Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Secret Of The Plot Twist

The Twist

A twist is essential in a crime fiction novel. Well, that's my opinion, anyway!

Crime writers need to throw a twist, or two, into their tales. It's what the reader enjoys about the genre. Defying common sense and convention is always popular and readers like to read a bit of wit, intelligently applied to the page. Put your trust in your narrator. They can be unnamed or they can be your main character. If the twist involves the narrator, it will surprise your reader beyond their wildest dreams.

The other key ingredient for the crime novel is the red herring, and misdirection. Magicians use misdirection to distract the eye away from what's really going on. It's your classic trick but we've loved it for centuries and there's no reason why we won't continue to do so.

When the final solution, the truth, is revealed at the end, it should be satisfying for the reader. We've all been there, that feeling of yes of course, why didn't I see that coming?

Finally, a quick word on integrity. Whilst the reader often wants to be pleasantly surprised by the ending, they want to believe in it too. The villain needs to be in the novel, they can't be someone who waltzed in three pages before the end. Clues for the reader to solve the puzzle themselves should be there. It's the author's job to disguise the clues well enough, but it's unfair not to put them in at all.

The Mystery of the Series

The Mystery of the Series

Are you writing a series of novels, stand alone books or something in-between?
A series of novels is a set of novels featuring the same cast of characters. The central character often has a personal story running through the series. Stand alone books are exactly what they say. One cast of characters for one novel only. You could pitch your skills in the middle e.g. Ian Flemming managed this with James Bond. Each book was a stand alone story but the central character re-appeared for each new assignment.

Series novels are like chapters of one very large book. Harry Potter, A Game of Thrones, Family Sagas etc. If you're going to write these you need to have a longer term vision. Often, the main characters re-appear, and their individuals stories are spread over several books. You'll need to map out what you're doing over several book plots without leaving the individual books lacking in any way. This is where strong characters will help you out. Each should have a great back story, even if you don't use all or any of this straight away. Throw in the little details as you go so that when you come to use part of this back story, say in book no. 4, the following reader will think, ah yes, of course, that makes sense.

You'll need to keep track of where you're up to. Here are some ideas to help you:
  • Flash cards. You can shuffle them around the table top and they won't crash and burn like technology!
  • Notebooks - keep notes for each character and the main plot lines, so you can refresh your memory at any stage.
  • If you're fond of looking at a large visual map, get a whiteboard or a corkboard and pin your post it notes into position.
  • Build your character profiles as you go. Each time your character tells you something new about themselves, add the detail to their growing file.
  • Keep a "where I'm up to" file so you can see what you've discovered so far, what each character is thinking, what they've found out and where they're heading next.
  • Plan your plotlines, at least the key turning points and always think ahead, not just the current novel but three or four ahead of that.
One last point, you'll need to be disciplined. Keep writing, keep yourself emerged in the book and the characters. Read back what you wrote last time before you start writing again. Oh, and smile, you'll get there in the end!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Who moved the goal posts?

Who moved the goal posts?
Starting a novel is great fun. It's all there, energy, drive, ambition.... then there's a snag and the engine starts to struggle. This is the moment when many people will quit. The warning signs are easy to spot.....
  • do you find other things to do instead of writing?
  • does the rest of the world seem to be having more fun than you?
  • do you believe your work is rubbish?
  • does writing feel more like a chore than fun?
  • do you have lots of ideas and half written projects but haven't finished any of them?
I've got good news for you. You can overcome these hurdles and reach the end. You can finish your novel, and here's how.
  • Know your characters, intimately. Talk to a friend about them, as if they were really real people. Tell your friend everything about them, what they do for a living, what they look like, how they reacted when something good/bad happened. It'll make them come alive in your mind, again, and freshen your ideas.
  • What does your main character do? If they go mountain climbing in your novel, hadn't you better try it? (You can always start off on the safety ropes at the local leisure centre and climb the rock wall) Writing the experiences through the eyes of your characters can only be a good thing. This is partly where the saying, "write what you know", comes from.
  • Remind yourself of your dream. Try writing the back cover blurb for your novel. It'll concentrate your story into a compact paragraph or two, and it'll refresh your mind of the theme and thread of your novel.
  • Have a holiday. You can always hop on a plane and jet off to the sun, but just a break from your writing will help. Have a couple of weeks off and don't think about it at all. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • Re-read a favourite book. It'll restore your desire to write.
  • Be confident. If you're feeling great, your writing will be great. We are human beings at the end of the day. We can only do our best if we're feeling up to our best.
  • Find a quote from a favourite author and put it where you can see it every day. It'll remind you to keep going.
  • Don't let yourself be distracted with new ideas. Jot them down and put them aside until you've finished your existing work. Only then, go back to them. Just keep going. You'll get there, eventually. We all do.
If you've got more ideas about how to keep writing or how to finish that first novel, please feel free to comment. Having completed four novels and several other unpublished volumes, I can testify that the above is true!