Authors Dish Logo (Green)

August 2018: Writing Advice
~ Kris Bock ~

CTR asked:
QUESTION: What is the one piece of writing advice that has stuck with you and why? (Something other than ‘write what you know.’)

Kris Bock said:
A few years ago I had the chance to ghost write a novel about a certain famous girl sleuth. Not only was that fun, but I learned something valuable from the editor. She asked me to look again at my chapter endings, and said,

“I would like to see more of a slow build-up toward the intense action. In horror movies, it’s always the ominous music and the main character slowly opening the closet door that scares us the most, not the moment right after she opens the door.”

She’s noting the difference between suspense and surprise. When something happens suddenly and unexpectedly, that’s a surprise. If you are going about your business, perfectly happy, when a car slams into yours, or something hits you in the back of the head, or a phone call reveals bad news, that’s a surprise. But up until that moment, there was no suspense.

This is an important difference to remember when writing. We know the importance of surprise twists, and we may be tempted to keep secrets and let them out with a bang. But true suspense comes from suspecting that something will happen and worrying about it or anticipating it.

Something Is Coming…

To build up truly dramatic moments, give the reader clues that something bad — or excitingly good — is going to happen. Here’s an early version of a chapter ending from Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs, my novel for ages 8 to 12 (written as Chris Eboch). The narrator, Jon, isn’t sure he believes his little sister Tania when she says she can see ghosts, but he goes with her to look for one as their stepfather films his ghost hunter TV show.

At the top of the stairs, my stepfather stood in the glare of a spotlight, a few feet away from a camera. I took a step backward and tugged at Tania’s arm. No one had seen us yet, and we could still escape.

Tania turned to me. The look in her eyes made my stomach flip.

The moment isn’t bad for a cliffhanger chapter ending, but it could use some more buildup, more time for Jon to suspect something’s wrong. Here’s how the chapter ended in the published book:

At the top of the stairs, my stepfather stood in the glare of a spotlight, a few feet away from a camera. I took a step backward and tugged at Tania’s arm. No one had seen us yet, and we could still escape.

She didn’t back up. She swayed.

I took a quick step forward and put my arm around her so she wouldn’t fall. I looked down into her face. I’d never seen anyone so white. White as death. Or white as a ghost.

“Tania,” I hissed. I gave her a shake. She took a quick breath and dragged her eyes away from the staircase and to my face. The look in them made my stomach flip.

Note how the revised version is longer. To get the most out of dramatic moments, you actually slow the pace by using more detail. It may seem backwards, but you want to write slow moments quickly, maybe summing up a boring afternoon in a sentence or two, while writing a fast moment slowly, drawing out every detail.

Powerful Paragraphing

You can also affect the pace of your story by your sentence and paragraph lengths. Description or introspection can usually be put in longer paragraphs, slowing the pace and lulling the reader into a false sense of security. Then when you come to a big action scene, try breaking it up into short paragraphs.

Short paragraphs actually make the story read faster, because the eye moves more quickly down the page. You can also emphasize an important sentence by starting a new paragraph or even putting that sentence into a paragraph by itself. For example, consider the following two versions of a chapter ending, adapted from my romantic suspense novel, Whispers in the Dark. The heroine, Kylie, is being chased by villains. It’s dark, and there’s a cliff nearby.

Example 1:

But he must be right behind me! I couldn’t stop, couldn’t even risk slowing down or looking back. Something sharp caught me across the shin, causing me to yelp and stumble forward as the pain burned like a hot knife. I almost went down on my knees, but I managed to thrust a foot out in front of me. Unfortunately, the foot found no place to land, so I pitched forward with a sickening lurch that left my stomach behind. And then I was hurtling through the darkness, down into the canyon.

Example 2:

But he must be right behind me! I couldn’t stop, couldn’t even risk slowing down or looking back.
Something sharp caught me across the shin. I yelped and stumbled forward as the pain burned like a hot knife. I almost went down on my knees, but I managed to thrust a foot out in front of me.
The foot found no place to land. I pitched forward with a sickening lurch that left my stomach behind.
And then I was hurtling through the darkness, down into the canyon.

These use nearly the same words. The only differences are that in the second version I broke up some long sentences into short ones, and I use four paragraphs instead of one. I think the second version captures more of the breathless panic that the narrator would be feeling. Think about that phrase “my life flashed before my eyes.” Life really does seem to slow down in the most high impact moments. Capture that on paper, and your readers will race through the scene breathlessly, wanting to find out what happens.

Websitehttp://www.krisbock.com
Twitter@Kris_Bock

Whispers in the Dark by Kris Bock cover

Whispers in the Dark

[Contemporary Romantic Suspense]

Archaeology student Kylie Hafford craves adventure when she heads to the remote Puebloan ruins of Lost Valley, Colorado, to excavate. Romance isn’t in her plans, but she soon meets two sexy men: Danesh looks like a warrior from the Pueblo’s ancient past, and Sean is a charming, playful tourist. The summer heats up as Kylie uncovers mysteries, secrets, and terrors in the dark. She’ll need all her strength and wits to survive—and to save the man she’s come to love.

Whispers in the Dark, romantic suspense set in the Four Corners region of the Southwest, will appeal to fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell. This title stands alone and is not part of a series.

Available in Ebook:

Kindlehttps://www.amazon.com/dp/B006M6P6FA/

 

More Authors Dish about their writing advice.

Day One: https://coffeetimeromance.com/CoffeeThoughts/ad2018-aug1-advice/
Day Two: https://coffeetimeromance.com/CoffeeThoughts/ad2018-aug2-advice/

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This