irvine’s 41 ways to Keep Readers Reading

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 3, 2011

41 WAYS TO CREATE AND HEIGHTEN SUSPENSE IN FICTION

PART TWO – PLOT AND STRUCTURE

The first part of this article dealt with suspense from the viewpoint of characters and their problems. This part looks at ways to create suspense using plot and structural elements.

C. PLOT

Plot is made up of the hero’s successive actions get what he wants (i.e. to solve the story problem) and the opponent’s corresponding actions to stop him. To build suspense to an explosive pitch at the climax of the story, each new action by the hero needs to be blocked by his opponent, and either fails or leads to an even bigger problem – until the climactic scene where the story problem is finally resolved one way or another.

19.  Make the story problem clear. A surprising number of manuscripts fail to set out either:

  • What the hero’s real problem or goal is;
  • Or the nature of the obstacle or antagonist that’s trying to stop him achieving this goal;
  • Or only do so many pages into the story.

The real story doesn’t begin until the hero formulates a goal and takes action to get it (see Cleaver, Immediate Fiction). Until this happens there can be little suspense or story interest, so make the hero’s goal clear as early as possible.

20.  Put the hero at a disadvantage. Examples:

  • At the beginning, the hero may not know how to solve her problem; or may not understand what the real problem is (e.g., she’s mistaken about her real enemy);
  • She lacks the skills to solve her problem (e.g. needs magic but doesn’t have any; has a gift for magic but doesn’t know how to use it);
  • She has critical personality flaws, e.g. her obsession with gaining justice for her murdered mother blinds her to vital friendships; his violent past leaves him paralysed with guilt; his racism leads him to refuse the aid of the one person who can help him;
  • She’s handicapped physically, mentally, emotionally or socially.

21.  Increase the pressure in unpredictable ways (for details, see the references, especially Lyon):

  • Test the hero’s abilities to breaking point. Take away her friends and supporters, undermine her assets and any options she’s relying on, block her escape routes, cut the deadline in half, devalue her strongest beliefs or the things she most cares about. Anything that can go wrong, should go wrong – not just for her, but for everyone;
  • Give her more simultaneous problems than anyone can handle, so she makes damaging mistakes. Distract her with an unexpected sexual attraction. Have disagreements escalate out of control. Give her an impossible dilemma that will trouble her for ages.;
  • Thwart her at every turn. If she’s relying on aid, information or some object or talisman, have it fail to appear, or be stolen, lost or destroyed when it’s almost within her grasp. If she has a vital talent or skill, rob her of the ability to use it when she needs it most;
  • Arouse suspicion about some of her friends or allies, or use dramatic irony (see (23), below) to make readers suspect them even if the hero does not. Have a trusted ally betray her, desert her or go over to the enemy;
  • Foreshadow her fate or peril, to the audience and other characters even if not to herself. Use mysterious documents or eerie settings or symbols to create uneasiness, or show that things are not as they seem;
  • Have the hero lose contact with her mentor; injure the hero; use forces of nature (weather, fire, flood, difficult terrain) to block her;
  • Plant red herrings. Have the hero jump to false conclusions that lead her in the wrong direction or to make disastrous mistakes, or to fall into a trap. Have failures caused by misunderstandings or poor communication;
  • Set the action within some greater conflict (cultural renaissance, political drama, social upheaval, war, religious persecution) or tailor social institutions to make everything more difficult (paranoid government, martial law, police state, secret society);
  • Create an emotional time bomb (something vitally important to the hero) then, at some critical time, have it destroyed or lost;
  • Lull the hero (and readers) into a false sense of security by having things go too well for a scene or two, then create a disaster;
  • Show the hero thinking over past events and seeing something she missed that’s worrying or ominous. Or, when it’s too late, coming to a dreadful realisation.

22Create conflict with everyone and everything.

  • With the opponent – see (4) above;
  • With family, friends and allies – see (10) above;
  • With people the hero meets on the way – they may be hostile, unreliable, treacherous, incompetent or give false or incorrect information;
  • With the setting (see 25) below, including landscape, weather, culture, politics, bureaucracy, religion;
  • Inner conflict – see (22) below.

23.  Create inner conflicts and dilemmas.

  • Give the hero impossible challenges or agonising choices that test his courage, skill & moral fibre;
  • Force a good man to make invidious choices, e.g. between informing on his corrupt mother or betraying his country;
  • A girl sees two friends in danger and can only save one. How does she decide whom to save and whom to let die?
  • Make the hero choose between strongly held ideals (duty/honour, family/justice). Force a pacifist to fight. Require a reformed drunk to drink.

24.  Use dramatic irony (i.e., your readers know something vital that the characters aren’t aware of):

  • The heroine is enjoying a glass of wine by the fire, unaware that the killer is looking in through the window. She’s not anxious, but readers are on the edge of their seats;
  • The hero doesn’t realise that he’s got things disastrously wrong, but it’s obvious to the reader (and perhaps to other characters, too);
  • Write some scenes from the villain’s viewpoint so readers can worry about the trap closing on the unsuspecting hero;
  • A character bears vital or troubling news but events conspire to delay (or prevent) its delivery to those who need to know.

25.  Use the unknown to create anxiety.

  • Set a scene where some terrible disaster or tragedy once occurred. The place need not necessarily be dangerous, but fear of the unknown or the past will make it seem so;
  • Arouse fear of some danger the character has to face – this could be a real-life danger (fighting a monster, swimming a flooded river) or an uncanny one (spending the night in a ghost-ridden graveyard);
  • Or an everyday ordeal (a daunting interview; meeting the girlfriend’s parents; sitting a difficult exam).

26Put your hero in a perilous place. Analyse your scene settings and work out how you can change them to heighten tension:

  • Move the scene to a dangerous or unpredictable place. Instead of a park, use a derelict factory, a minefield or a sinking ship;
  • Make an everyday place seem dangerous, e.g. the hero must race across a rugged landscape in a fog;
  • Change the scene from day to night, good weather to bad, peace to riot or war, or put the hero in the middle of a plague epidemic.

27.  Create mysteries. As noted above, mysteries and puzzles create suspense both because the hero has to work them out and because the reader wants to know the answer.

  • How did the disaster occur?
  • How did a good man (or company, or nation) take this fatal step into crime, addiction, insanity or war?
  • Is this document true, or a despicable lie?
  • What do these clues mean?
  • Why is this device or talisman here and how is it used?

28.  Design puzzles. These can either be intellectual or physical:

  • Intellectual – riddles, conundrums, paradoxes, illusions etc;
  • Physical – how do I get in or out? Locked room mysteries. Puzzles requiring dexterity.

29.  Leave issues and crises unresolved (especially at chapter or scene endings) and tension will rise because readers long for the resolution. Uncertainty and anticipation are interlinked and create suspense:

  • Uncertainty can be heightened with unexpected twists, sudden reversals and shocking disasters;
  • Foster anticipation by having the characters set out their goals, then by using omens, portents and foreshadowing to arouse unease about the goals being met;
  • Within scenes, heighten reader anticipation by using distractions and interruptions to delay longed-for meetings, confrontations, resolution of an important event, delivery of vital news etc.

30Use reversals. Reversals of the expected are used to break expectations, clichés and repetition.

  • Lead your readers in a particular direction in order to create expectations about the outcome, then throw in a reversal that breaks the expectation. This heightens readers’ anticipation, and thus suspense, because they have no idea what’s going to happen now.
  • Scour your story for clichéd character types, plot elements, emotions, dialogue, action and reactions, then use reversals where appropriate to break the cliché.
  • Do the same where you find repetition of character types, plot elements, emotions, dialogue, action and reactions.

31.  Secrets. The existence of a secret creates suspense because readers want to know the answer:

  • Rarely, a big secret can form the suspense backbone for a whole novel, such as: Who was the traitor? What happened to the money? The secret has to be developed throughout the story by drip-feeding clues that heighten the secret rather than revealing it;
  • Smaller secrets can be used to heighten suspense within scenes, e.g. the Hogwarts letter withheld from Harry Potter in the first book of the series, and the mysterious event (the Triwizard Tournament) which people keep alluding to early in the fourth book.

32Use subtext (see Lyon for details). Subtext is ‘everything hidden from the awareness or observation of non-viewpoint characters’. Subtext based on rising tension will create suspense. Some sources are:

  • The hero’s physical state, feelings and emotions: e.g., tears forming, sexual attraction or lust, concealed hatred, a need to throw up;
  • Hidden agendas, i.e. the character’s private thoughts, intentions and plans;
  • In the natural environment: a red glow over the forest, the ground shaking, the call of a wild beast;
  • In the built environment: a patch of oil on the stair, a pram on the edge of the railway platform;
  • Other characters’ behaviour or body language: man sharpening a dagger, child playing near a cliff edge.

33.  Turn a dramatic event into a question. Beware of having the event completely answer a question or resolve a problem, as this undercuts suspense. Instead, have the event raise more questions, which draws out the suspense:

  • For small events, draw out the answer over a few sentences or paragraphs. E.g., policeman knocks on the door late at night. Instead of revealing upfront that the man’s wife is dead, draw out the mystery about how the crash occurred and what’s happened to her;
  • For major events, the resolution can be drawn out over pages or even chapters;
  • Scour the story for questions that deflate suspense because they’re answered too soon, and draw out the answer.

34.  Make it worse.

  • There’s no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse, and you should take every opportunity to do so. But why would you want to?
  • Because character is revealed not in good times but in adversity. The worse you can make it for the hero, the more his true character will be revealed by what he does, the more the reader will worry about him and the greater the suspense.

D.    STRUCTURE

Readers read to identify with the characters and live their stories, suffering the ordeals the characters go through, worrying about them and dreading that they’ll fail to achieve their goals, yet hoping and praying that they’ll succeed. At the end, readers want to see the characters resolve their problems, and long for that tidal wave of relief when all the dramatic tension and suspense built up through the story is finally released. To build suspense, the novel needs careful structuring to:

a)      Clearly present the hero and his goal to the reader in the beginning;

b)      Portray the hero’s increasingly difficult struggle to defeat the adversary and achieve the goal;

c)      End scenes and chapters in ways that create reader uncertainty and anticipation (see (28) above; and

d)      Show how the hero achieves his goal (or not) at the climax, then satisfyingly release all the built-up tension.

35.  Structure the beginning to create suspense (see Brown for details):

  • Create a hero who is both sympathetic and interesting (see (1) and (2) above);
  • Set out the story problem (i.e. the hero’s goal) clearly, and why he must pursue this goal;
  • Reveal the obstacle (the adversary or force that’s trying to prevent the hero from achieving his goal);
  • Twist both the characters and the goal to break stereotypes, freshen the story and surprise the reader.

36Tailor the hero’s actions to heighten suspense: In each scene, the hero faces some problem related to her goal. The actions she takes to solve the problem should either:

  • Partially succeed, though worryingly (she finds a clue to the murder, but following it will lead her into greater danger);
  • Succeed but lead to a bigger problem (he kills the giant spider but now another hundred are hunting him); or
  • Fail and make the problem worse (she breaks into the enemy’s fortress to steal the documents, but they’re not there and now she’s trapped).

37.  Vary the hero’s fortunes to maintain and heighten suspense throughout the story.

  • If every scene runs at fever pitch and ends disastrously, the law of diminishing returns sets in – the reader becomes desensitised to the drama, and suspense dies;
  • Instead, alternate tense action or drama scenes with calmer ones, and end a few scenes with the hero succeeding, and with moments of peace, happiness or hope. Variety in endings maintains suspense because the reader knows the success is only temporary; the opponent will never give up trying to defeat the hero;
  • To heighten suspense, make the hero’s failures progressively worse, and his dark moments bleaker, towards the climax.

38.  Sequence the antagonist’s reactions to progressively heighten the hero’s troubles.

  • Look at each scene from the antagonist’s point of view and ask how he can make things worse for the hero. What action will cause the hero the most trouble, and what’s the worst time it can occur?
  • To heighten suspense, make these troubles progressively worse towards the climax, until it seems impossible that the hero can win.

39.  Heighten critical scenes. Identify the key events in the story (those moments of intense drama that are also turning points) because they need to be carefully set up and treated differently (see Lyon). Key events can be positive (love scenes, celebrations at war’s end, the award of prizes or honours) or crises (murders, defeat in battle, guilty verdicts, terrible realisations). Build suspense by:

  • Foreshadowing the coming event to raise worrying questions and create reader anticipation. This can be done via characters thinking about or debating the possibility (e.g. of war), and making plans and preparations for the worst, as well as by omens, foretellings, signs and symbols;
  • Writing a small scene or moment which hints at the coming critical scene (a burning house hints at the violence and ruin of war); a shouting match foreshadows the murder to come;
  • Then a reversal – a moment that’s the opposite of the coming critical scene. E.g., in a trial, the overconfident defence lawyer has a lavish lunch with friends before returning to hear a shattering guilty verdict; immediately before the joyous wedding, the couple have a furious argument; the soldier relaxes with his family before going to bloody war. This contrast makes the critical scene far more powerful;
  • In the critical scene, use all the dramatic techniques at your disposal to raise the scene to a higher peak of suspense than anything that has gone before;
  • Afterwards, make sure the hero emotes about all that has happened, reviews how the event has made his problems worse, and reformulates his plans.

40.  Climax, Resolution and Endings.

  • Vary your scene endings to maximise suspense. Some scenes should end at moments of high drama, many with unanswered questions, several with shocking twists, a few with emotional completion, and some with no more than a wry observation or pithy phrase.
  • The climax of the story, where the greatest obstacle is overcome and the hero’s story problem is finally resolved one way or another, is the biggest of all the critical scenes and must coincide with the highest point of tension and suspense.
  • If the greatest tension occurs in a scene before the climax, the ending of the story will be anticlimactic and the reader will feel let down.
  • If the story’s resolution is weak, contrived, over too quickly or in any other way fails to match the build-up of suspense to the climax, readers will be bitterly disappointed;
  • In most novels, all the key questions will be answered by the end, and the resolution provides a sense of completion plus the blissful release from suspense that readers are waiting for. Some stories may end with a dilemma, however – the main story has been resolved but there’s still a question raised in the reader’s mind about what choice the hero will make.
  • Stories which are part of a series should resolve most of the story questions at the end, but the overarching series question (e.g. will Harry Potter defeat Lord Voldemort) remains and creates ongoing suspense until the series ends.

41.  In editing.

  • Review the story scene by scene, rate each scene out of 10 for its level of suspense, then plot the sequence of suspense ratings. Ideally the graph should be a zigzagging line rising progressively to the climax of the story, then falling away in the resolution.
  • Does the story have flat periods with little suspense? Insufficient breaks from high suspense? The highest suspense occurring before the climax? Suspenseful moments that are too quickly resolved? Critical scenes where the suspense is too low, too brief or too similar to other scenes? A powerful climax ruined by a weak resolution? Work out how to fix these problems.
  • Common scene problems that lower suspense include: lack of a clear goal for the scene; stakes too low; lack of an obstacle or weak obstacle; too little conflict; too much thought or talk and not enough action; too much action and not enough thought, emotion or reflection; no twist or disaster at the end (see Lyon for a detailed analysis).
  • Analyse your characters (see (2) above). Can you modify or change certain character traits to vary the kinds of suspense in the story, and to heighten it in key scenes?

 

REFERENCES

Bell, James Scott (2004). Plot and Structure. Writer’s Digest. Probably the best book on the topic of plot and structure.

Bell, James Scott (2008). Revision and Self-Editing. Writer’s Digest. Also a great book; a wealth of practical info and examples.

John D Brown (2011). Key Conditions for Reader Suspense (27-part article).  An excellent series of articles.

Cleaver, Jerry (2002). Immediate Fiction. St Martin’s Griffin. No one has ever explained the craft of storytelling more clearly or simply.

Kress, Nancy (2005). Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint. Writer’s Digest. Excellent book on these topics.

Lukeman, Noah (2002). The Plot Thickens. St Martin’s Griffin, New York. Terrific chapters on characterisation, suspense and conflict, a lot of stuff I’ve never thought of before.

Lyon, Elizabeth (2008). Manuscript Makeover, Revision Techniques no Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore. Perigee Trade. In my view, the best book on revision and self-editing.

Maass, Donald (2009). The Fire in Fiction. Writer’s Digest. He identifies the problems his agency sees over and over again in manuscripts and tells you how to fix them. A fantastic book.

Truby, John (2007). The Anatomy of Story – 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber and Faber. A fascinating and insightful book.

Vorhaus, John (1994). The Comic Toolbox. Silman James Press. Not just the best book on comic writing, but better than all the others put together.

About me: I’m an Australian marine scientist. I’ve written 27 novels, including the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence, an eco-thriller trilogy about catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for children, most recently the Grim and Grimmer humorous adventure fantasy series.

My next epic fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm, to be published by Orbit Books in Australia in November 2011, and in the US and UK in April 2012.

For more on my books, including covers, blurbs, reviews and the first chapters of all of my novels and my 2 novellas, see my site.

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For more on writing and publishing, see my blog

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