Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What If ...

"The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist, who is intensely curious about what will happen to the hero." Mary McCarthy

I’m in the midst of revisions for my work-in-progress, Common Ground and I’ve been trying to remember to ask myself a lot of ‘what if’ questions or ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen’ kind of questions. I’m trying to increase the conflict and the suspense.

Take Lily’s boss and the high school Principal as an example. In the first draft she’s kind, supportive and a mentor to Lily. But what if she wasn’t kind or supportive? What if she feels Lily is blowing things out of proportion? What if she brushes off her concerns? What if she resents Lily for adding yet another problem to her already full day? This is just a small example. Just a little something I dreamed up to torture Lily and increase the conflict. To up the ante, so to speak.

I find myself becoming sadistic, in a writerly way. And I like it!

To delve a little deeper into what makes a romantic suspense, well … suspenseful, I did a little surfing on my favorite search engine.

What better place to start then with author, Lisa Gardner? She’s a master at murder, mystery and suspense. There is some very useful information to be found in her Tricks of the Trade section at her website. Here you can find writing articles, such as Seven Secrets of Romantic Suspense, and two lecture series. Check out her Secrets of Romantic Suspense: A Series of Eight Lectures.

I found an article written by Nora Roberts titled Crafting Romantic Suspense. She talks about taking a relationship based story and blending it with an unknown (a suspicion, a mystery, a danger).

"You must give the reader these two levels of entertainment so they are satisfied with the romance and its outcome, satisfied with the mystery and its outcome. And there should probably be a connection between the two." Nora Roberts, Crafting Romantic Suspense

Then there’s Allison Brennan. Check out her site and check out her About Allison section and scroll down to the Why Romantic Suspense section. You can also find information at Allison Brennan’s blog posts at her group blogs, Murder She Writes and Murderati.

I also checked out Fiction Factor and found an article by Cheryl Wright called Basic Ingredients for Writing Romantic Suspense in which she lists some interesting links and places to go to get information on weapons, police procedure and the FBI. She also mentions a resource book I found very intriguing called The Crime Writer’s Handbook by Douglas Wynn. It’s an alphabetical listing on how to commit literary murder, with sixty plus ways from contrived accidents to throat-cutting. It also describes what the victim and murder scene will look like. Another resource book to add to my list!

Do you enjoy putting your characters through the wringer, making them suffer? Are you in the habit of asking yourself ‘What If’ or “What’s the worst thing that can happen at this point in time?’ Do you have a favorite website or resource book to go to for all things criminal?


Janet C. said...

Wow, Karyn, these are some great links. I'm going to bookmark most of them (other than Lisa and Alison's which are already on my favorites).

I like the fact that you're upping the ante for Lily. She already has a tough go, what with gang members bothering her and her student. But to really turn her life upside down will give her that much more to conquer and make the happily ever after ending that much sweeter - both the reader and Lily. Sounds like you are making excellent progress :)

Ban said...

Honestly, I never asked 'What if' but that's because, until recently, I never considered I'd might be writing for anyone's enjoyment but mine. My stories have always been written as I see them in my head. Yes, I'd spend time trying to get a cohesive plot and character bios, which would explain their behavior etc. but once that was all figured out I'd just run with it.
Now I see the need to push things here and there. The story might be interesting to me as is(the way a parent is interested in anything their child goes through, whether or not it has story value)but if I want to give any enjoyment, thrill, etc. to those who read what I write, I need to up the stakes.
Thanks for the links !

Karyn Good said...

Hi Janet. Glad you enjoyed the links. I have to say, I'm having a disturbing amount of fun making things more difficult for both of them!

Speaking of Allison Brennan and because people's minds are on pitching in Surrey, I found a blogpost at Pubrants that breaks down Allison's pitch for her debut romantic suspense The Prey, and what Kristin Nelson liked about it. You can find that blogpost here if you're interested:

Karyn Good said...

You're welcome, Ban. I hope you find something useful in the links!

It's always a good thing to take it to the next level. To push things a bit and see how your characters react. To see that wip grow and branch out, maybe in directions that'll take you by surprise.

But the most important thing is to keep writing. :)

Yunaleska said...

I thought the point of having characters was getting them to suffer? :)

Karyn Good said...

Exactly, Yunaleska! So color me surprised one day when I was blog hopping and came across a writer lamenting about hurting her beloved characters. Although I have say, there's making your characters suffer and then there's making them SUFFER!

Silver James said...

Michael Newton's "Armed and Dangerous - A Writers Guide to Weapons" is always handy.

And if you can't torture your characters, what's the point? Just sayin'...

Karyn Good said...

Hey Silver. Thanks for the book recommendation. It sounds like a handy book to have.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Thanks for the great links. So far I've only checked out one but I want to go back for the rest. So many links, so little time.

I'm glad you've upped the stakes for poor Lily. I'm currently reading Donald Maass's "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook" and upping the stakes is one of the things he talks about. If you think you've given your character problems and complications, go back and give her some more.

Good luck with the edits.

Karyn Good said...

Hey Jana. I ordered the Donald Maass books too. When I went to order GMC, they didn't have it, so I copied you and went the Breakout Novel route. So far I haven't read too much, but they look great.

I'll be sure to take the thumb screws to Lily.