Since it’s Halloween, and I’ve been focusing on tension and suspense in my own writing, today has me thinking about fear, and how fear can be leveraged to increase tension, suspense, character development, and even setting in any genre of fiction.
If I were to ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’d probably get plenty of similar responses. For some, it’s serial killers, ax murderers, and bad people in general. For others, it’s disease, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Spiders, clowns, heights, and other phobias all have their places, and while all of these themes can be woven into any genre, what if you don’t want to focus on a specific fear, but instead invoke the feeling in general, because, let’s face it – sometimes people (and characters) – don’t know exactly what it is that they’re afraid of.
A general uneasiness of unknown cause can be crafted into scenes that create just as much tension as a character locked in a haunted house with Hannibal Lecter and a dozen sadistic, serial killing clowns.
The question is, how do you leverage fear without making it blatantly obvious?
Well, consider this – fear takes many forms and has many faces. At it’s most general, fear is anxiety. And anxiety isn’t always the enemy, especially when it’s felt by a character in a piece of fiction.
If I were to ask, “What makes you anxious?” would I get the same answer as when I asked what you were afraid of? Now what if I asked, “What makes you uneasy?”
Three different questions, all with different answers.
This is how to subtly leverage fear in your writing. Pick a different emotion or feeling and develop it. Make it grow into something more. Something, dare we say, sinister.
How do you feel about isolation? Would being in an unsettling situation by yourself be more unnerving than if you were with others? How about if others were there, friends even, but there was no cell service, basically cutting you off from the rest of the population? Now, what if you were in a location that further isolated you, like an island?
It’s a popular trope, but a good example in that it’s a situation that can also be enjoyable. On an island with friends and no cell service, nothing to do but relax, unwind, and party? Sounds like torture, right?
But that’s the fun thing about fictional fear – taking paradise and making it pergatory. Best of luck!
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When I started this blog almost seven years ago, it was because I
wanted needed to write.
I’ve always loved writing, always wanted to be a writer, but I’m also a realist, so I knew that the chances of making a living as a writer were slim. So the question was, what would make me find time to write, enable me to sharpen my skills, find my voice, and discover my direction without requiring a time commitment I couldn’t make? This blog was the answer.
In the beginning, I blogged about hiking, cooking, DIY projects, whatever I had going on in my life that might be of interest to someone else. I wrote non-fiction articles and queried magazines, jotted down a short story (mostly for my own amusement) when striking inspiration aligned with a few hours of spare time, and finished a manuscript I had started in my early twenties during my lunch break, alternating between sweating and freezing as I furiously typed behind the wheel of my car during the changing seasons.
I had no luck with articles, which was probably because I didn’t enjoy writing them as much as I enjoyed creating a piece of fiction. I casually sent out a few short stories (I love mystery and suspense, but my early work often took on a dark slant, leaning more towards horror). To my delight, some of my stories found homes.
Fast forward to the present . . .
I have found my direction. I am a novelist. I have four manuscripts in various stages of editing. I’ve been going through the query process with agents, and have had a few near misses. I have learned what my work was missing. I have found and developed my voice. I’m ready to do this!
. . . But, during this time, my blog has suffered. There’s no one to blame but myself and the limited number of waking hours in a day. How can I expect others to enjoy content that I myself find uninteresting? So, this blog is getting a revamp and a new direction.
The content will focus on writing – dialogue, pacing, suspense, character development, basically anything and everything that has to do with developing the craft and navigating the ropes of publication. I’m open to suggestions, and hope to get some good conversations going! Consider this an open forum. I’d love to create a writing community and to connect with other scribblers. Are you excited? I’m excited. Let’s do this!
I have mixed feelings about this book. Parts of it aren’t entirely believable, but people are unpredictable and the book is fiction, so . . . might as well just go with it. Maybe a Chemistry teacher really would become a homicide detective after her sister’s murder???
I liked the writing, the plot was well thought, and the characters you were supposed to like were likable. It was by no means predictable, and felt fresh while I read it (so much better than overdone tropes that create a sense of deja vu 9 out of 10 pages).
For those who like both mysteries and legal thrillers, I’d recommend giving this one a try. It felt a bit odd in places, but, overall a success! 5 stars!
In December of 2016, when I was last writing (with such intensity that I literally wore the letters off my laptop’s keyboard), I put aside the novel I was writing (#4) to work on a re-write of novel #3 as requested by one of the agents who had requested the full. The re-write was never completed, never re-submitted to the agent, and it all turned into a big, sad pile of squashed dreams. (Thanks, life.)
So, while planning my return to writerly things (it’s not just as simple as sitting down to write, oh, no, not at all), I figured I’d write a short story, read what I had written of novel #4, and then move on to the re-write of #3. Nine hundred words in, the short story stunk so bad that the dogs asked me to leave the room. But the reading of #3? When I had finished the last word written, I typed the next 1000 words. The next day, over 2000. I was back in full force, and it felt incredible. I had 4 fantastic, productive days of writing. I felt amazing. And then . . . everything else in life got jealous and demanded instant, undivided attention.
*** This is actually the first time I’ve gotten 10 minutes of me time, which does not make me a happy camper. There’s nothing like being on a roll and having it be brought to a screeching halt so soon. But the hard part is over. There is no fear, only ten fingers itching to get back to work. ***
Which brings me to my word of the week ~ meraki [may-rah-kee], because I am aware of no other one word that so accurately describes how I feel when I write. There’s plenty of emotions – frustration, anger, confusion, love, happiness – but the sum of all these emotions together, everything I am and have experienced and possibly everything I will one day be and know, all these things together are the ‘essence of myself’ that I put into my work. Whether it takes another day or another week (there’s no way in hell I’ll let it take another year) until I’m back to the grindstone, my meraki will be
write right there waiting to pour itself out on the pages.
What word best describes your writing?
I’ve been a big fan of Ruth Ware since her debut book, In a Dark, Dark Wood found it’s way into my hand. Her next book was a bit of a departure from the first, good, but a little far fetched and missing the dynamic of friendship and secrets she handled so well in the first. I was happy to discover in this book a return to her ‘roots’.
This mystery kept me guessing, not just who did it, but what did they do? What actually happened? Maybe the truth wasn’t a complete surprise (as shocking as it was), but it was impossible to know for sure, and that, my reading friends, always makes me smile. I’m anxiously awaiting Ware’s next book. 5 stars!
The submission process isn’t an easy thing. Whether periodical or agent, every venue you submit to has their own individualized requirements. It’s hard enough following all the specific directions, jumping through all the hoops, hoping that you don’t commit some dire error or major faux pas that keeps you from ever getting published (who hasn’t sent a query to an agent using the wrong name >.<) – so why make it harder on yourself by risking a repeat submission?
Sure, you can create your own spreadsheet, a private little diary of shame and rejection. I’ve done it. I poured precious time and energy into maintaining it, too, time I could have spent writing or submitting, only to (eek, whoops!) make a mistake and resubmit the same piece to a very unforgiving editor (at least it’s one less place to worry about ever having to submit to again).
Stop the insanity!!!! There are easier ways. Ways that will even help you to find more markets to submit to.
The (Submission) Grinder is a free website. Duotrope charges for its services ($5 a month or $50 for the year). Both help you search for magazines and anthologies to submit to. They will also keep track of where you submit to, how long the submission has been out, and your acceptance and rejection rates (if you update your submission responses). By reporting your responses, the sites are able to compile submission statistics for each publications such as a magazine’s response time, rejection to acceptance ratio, where other writers sent similar submissions to, etc.
I have more experience with Duotrope. You can run a more detailed search, looking for the markets with the quickest response times, the highest acceptance rates, the pay structure, the format they publish, and more in a fraction of the time it would take you to research on your own. I can’t recommend it enough.
Now, on to querying agents . . . . I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep track of agent queries, but it’s an isolated, frustrating world to be in alone. So many questions, so few answers, no one else to feel your pain or share your angst with.
That’s where Query Tracker comes in. This site can help you find agents to submit to and will keep track of your submissions. They provide the average time for each agent to respond with a rejection, or to request a full. There’s also an awesome little comments section where people can post, so you can share that after 3 days the agent requested a partial (hurray!), or sent a rejection (boo). They also offer an array of statistics with a paid subscription of $25 a year.
It can be a long, lonely road on the trip to publication, Hopefully, these tips will help your journey to be quicker and less solitary! How do you keep track of your submissions – what works for you?
A huge thanks to K.M. from over at Ankor You for nominating me for the Travel Tag. If you haven’t been by her highly endearing, super entertaining blog, you’re missing out. So head on over and let her give you an eye full!
I love exploring new places, plain and simple. Whether traveling near or far, I’m always up for a new adventure, and my wish list is miles long. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to eventually check all the places off my list, but until then, writing about it (living vicariously) will have to do!
1) You are leaving tomorrow to start a life in a new country, where would you go?
This is a really hard one, because I have a top three of other countries I’d love to live in, but I’m going to have to go with New Zealand because the country offers enough to keep me busy exploring for a long time and they speak English (I am, unfortunately, horrible at speaking and audibly translating other languages.)
2) You can take someone for a weekend away to the place you had the best holidays ever, where would that be and who would you take to go with you?
I would take my husband to Lymes Regis in England to go fossil hunting on the cliffs and beach.
3) You can get married wherever you want to, your budget is limitless, what is your choice?
I would have LOVED to have gone to Iceland to be married! Standing on the edge of a volcano, underneath the aurora borealis . . . is that weird?
4) During your travels you can bring back home one animal as a pet, which one would you pick?
Another hard one! Among many animals on my wish list, I always wanted a monkey (new world, with a prehensile tail so it could hang from things, like a Capuchin), and if it could learn to pet my dogs I think it would fit right in, so I’d have to go with that.
5) You can go back in time and relive one family trip, which one?
I had a blast going to the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo while visiting my grandparents in Washington, D.C. I’d love to go back to all the same places and do it all over again! (Including that Mexican restaurant!)
6) What is the first thing you would pack for a one year travel around the world?
My kindle, so I would have endless books to read in the down time traveling between one spot to another.
7) What would your fantasy 100th birthday destination be, and why?
Norway. I think my 100 year old self would look awesome in a Viking helmet, and after I failed to wake up the next morning after consuming too much chocolate in celebration, they could launch me out on a boat for my funereal pyre.
8) During your travel you can learn one sport to become a pro, what would that be?
Wildlife photography! Crawling on my belly through the grass on the Serengeti, wedged in a tree in the woods, camouflaged in all white on the arctic snow plains, I would chose to become a pro at finding elusive animals and taking spectacular pictures of them. If that doesn’t count as a sport, then something medieval, like jousting.
This is the most fun I’ve had with a tag in awhile! I hope you had some fun reading it, and if you’d like to share some of your answers, I’d love to read them! I hope my nominees enjoy this one as much as I have! Don’t forget to check out their answers as well!
The rules are easy and fun. Just answer the questions below, repost the questions and tag fellow travel lovers, let them know you tagged them and let your blogosphere travels begin!