Monday, February 28, 2011
This post has me a bit excited. I read Andrew Gross before I ever thought of ever writing a book. He is not only a great writer but a great person. As a reader and writer of thrillers this information is invaluable.
Thrillers are all about action, movement, tense moments and entertainment. Andrew learned from the best, James Patterson and has launched out to make his own mark in the book world.
Thanks for taking the time to blog for us and I wish you all the best!
New York Times Best-Selling Author and Co-Author of Six #1 Thrillers with James Patterson
What is it that makes a great thriller?
The inability to put it down? Pages that seem to turn themselves? Lots of unseen twists and turns? The need to find out how it ends? Lots of murder and sex? The identification with a strong hero?
Most people know I spent a few years writing a five #1 bestsellers with James Patterson before I branched out on my own. Whatever it is that goes into what makes a thriller great, there were a number of elements I picked up from my time with Jim that I’ve tried to incorporate into my own books as well—and if you’re an aspiring writer, or just a savvy reader, I think it will be helpful to build some of them into your own writing or reading too. Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules—there are no rules, only ability. But I do think most are transferable to all types of fiction—whether commercial or literary—no matter how broad one’s aims.
So here goes:
1. PACE, PACE, MORE PACE. (It’s not the traditional bromide, “don’t let the story drag”—it’s rocket it forward. Make the story the engine. Eliminate or streamline whatever does not directly advance the story. And the prose should be tailored to the specific action that is going on.)
2. THINK IN SCENES. (Short, crisp movie-like chapters stripped down to their elemental, dramatic core. Get the reader into them quickly—start in the scene, not in the back story or too much scene setting. And end it with a punch that leads the reader into what will happen next. The goal is for them to turn that page, even against their will.)
3. TIGHT FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW. Well, everyone has there own feeling about this and the structure has to fit the story. But make the reader feel as if the actions are happening to them. It’s okay to alternate these with 3rd person chapters, especially in the “bad guy” chapters or when some sympathetic victim is being harmed. Mostly, you want the reader to “feel” the emotions and conflict of the hero and bad guy.
4. A RIVETING OPENING EVENT. (A bride and groom killed on their wedding night. An FBI agent who captures a wanted killer, but in the capture, loses his best friend. A likeable, suburban soccer mom who’s husband goes off to work on the train and is lost in a Grand Central bombing. Grab the reader in the first ten pages. And an equally important ending. Begin strong, end strong.)
5. MAKE ME CARE. A likable hero or heroine. Funny, self-deprecating, spiritual, romantic; a soft heart under a rough exterior. Get the reader invested in your hero’s plight from the opening pages. (Let us feel we know them straight from the opening bell.)
6. GIVE US A BAD GUY YOU WANT TO HATE. (Not dislike. Not hold ambivalent feelings about. HATE. Delight in seeing him brought down. And make sure the reader feels his reactions when it occurs!)
7. CHART YOUR CHAPTERS. (Label them plus or minus. Plus chapters bring some dramatic reveal, or un-put-downable action. They give you a high. Minus chapters carry the mail: give evidence, background, information. Every five chapters there should have a big plus sign!
8. THE BIG HINGE. (The Big Ah-ha moment. Shifts the book in a completely different direction from where the reader thought it was before. And it works well when this moment occurs near the middle, not at the end. Of course, a second ah-ha moment works well too.)
9. WHAT’S AT STAKE ALWAYS WIDENS. (If you start with a traffic ticket, don’t end up in traffic court. What the hero is REALLY chasing has to grow in magnitude and importance. The reader’s moral voice should be saying, “This can’t happen!”
10. OUTLINE UP FRONT. (A detailed outlines. Ours ran sixty pages, 100 chapters. In a plot intensive story, map out your scenes. Know where you’re heading. You want to control the book, not the other way around. It’s your mortgage! That doesn’t mean every scene or twist is written up front in stone, nor does every character end up in importance they way they started out. But a story is linked-together chapters, and part of the process of plotting is sitting down in advance and mapping it out. It’s like a chess game; learn to think ten chapters ahead.
And a few more throw-ins:
11. STRETCH THE FOREPLAY AS LONG AS YOU CAN BEFORE SEX
12. DON’T RUSH THE ENDING. LET IT EMOTIONALLY PAY OFF.
13. WHEN THE ACTION LAGS, THINK ABOUT KILLING SOMEONE!
Anyway, I hope this gives you an idea how we did it, and how I think about my own books, though I have to admit I now take shortcuts in every rule. Reckless, my fourth solo thriller, is out this week in paperback. It’s great way to see many of these elements put in action. I promise, it’s a story that won’t let you down.
If anyone wants to comment on any of this, feel free to contact me on facebook or at www.andrewgrossbooks.com
Thanks for having me, Aaron.
Books by Andrew Gross:
Eyes wide open (coming soon)
Don't Look Twice
The Dark Tide
The Blue Zone
Books with James Patterson
Judge and Jury
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
(DON’T PREACH IT, BROTHER!)
I know, it’s the opposite of what you might hear someone shout out in a lively church on Sunday morning. But in this case I’m talking about writing. Preaching is good when you have the right audience and message, but not so much in writing fiction.
This holds true on more levels than one.
First, the obvious. I don’t think fiction is the place for authors to convince their readers that their beliefs are the one which they must espouse. “What?” you might say. “I thought you wrote books with spiritual and Christian content.” It’s true; my books do contain them as part of the story--that’s just part of who I am and how I see life. But I always try my best to present reasonable arguments on both sides, never slanting the characters who oppose my beliefs in a derogatory or disrespectful way. In fact, if you’ve ever read my short story THE ACCIDENTAL EXORCIST, you’ll see exactly what I mean. This can also be seen in my upcoming novel DARKROOM, and even in BEYOND JUSTICE.
Look, I believe in discussion and dialogue. I won’t force you to believe what I believe, nor would I expect you to force me. But a mature examination of all sides can be helpful when one finally makes a decision about what they believe. In my books/stories, when a discussion likes this comes up, I tend to make my atheist characters respectful, respectable, reasonable and intelligent (not that I do any less for my “religious” characters.) This is to show that one can have an intelligent discussion about the different sides to consider without having to deride or hate one another. Shouldn’t real life be like this? Sigh…If only.
While I have my own convictions (and pretty strong ones), I like to let my readers decide for themselves, without the intensity of a heated argument over beliefs. I prefer conflict to happen in more dramatic plot elements anyway. For that reason, I’m not sure my books really would fit into the traditional Christian Fiction market, because the conversion to Christianity is not necessarily a compulsory part, nor the main point of my books. Not to say this per se is a requirement for all Christian Fiction, but some publishers and readers of the genre expect this. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just different market expectations for different audiences.
Now, the second part of ‘Don’t Preach it!’ relates to the old writer’s adage “show, don’t tell.” Of course, there are times when writers will move the plot along with a brief narrative summary of the key events covering a few days within the space of one paragraph or less (see John Grisham.) And yes, that is “telling” in the extreme. But if done well it is acceptable for the pacing of a thriller or plot-driven book. I’ve been known to employ that method (deliberately as well.)
But in general, when you are in the midst of a scene, I believe it better to show rather than tell. As in my first point about expressing (not preaching about) themes of beliefs and values in fiction, LET THE READER DRAW THEIR OWN CONCLUSIONS.
Here is a great quote from my favorite writer about this matter:
"Don’t say it was delightful; make us say “Delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do the job for me?“ – C.S. Lewis
That said, Mr. Lewis has been known to actually break his own guidelines in his CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, but I think it can be forgiven because of how captivating the books were overall. Remember, guidelines are not pharisaical, legalistic edicts which—upon pain of torture, cruel and unusual punishment—must at all costs be obeyed. Rules are good to learn until you have mastered them. And then, as a master one goes on not to break the rules, but to exceed them.
Jesus Christ actually said it best when confronted about how he was “breaking” the rules. He said to the religious people of his time, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Then he went on to say that it’s not just wrong to murder, but if you deride people verbally, it’s just as bad. And not only should a person not commit the physical act of adultery, but that we should not even look upon another person with adulterous thoughts and imaginations.
So He wasn’t about doing away with the Ten Commandments, but about bringing them to the next level of perfection.
Okay, here’s another example: As a student, J.S. Bach was required to hand-copy manuscripts of past composers. He had to learn all the rules of counterpoint in order to master them.
Even when I as a student at Juilliard, Bach’s Fugues were used as examples for us to learn the rules of counterpoint.
Soon, the more we studied his work, the more we realize that he “broke” some of his own rules. But those instances in which he did made perfect artistic sense and made the work better. Only a master can do this successfully.
To sum it up:
1. Let your reader draw their own conclusions, both in the expression of beliefs and values, and in the showing (not telling) as well. Your reader will appreciate your confidence in their ability to reason and feel, without being soon-fed or worse, force fed.
2. Learn and master the rules and guidelines of good writing. But don’t be a slave to them when you have mastered them. And don’t be a slave to them when you read the works of others, either. There are a lot of “wannabe” critics out there who haven’t the slightest clue about the art of writing, or voice, and are what I call Slaves and Concubines to Strunk and White. These are the ones who spout off on a great author’s poor grammar and sentence structure, while at the same time trumpet their own ignorance. They are the ones who leave the poor reviews, not citing anything about the story itself, but giving the poor ratings because they don’t understand the artistic freedom of writing mastery. Don’t become one of those readers who blinds themselves to great writing because some of the sentences in a book don’t adhere to the academic, textbook rules of sentence structure.
Well, I’ve probably dug a pit for myself here and hopefully have not alienated or offended anyone. Please remember that these are just my own (non-fiction) opinions about writing fiction. If you are not satisfied, you can get a full refund for every penny you paid for this blog entry . Just ask at the door on your way out. :)
My Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/gdek5v
My Barnes & Noble Author Page: http://bit.ly/f3wWa1
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
As we grow and in the effort to expose us all to some great information I am excited to tell you all that coming up in the next 4 weeks we have some great guest posts.
One will be from Joshua Graham. Legal thriller writer and marketer.
Bill Myers: Bestselling supernatural thriller writer with over 100 books in print and has sole 8 million world wide. Yes, that is 8 MILLION!!!
Andrew Gross. Yes, I said Andrew Gross. He is a NYT bestselling author and Co-Author of 6 #1 thrillers with James Patterson.
So, keep watching and you never know who might show up on this little blog.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Vincent Zandri of New York has a book signing at a local B&N. They order books for the signing. The books are sent out. This all happened one month ago. The book signing is tonight, in fact, right about now.
They email him this morning and tell him they never got books. With more digging we discover they did get books, but the Real ISBN number did not match the one they entered into their system so they sent them back. Hence, no books, no signing.
Did they pick up a phone and call to find out about the mixed up number? No. Did they email someone? No. Did they do it the DAY OF THE SIGNING? Yes. Hmmmmm...
Okay, I get it, sometimes things go wrong, but come on guys. This is yet another example of how B&N really don't get it. They first are hostile to local authors, and now as they see their business going under they open their doors but fail to do the simple things to make even a simple book signing happen.
The color Nook is a prime example that the movers and shakers of B&N have no clue what they are doing. I know I am being mean but if you are in the book business and are up at all on eBooks you know that the only reason a eReader is amazing is the screen. The iPad as a eReader is lame and the sales numbers of ebooks sold on Apple are proof of that.
So what does B&N do? They try to compete with apple with a color Nook. It is small and is not good as a eReader. Really? You are going to compete with Apple who is not even in the same market. You should be worrying about amazon not Apple. But who am I to say? I like glare on my LCD screen, I mean why spend money making a color Nook when you could create color eInk? But that will come from Amazon first I imagine... as they are about to become the new Random House and take over the book world.
So what does this mean to you and me? It means, don't worry about book signings, don't sit for a few hours in a quiet bookstore when you can sell more online as you watch Bones or CSI. You want to make money as you sleep? Publish as a eBook and let B&N know that they should be courting you and not the other way around.
Here is a link for Vincent Zandri's book... I mean eBook.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Hooking up the old roller-blades and grabbing hold of that rope your brother stole from your dad, and with a wave and a wink, the engine rumbled to life. Those were the days, yeah! Wind in your hair as the Plymouth virile station wagon, crested the hill with legs shaking, adrenaline pumping you screamed for big boy frank to go faster…
And he did!
Frank was the neighborhood go-to-for-anything-guy, and he had a license, well not a real one but a permit that said he could drive with an adult in the car but only in the daytime. No one seemed to mind as the sleepy little town stared on as the crazy kids flew by going 40 miles per hour, cheap roller-blades rattling, teeth grinding and little brother hanging out the window pumping his fist in the air and egging you on to take the jump.
And you did!
Remember the time you bent over holding your gut as you laughed until it hurt, after shooting a bottle rocket at a passing car? Hiding under the long row of bushes in front of your house and gripping a little piece of cut garden hose, with your brother lighting the rocket as you listened to the wheels of the next approaching car bearing down… time ticked on by, but this time it was a police car, but it was too late, no choices only the car and the angry rocket in your hand as your little brother looked on. Turning and aiming the bottle rocket at the car as it passed and in perfect timing the rocket blazed from the hose and hit the back window and brake lights flashed and you thought of running.
And you did!
Remember when it was okay to ride in the back of a pick-up truck as your dad drove down the freeway? Remember when you didn’t have to wear a helmet to ride a bike or sit in a booster seat to the age of 11, or worry about pointing your toy gun at a person—cuz doing that might mean you might accidentally shoot a real person with your cap gun.
Since when did we have to wear a helmet and strap on knee-pads, elbow pads, shin guards, and stuff pillows in our shirt, just to learn to ride a two wheel? Moms faint in horror as their precious little Johnny takes a bite of a Big Mac and drains a Rockstar wondering how the Trans fat will affect their little brains. Save us from more warning labels and car seats, seat belts, restraining straps, safety guards, childproof caps in which the only ones who can open the darn things is the child. Can we not save ourselves from plastic bags, sharp edges, potholes, icy sidewalks, hot coffee, peanuts, food coloring, sugar, fast food, exhaust, cow farts, and the ever-increasing hole in the ozone layer?
Don’t we have enough to worry about without knowing that the entire planet is going to melt because you use hairspray? Saving the world one protective label at a time is much more important. Get on the ball my friend and forget the way it used to be. How we survived is still a mystery, a strange warp in the fabric of the universe.
Or do you remember?
The sound of the ice cream man driving up the block—the smell of a hot summer day and the dust of the high school baseball field. Cold root beer right from the cooler of the 7—11. Warm nights sitting on the roof of your house looking at the billions of stars hoping to see one shoot across the blackness. Walkmans and bubble gum in a pack of baseball cards. Rock and roll and big hair and the city pool.
Was it all just in the imagination of a child or did it really happen? Did life before the XBOX, play station 3 and the WII ever make us happy? How did we ever function or experience a fulfilling childhood without Facebook, twitter and the internet?
But maybe we don’t want to remember—or maybe we can’t.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I want to be real with you in this post. Not that I am not real the rest of the time but we all know that we must wear a different face out in public. I have a few faces as well and some of them are confident, some are hard, energetic and some are just plain hard core.
However, my real face is the one my family and friends see, the one that hurts when things go wrong, the one that is not sure what to do and the one that in the dark just before bed is sometimes scared. This is me, raw, real and just trying to do the best I can with what I have been given.
This all said, I want to let you know that if I seem checked out, distant or just plain quiet, it is because I have been going through some personal stuff in my life. Some of it I am happy to report has been amazing and some of it tragic. In all I am working through a ton of, shall we say, crap.
In this time I look at how it has taken my writing and hurt it in some ways and helped it in others. We all are going to go through personal "Crap" in our lives and the key I am finding is to take it and make it bring out a whole new depth in our writing.
If you go through a deep dark depression, take that and work through it in a story. Write how it feels, the way it takes all light from your soul. Use it to learn and in the end once the sun rises you will be the better for it.
Going through divorce, rejection, betrayal or if you find true love, make a new friend or lose a loved one. Take it all and keep writing. I know it has been hard for me as the last thing I want to do it write, but once I start it flows and pours from me like never before.
I know this post is not all warm and fuzzy or one that will get you motivated. But file it away for one day you may need it. Even if the world seems like it is falling apart there is always hope, and a light at the end. I hope to find that light and that my depth as a person and a writer will grow. We can only do the best we can do but in our worst we can still claw and crawl out of a hole and rise up.
Here is to life. Filled with danger, anger, fear, joy and so much more. Live in spite of fear, and love with all of your heart.
This sap is out, carry on.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Fiction Follows Life
“Write what you know” is the oldest chestnut in the arsenal of advice to writers. And probably the silliest. How many of us could write any sort of novel— let alone a murder mystery— based on what we know?
And yet, I’d have to say that all of my books have grown out of my real life experiences— except for the murders, you understand. That is certainly the case with my romantic intrigue series, The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. The settings for both of these books came from wonderful vacations my husband and I enjoyed and the background grew out of reading my favorite authors.
THE SHADOW OF REALITY (now available in eBook and soon to be in print) is based entirely on a mystery weekend my husband and I attended several years ago at Mohonk Mountain House, high above the Hudson River Valley. That is to say, the structure of the mystery week, and therefore the structure of the novel, is the format of that week. The plot line and the characters are my own invention. The Eyrie is a fairly faithful representation of Mohonk Mountain House, but I moved it to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Elizabeth’s 1930’s style wardrobe, however, is an exact description of what I wore— in the case of the novel, fictionally designed by my heroine’s sister who is a costume designer.
The theme of the novel is the sometimes narrow line between fantasy and reality. As the week moves on Elizabeth is more and more caught up in the story she is role-playing of a heroine in a Dorothy L. Sayers novel and in the charms of Sir Gavin Lyall who is a flesh and blood Lord Peter Wimsey. In the end Elizabeth has to choose between fantasy and reality— and be very certain which is which— in order to save her own life.
A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, (which will be out very soon) is my “fling with the bard”. For more years that I can recall (I think Shakespeare was alive when we started) my husband and I have attended the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland, Oregon. So when the fictional Elizabeth’s sister Victoria begs her to come help her with strange goings-on backstage, I was able to use my years of festival-going including backstage tour, ventures out to the surrounding area and my lifelong love of Shakespeare.
Elizabeth and Richard are on their honeymoon. And few spots on earth could offer a more romantic setting for these two college English professors. Until murder interrupts their idyll. Elizabeth is determined to protect her sister. And Richard is determined to protect Elizabeth. But can anyone escape the hidden hand of death?
In a recent interview I was asked if I planned to continue the literary theme and feature a favorite author in each book in the series. “What a wonderful idea,” I replied. These first two grew naturally from the setting, but now I’m thinking ahead. Jane Austen, perhaps? Elizabeth would look charming in Regency dress and Richard could rival Colin Firth for Mr. Darcy.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 35 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning GLASTONBURY, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2 A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH will be out in 2011. THE SHADOW OF REALITY, Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on eBook. A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, Book 2 in the Elizabeth & Richard series will be out spring 2011.
Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE and pictures from Donna’s research trips go to www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com