Tag Archives: writing

The Beach Salvage (tension, part two)

Building tension is one thing. You can craft all the craziness you want, and ramp up the stakes in every conversation, but it’ll mean nothing if you don’t create a satisfying climax.

The other week, a string of storms blew several large, 30-40 ft sailboats onto one of the beaches here. I just so happened to be playing volleyball on the next sunny day when a crew of men were trying to pull one of the boats out of the sand. This boat was buried. Really, really buried. The keel probably shot 10 feet or so into the ground and wet sand filled the cabin.

The crew had decided to loop a chain around the base of the keel. The chain was connected to a tow truck that was in the beach’s parking lot. Of course my friends and I headed over to check things out. A bunch of other spectators had gathered around the boat with cameras and frowns and lots of curiosity. As people crowded to closer to watch and whisper, a security car showed up to keep things under control.

“Stand back!” one of the crew guys shouted. “When the tow truck pulls, this whole boat’s gonna blow up!”

We were stoked. What a cool afternoon!

“Stand farther back!” the crew guy and the security car told us. “The debris might fly fifty feet, and you don’t wanna get hit with any of it.”

Wow. Danger? Possible death? We moved back, but not too far.

As the tow truck started up, the crowd hushed. This was it. The boat was going to blow! The crew gave the signal and the tow truck shifted into gear. The chain made a grinding noise against the keel —

Then —

Silence.

Lots of silence.

And then the security car drove up and told us to go home; the crew was giving up and the fun was over.

Lamest story ever?

Yes, I’m sorry I put you through it, but it proves the point.

When you make your book sing with tension, you’d better deliver. Build to a satisfying climax that tests your characters’ strengths and changes them forever. Don’t just wrap things up with a couple of hugs — or, in this case, a “just kidding”.

Maybe this seems obvious, but I can think of several books that ended with a huge anticlimax — okay, mainly the fourth Twilight book — and it can be tempting to reach the end of your book and just want to be done. Don’t do that. First blow up the boat, scatter some debris, and make the evening headlines. Then pack up and go home.

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Say what’cha need to say (tension, part one)

Do you ever notice our conversations? Real life, normal conversations?

We don’t push buttons. We play nice and say good things and generally avoid conflict. At least I do. I really don’t like tension-filled conversations — they make my palms sweaty and they twist up my tongue.

In novels, however, conversations have to snap with tension. There’s no other way. Characters can’t talk about the weather or ramble about their days; they must say things that make other people uncomfortable or angry, they must bare their souls (or hide their souls), argue and gossip and lie.

Take, for example, this excerpt from FELL. Birch, having just gotten on the bus, sees Harley, this kid who doesn’t seem to have a home and also always appears on her bus routes. She sits down next to him. The scene doesn’t have much momentum yet, and it makes total sense for Birch and Harley to say hello. I mean, I would say hello. But “hello” doesn’t establish tension, start things off with a bang, or make me want to read (or write) any further. Instead:

“You’re early,” he says.

“Do you have my schedule memorized?” I choose not to be creeped out by it.

“It’s an easy schedule.” He rolls his head to one side so we’re almost nose to nose. He looks exhausted, shivery. His hair’s greasier and his eyes are darker, sadder, smudged with circles.

“Were you waiting for me?”

Now that is interesting (I hope). When your characters say unexpected things, push buttons, and dive into taboo subjects, your readers will get glued to your scenes.

But don’t try this at home — save it for the books.

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You know you’re a writer when…

You know you’re a writer when you use plot structure tools like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to analyze your love life. Is the dark night of the soul over yet?

You know you’re a writer when your friend says something hilarious and you say “WAIT! Can you say that again? I need to write it down so I can stick it in my novel” and they just roll their eyes.

You know you’re a writer when you almost tell your professor, “I don’t need to write this paper; I wrote a novel“, but don’t because you can’t bear to get anything lower than an “A” on a writing assignment.

And you know you’re a writer when you get all shivery and excited when one of the writers you follow HOLDS THEIR BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME! Alexandra Bracken is hosting a contest to win a copy of her debut novel BRIGHTLY WOVEN on her blog. You should enter. Or buy a copy. Or just be happy for her — because her book’s gonna be on shelves in one month!

“You know you’re a writer when…” is open to submissions. Got something funny or creative, send it over to me at madisonwrites (at) mac (dot) com, and I’ll feature it on the blog!

PS: tomorrow’s interview is going to be AWESOME. One hint about the interview-ee’s identity: starts with QUERY and ends with KING. Be here.

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when we collide

My characters and I live in vastly different worlds.

My biggest problems are tests and papers and boys. I play volleyball at the beach, do homework in coffee shops, laugh with my friends until way too late.

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” my characters say.

They fight bad guys. They have secrets. They argue and push buttons and get in trouble. Although they struggle with the basic issues of humanity, just like I do, it’s on a completely different scale. Sometimes I’m jealous of them, sometimes they’re jealous of me, but mostly we’re just really different.

However.

Sometimes I do feel like our worlds collide.

For example, when I see black trucks like these on the road, I feel like Ian (a main character from TIB) is inside — listening to rap and generally being a hot bad boy. So I love black trucks. They make me swoon.

Pianos, piano music, and concert halls remind me of Luke (also from TIB). Sophie’s little brother, he’s a master piano player who lives, breathes, and thinks music. I love listening to (and playing) piano music because no matter how annoying Luke can be, in all his little-brother-ness, he becomes something much bigger when he plays.

And lastly, if I ran, I would probably feel closer to Sophie (TIB’s main character), but I don’t run.

What kinds of things make you feel closer to your characters — like your world and theirs could collide?

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Writing rough drafts stinks. Part two.

Don’t be misled. The advent of MOD HOL has pretty much changed the world and almost destroyed all need for a part two of “Writing rough drafts stinks”.

Almost – but not quite.

Following the rules of Mind On Draft, Hands OffLine fixes all the problems BIC HOK lets slip through its holes: like sitting on your butt, in your chair, with your hands on the keyboard, while doing unproductive things like tweet, blog, Facebook, or generally do nothing on the internet.

But MOD HOL doesn’t solve the problem of this gripping thing called the inner editor. The inner editor, also known as self-doubt, wants to red-pen every single word you slap onto your WIP. See, my inner editor says that red-pen isn’t a verb, but I’m ignoring it. While writing rough drafts, you must do the same. Ignore the inner editor. Shut it down. Box it up. It might know a lot, but what it knows doesn’t matter until you start to edit.

For now, the inner editor has nothing to offer. It’ll not only destroy your self-esteem, but also try to convince you that every sentence you craft is crap. Which might be true, at least at this rough draft stage, but whatever. First get the words down.

In the end they’ll look like this — scribbled on, crossed out, added to — anyway, so don’t bother with perfection on the first draft.

Just write.

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Writing rough drafts stinks.

There’s no other way to say it. Minus those times when words just fly (which can be sadly few), writing rough drafts stinks. The general stinkiness often makes me avoid my rough draft’s eyes for days at a time like it’s a person I don’t want to see. I block the sight of it, chilling all alone on the back of my computer screen, with other windows: papers, assignments, blog, Twitter, Facebook, email, iTunes. I hide in my friends’ rooms and go out when I shouldn’t so I don’t have to see the evidence of my silly, misbehaving work-in-progress scattered all over my desk.

But this is bad. If I want to finish the rough draft in a reasonable amount of time, or at least in the next decade, I must put an end to it. I must! The question is how.

I’ve discovered that the old adage BIC HOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) fails me every time. Every single time. So after searching for a more relevant and useful acronym, I’ve come up with:

MOD HOL

See, I have no problem with the butt in chair or hands on keyboard thing. That’s easy. But even when I’m sitting down and typing away, I’m not necessarily being productive. Oh no. Like right now: I’m writing this blog post, BIC HOK, and all the while having guilty second thoughts about ignoring the WIP, which I actually should be working on instead.

But MOD HOL, Mind On Draft, Hands OffLine, leaves no room for excuses. Focus on the rough draft, not the internet. Think about the story, not the next tweet or blog post or NYT article (and oh boy, those NYT articles can be insanely distracting and entertaining…). But no. When you’re under the power of MOD HOL, you can do nothing but write. Excuse me while I go be productive.

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Teaser Tuesday

After griping for a couple weeks, I’ve settled on a new work-in-progress. I wrote up an outline last week and a pitch paragraph this weekend, so it’s live and official.

Genre: YA urban fantasy
Word count:
almost non-existent at 1,500 words

Why I can’t wait to write this story: it’s set in my lovely Seattle
Which makes me all kinds of excited; I’ve never written a story that’s set in a place that I know, truly know like Seattle. That old adage, “write what you know”? Eh, not so true. Except now.

Why I am terrified: It’s about fire. We Californians know too well the power of fire — I know it more intimately than I ever wanted to. In the aftermath of the wildfires I’ve been through, I’ve avoided writing, thinking, or dwelling on the topic of fire as much as possible. But it’s been months now since the last fire and I want to tease out my thoughts through fiction. The idea makes my palms sweaty — but I’m going to go through with it. See, fire has two parts: the horrifying red and orange part that destroys and damages — and the period afterward, which brings green and gold and new growth and regeneration.

Without further ado, here’s FELL.

After the apartment fire, Birch sees and smells smoke everywhere — until Harley starts riding her city bus route. He’s more country hick than she is city girl, a mystery boy with nowhere to stay whose presence somehow banishes her recurring fire dreams. As his self-appointed tour-guide, Birch lets him into her city — and into her ashy memories. But Harley’s running from his own fiery past. He’s more country than boy, more wild than human. And the inhuman creatures stalking him through the city threaten to consume Birch, too. If she lets Harley go, the fire dreams come back. But if she lets herself fall for this boy with a thousand secrets, her future might go up in flames with his.

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