Author Archives: Tiffany Inman

Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two)

Today Tiffany Lawson Inman is continuing the discussion of the emotional barrier in fiction. If you missed Part One from last month, click here. 

Tiffany Lawson Inman, headshotby Tiffany Lawson Inman

Hello again!

We learned in Part One of this post, that the emotional barrier is VERY IMPORTANT, and very hard to break down without completely collapsing in on ourselves. We are all afraid of icky gooey stuff that seeps out when we are alone, and it takes skill to use the memories and gut-wrench that is on the other side, right?

Right.

And comedians like Louis C.K. have the ability to rip truths out of the air and make them tangible, right?

Right.

And you all are going to do whatever you can to:

  • allow yourselves emotional release.
  • learn how to cross your emotional barrier.
  • learn how to use the emotions you can reach.
  • be fearless and vulnerable when using your own emotions.
  • realize that emotions are one of the most important factors in fiction.
  • unplug from technology every so often to reconnect with yourself, people, and life.
  • write truthful human emotions and create a strong connection between your readers and characters.

RIGHT!

If you need a reminder, or didn’t get to read Part One, head on back to Wednesday’s post, Part One: Emotional Barrier in Fiction. Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? and we will see you back here in a sec.

Moving on to the meat.

Let’s assume that you have all either gone to a psychotherapist, been on stage, or have taken my class, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy! and can cross the emotional barrier with ease. *wink wink* And what you have found on the other side is absolutely amazing and totally usable for your fiction and you are raring to jump to the BIG emotional scenes in your novel and write write write!

No. I won’t let you. Not yet.

muppetAwww…come on!

First, we have to make sure your characters have a solid emotional base to jump off of, emotions to fly by, emotional places to visit, and an emotional crash pad. Donald Maass calls this an emotional landscape in Chapter Three of Writing 21st Century Fiction:

“To foster reader involvement it is first critical to map an emotional landscape which readers will travel. Readers must feel that they are on a journey, one with felt significance and a destination that we can sum up as change.”

Yes, your character has to start somewhere emotionally in order to have a journey. You can’t just plop them on the page and start writing events, plot points, outer conflict, and black moments without having an inner conflict jumping off point.  Starting with action is fun. Starting with dialogue, also fun.  But watch out, if the reader doesn’t know where your character is emotionally in the first few pages, their need to read on wanes. And if you, the writer doesn’t start out by mapping this emotional landscape, then you might end up writing the wrong level and wrong angle of emotion in those BIG scenes.

Let’s see how Lisa Unger starts her emotional landscape in Darkness, My Old Friend:

Darkness-My-Old-Friend-Mass-Market-ThumbPrologue

Failure wasn’t a feeling; it was a taste in his mouth, an ache at the base of his neck. It was a frantic hum in his head. The reflection of failure resided in his wife’s tight, fake smile when he came home at the end of the day. He felt the creeping grip of it in her cold embrace. She didn’t even know the worst of it. No one did. But they could all smell it, couldn’t they? It was like booze on his breath.

****

Wow, this guy is in a really good place in his life right now…. Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm because it is painfully obvious he is on the wrong side of the happy-go-round.

Lisa Unger gives us one heck of an emotional base for this character:

  • Failure that leaves a taste in your mouth. That’s not a little failure, this, is a lot.
  • He can physically feel this emotion in his neck and head.
  • His wife fakes a smile at him.
  • Cold embrace means there is a lack of love and affection between them.
  • He tells us that all of this isn’t the worst of it, which means, this man has a BIG BAD secret.

All of this in the very first paragraph of the novel.

Unger used emotive words like:

  • Failure
  • Ache
  • Frantic
  • Tight
  • Fake
  • Creeping
  • Grip
  • Cold
  • Worst
  • Smell
  • Booze

We don’t have to hear the sirens to know the lights are flashing in this character’s future meltdown.  We know this character is bad news and we want to see how bad it gets. How many other characters can he take down with him? Or, will there be a surprise? Reader interest is definitely sparked and it’s because she started with emotion.

What if she had written:

Kevin felt like a failure. It made his neck tense and his head hurt. When he went home to his wife, she pretended she was happy he was home. They didn’t have much sex anymore. Probably for the best because he had a secret he hadn’t told anyone and it would probably affect their relationship.

Blah blah blah! My version opened the door for an emotional base, but it didn’t really let the reader in. Not a good way to start a book.

Okay okay, some of you think I cheated by showing the prologue, am I right? Because the prologue is supposed to be thick with emotion?  I agree. But I couldn’t not show you that, because I just think it’s a tasty start to a story.

Unger brings the emotional jack-hammer in Chapter One as well. Here you go:

Chapter One

Jones Cooper feared death. The dread of it woke him at night, sat him bolt upright and drew all the breath from his lungs, narrowed his esophagus, had him rasping in the dark. It turned all the normal shadows of the bedroom that he shared with his wife into a legion of ghouls and intruders waiting with silent and malicious intent. When? How? Heart attack. Cancer. Freak accident. Would it come for him quickly? Would it slowly waste and dehumanize him?  What, if anything, would await him?

****

See! Told you. Lisa Unger rocks at setting up the emotional landscape.  I have NO doubt that she is a frequent traveler across her own emotional barrier.

Part of Cooper’s inner conflict that we can see right away:

  • Will he live the rest of his life being afraid, allowing it to affect every day until a coffin surrounds his body?
  • Will he surpass his fear and surprise us at every turn?

What if she had written:

Jones Cooper woke up most nights with an extreme fear of death.

My version doesn’t have the same rhythm, cadence, intensity, or emotional resonance does it?

LOL, nope.

*Ah, before I go on, if you didn’t know already, if you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app, you can download a sample of most books on Amazon. It’s usually the first two chapters. This is a great way to see (and afford to see) all of your favorite authors and how they emotionally hook you in those two chapters. Unfortunately when a writer is as good as Lisa Unger, there is really no point in just reading the first two chapters, you simply must read the whole book. So head on over and read the rest (after you are finished reading this blog, of course). The prologue alone is worth its weight in gold.

Up next, Markus Sakey and the first few paragraphs of The Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes:

Marcus cover                  He was naked and cold, stiff with it, his veins ice and frost. Muscles carved hard, skin rippled with goose bumps, tendons drawn tight, body scraped and shivering. Something rolled over his legs, velvet soft and shocking. He gasped and pulled seawater in to his lungs, the salt scouring his throat. Gagging, he pushed forward, scrabbling at dark stones. The ocean tugged, but he fought the last ragged feat crawling like a child.

                  As the wave receded it drew pebbles rattling across one another like bones, like dice, like static. A seagull shrieked its loneliness.

                  His lungs burned, and he leaned on his elbows and retched, liquid pouring in ropes from his open mouth, salt water and stomach acid. A lot, and then less, and finally he could spit the last drops, suck in quick shallow lungfuls of air that smelled of rotting fish.

                  In. Cough it out. There. There.

                  His hands weren’t his. Paler than milk and trembling with panicky violence. He couldn’t make them stop. He’d never been so cold.

                  What was he doing here?

****

From a quick first glance it seems as though these are all physical issues Sakey is giving his character. But if you take your pulse before you started reading this and after, you would most definitely have a difference in tempo.  This character is half dead and struggling to survive. He gives us some great images and metaphors to show emotion here.

  • Crawling like a child.
  • Pebbles rattling like bones.
  • Seagull shrieking its loneliness.
  • Trembling with panicky violence
  • “Cough it out. There. There.” As if he’s consoling a child, or his mother is there consoling him.

Not to mention ALL of the power words he uses. I’m pretty sure you can point them out. Too many to list!

Part of this character’s initial inner conflict:

  • Will he struggle to crawl out of the ocean to face whatever put him there in the first place?
  • Will he give up and die?

Hmmm… . I keep talking about inner conflict, Donald Maass defines it as follows:

“…don’t confuse inner conflict with inner turmoil, a messy indecision, waffling, and weakness  that turns readers off. Inner conflict is dilemma. A debate that can’t be won, an unavoidable fork in a road that leads to two equally feared or desired destinations. It’s a predicament that’s powerfully human.”

I love that. “…powerfully human.” Lisa Unger and Markus Sakey have done a brilliant job of showing a well defined inner conflict, and they have both done it on the first page!

Do you have to show a defined inner conflict on the first page?

No.

But if you are starting with deep POV, the emotion had better be there and inner conflict better be right around the corner (like on one of the next three pages.) If you are starting off with action and dialogue, then we should have a sense of your character’s beginning emotional state. Here’s a good example. I am currently reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Asher coverChapter One

                  “Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

                  I rub two fingers, hard, over my left eyebrow. The throbbing has become intense. “It doesn’t matter,” I say.

                  The clerk takes the package. The same shoebox that sat on my porch less than twenty-four hours ago; rewrapped in a brown paper bag, sealed with clear packing tape, exactly as I had received it. But now addressed with a new name. The next name on Hannah Baker’s list.

                   “Baker’s dozen,” I mumble. Then I feel disgusted for even noticing it.

                  “Excuse me?”

                   I shake my head. “How much is it?”

                  She places the box on a rubber pad, then punches a sequence on her keypad.

                  I set my cup of gas-station coffee on the counter and glance at the screen. I pull a few bills from my wallet, dig some coins out of pocket, and place my money on the counter.

                  “I don’t think the coffee’s kicked in yet,” she says. “You’re missing a dollar.”

                  I hand over the extra dollar, then rub the sleep from my eyes. The coffee’s lukewarm when I take a sip, making it harder to gulp down. But I need to wake up somehow.

                  Or maybe not. Maybe it’s best to get through the day half-asleep. Maybe that’s the only way to get through today.

****

While we don’t know exactly what his inner conflict is yet, we have a ton of emotional hits and can get a pretty clear idea of what his emotional state is on the first page.

  • Asher starts the character in the middle of…something, and the character isn’t even paying attention. His mind is obviously elsewhere.
  • He’s rubbing his brow. Hard. A sign of emotion when coupled with the fact that he is having a hard time paying attention.
  • Throbbing in the brain is never a sign of something good.
  • Character says he doesn’t care.
  • Character mumbling to self, disgusted at self.
  • Not paying attention again when he shortchanges her.
  • Rubbing sleep from eyes. Normal action when you are getting out of bed, but this guy is already at the store with coffee in hand. Sign that sleep didn’t come easy if at all the night before.
  • Thinking that the only way to get through this day is to do it half asleep. Another clue that something crappy is going on in his life and it occupying his thoughts.

Have you noticed that even though these aren’t the BIG emotional scenes (that I won’t let you write yet without supervision) they are still stuffed with emotion?  ALL of that work that you did to cross the emotional barrier and everything you brought back with you WILL BE USED. Some of it in slivers here and there to help guide the reader on the emotional journey, and some of it in the BIG scenes.

But you can’t afford to save the whole bundle for that one BIG turning point, it won’t matter to the reader how much is in that scene, if they don’t know where the emotional journey started.

In the online course I teach, I work with writers to infuse emotion into their little moments as well as the big ones. Because so much can be shown in a “simple” scene between husband and wife over breakfast,  getting dressed for the day,  a phone conversation with your best friend, getting into a taxi, giving someone a gift, etc. These little emotional hops, skips, and dips might seem tedious to the emotional beginner, or be viewed as mushy gushy bits of language that could slow pace or veer your scene into a ditch, but as you can see from the above examples, pacing is not dropped and there aren’t any ditches.

Their writing is active.

And their writing is good!

****************

Thank you so much for reading today!  Stay tuned for Part Three!  Let me know if you have any questions. I won’t be teaching again until next summer, so I apologize, I can’t give any classes away today.

There are many MANY authors out there with the  ability to beat down emotional barriers with ease and skill.  Got a favorite?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online.

As an editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.

Emotional Barrier in Fiction: The Most Important Barrier For You To Cross (Part One)

Written by Tiffany Lawson Inman

Emotions play a big role in writing fiction.

That’s not a big secret, right?

Nope, but what I say next might surprise you. One of the many things I learned during my years as an actor is that most people, including writers, are afraid of their own emotions. Feeeeeeeeeeelings.Kermit Oh yes, those pesky feelings.

Most people are afraid of the thoughts and situations that forced them to feel hate, shame, guilt, terror, deep sadness, and dread. Humans are blessed to have the ability to emote, but they also have within them an emotional barrier to protect them from feeling some of those nasty things. It also protects them from revisiting past emotions. Unfortunately this emotional barrier makes emotions one of the most difficult area of fiction to write.

I say most people because it seemed that all of us crazies that were in the theatre field were only mildly afraid of our emotions. Mildly afraid and wildly fascinated. Any scene or play I came across that would allow me to crack open my psyche, I dove after it with open arms. I knew it was an opportunity to really dig in and polish my craft. Actors relish the chance to explore the demons inside of their brains, hearts, and blood. Because actors know THAT is where the drama is.  That is what the audience wants to see.  And as an actor, writer, or any other type of artist, if you can’t manipulate your emotional barrier you won’t be making true dramatic art.

Really, is that all?

Nope. Writers also have a thread of fascination with crossing this emotional barrier, however, in all of the books and manuscripts I’ve read, I’ve only seen a handful of authors create true emotion. Many get close. Even more miss the mark and are completely disconnected from their emotions.

Why????Why?

The emotional barrier is tall and wide. It has thorns that pierce flesh. It has poison that can flow into your bloodstream and taint the day, week, year after you dare to cross through it. There is no wonder why most people are very comfortable leaving it up for protection.

A few years ago I created an online course to help writers find their way through the emotional barrier and use what they find to fuel more dramatic writing using The Method.

Yesterday I cracked open a book on writing craft to gather inspiration for this post and I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Donald Maass also touching on the subject of human emotions in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction. He asks writers in the beginning of Chapter Three,

“But what is it that moves readers’ hearts? What conjures in readers’ imaginations a reality  that, for a while, feels more real that their own lives? What glues readers to characters and  makes  those characters objects of identification: people with whom readers feel intimately involved about whom they care, and whose outcomes matter greatly?

Emotions.”

He later goes on to say:

“…some writers slide into genre clichés or literary imitation. To put authentic emotions on the page, you need to own them. When you do, readers will respect you. It’s when you hide that readers feel shortchanged, cheated, and only minimally involved.”

Well gosh, we don’t want to cheat or shortchange our readers. And we definitely don’t want to become cliché or just another Joe Writer. That won’t sell books.

As an editor I want writers to be proud of their product and as a reader I want to fall in love with fiction every time I read a book. Maass makes a great point and that is exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned feeling disconnected from a character’s emotions.

One or all five of the following is happening in this type of fiction:

  • The author wasn’t allowing themselves an emotional release.
  • The author didn’t know how to cross their emotional barrier.
  • The author didn’t know how to use the emotions they could reach.
  • The author was too afraid to use their own emotions.
  • The author didn’t think emotions were an important factor in fiction.

Unfortunately in today’s technology age, we have more and more distractions to aid us in keeping the barrier up.

  • Instead of facing a feeling we can just stick our noses to a screen and entertainment will quickly cover up any emotion we are feeling. (have you ever trolled over to Netflix or YouTube for some “feel good” imagery?)
  • Instead of waiting for acceptance or rejection from a potential friend, we click around and connect with another friend.
  • Instead of the dread of not knowing a dollop of information, we can just Google it.
  • Instead of heading into a confrontation that might hurt us or be uncomfortable to face, we can just send an email, or better yet, a text.

As I was mulling over how to express how important I think this emotional barrier issue is, this hugely debilitating artistic conflict in today’s blog, I sauntered over to Facebook for a little brain-distraction (yeah, I know, ironic.) Whilst scrolling through sarcastic status updates, quotes, and friend’s family photos, I stumbled across a link to one of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K., doing a bit with Conan O’Brian on why he doesn’t want his little girls to have cell phones.

*Twilight Zone music!*

The Universe must have been watching me write this blog, because Louis C.K. brilliantly zeros in on the emotional barrier and why humans are so conflicted. And then he talks about a reaction he had to a song that rolled into his own emotional breakthrough. I actually got a zingy-zappy-tingly feeling in my limbs as he came to the end of his conversation with Conan, because everything he says plays into what I am talking about today; he hits the emotional barrier issue on the head with a cannon ball. 

I transcribed the conversation to the best of my ability because I think it is another learning experience to read the emotion in his language throughout the story. The link is below, if you’d like to come back and watch it.

Louis C.K.’s Case Against Kids Having Smartphones

Louis: Some parents really struggle with, like all other kids have the terrible thing, so my kid has to ……yeah, let’s let… no let your kid go and be a better example to the other kids. Just ‘cuz the other stupid kids have phones doesn’t mean that yeah, ok, my kid has to be stupid or otherwise she’ll feel weird.

Ya know I think these things are toxic.  Especially to kids. It’s just this thing (head downMiss Piggy and Kermitmiming texting) it’s bad.

They don’t look at people when they are talking to them. They don’t build the empathy. Ya know, kids are mean because they are trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, “You’re fat. “ And then they see the kids face scrunch up and they go, “Ew, that didn’t feel good to make a person do that.” But they’ve got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, “You are fat!”, they go, “Mmm um that was fun, I liked that.”

Conan: Mmm that tasted good.

Photo 1Louis:  Yeah, exactly. You need…um, the thing is you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That is what the phones are taking away. Is the ability to just sit there, like this.  (he sits there, arms still, not doing anything) That’s being a person. Right?  You gotta uuuh, uhhh… you gotta check (mimes frantically checking his phone)

Because underneath everything in your life, there is that thing. That empty, that forever empty. You know what I’m talking about?

Conan: Eh…hehe…yes.

Audience: Hahahaha

Louis: That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you are alone. You know and it’s down there.  And sometimes when things clear away and you aren’t watching it and you are in your car and you start going, Oooooh no, here it comes… that I am alone. and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness, life is tremendously sad. Just by being in it.

SO when you are driving you are going, Aaaaahuuuhaaa…(he mimes just sitting there being a person and looking around at other drivers, alone. )

That’s why we text and drive, I look around and pretty much 100 percent of people driving out there are texting.  They are killing and everyone is murdering everyone with their cars.

But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own…because they don’t want to risk being alone for a second. Because it is so hard.

I was in the car one time and a Bruce Springsteen song comes on and it made me really sad. It’s like Jungle…what’s the …Jungle?

ConanJungleland.

Louis:  Uh, yeah, it’s the one that goes “Aaaarrrhuuuuhuuuuuuuuh! “ And he sounds far away?

(Much humor ensues here and they both start imitating the end of song, then Louis comes back to his story)

Louis: It gave me kind of like a fall-back-to-school depression feeling, it made me really sad. I go, Ooohokay I’m getting sad, I got to get the phone and write “hi” to like fifty people.  And then ya know somebody cool writes back and then them somebody not as cool writes after and I’m like, Eh, f’ you I’m gonna talk to somebody better…but uh… .

Audience: Hahahaha

Andy: Hey how come you didn’t answer my text?

Audience: Hahahaha

Louis: Eh, well. (he laughs) So anyway I started to get that sad feeling and I was reaching for the phone, and then I said, Ya know what? Don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness in…stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck. And I let it come and there was Bruce,  “Aaaaarraaaahhhooooh”

And I just started to feel, Oh my god, and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much and it was beautiful it was like this beautiful…just this…(gestures to his heart)

Sadness is poetic. You are lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes…

Conan: …Rushing in…

Louis: … rushing in to meet the sadness so I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness and it was such a trip. You know, and the thing is because we don’t want that first bit of sad we push it away with a little phone *($)#*@ (wacking off gesture with phone)  and you get a little kinda… you never feel completely sad or completely happy you just feel kinda satisfied with your product …and then you die…that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

*******************

Yup, you just learned something from a comedic bit on Conan. Amazing.

  1. People need more direct contact with one another to be able to see and react to body language and tone. This enables us to build and recognize empathy.
  2. People are constantly being reminded of their own fears which prompts them to seek outside stimulation and social recognition on an almost OCD level of intensity.
  3. When one is in the presence of another person releasing emotions it is possible for the observing person to have an emotional reaction of his/her own.

That last line towards the end of their conversation makes me want to ask you something very important. On what level of satisfaction do you want your readers to be when they are reading your book?  How much true emotion are you infusing into your product?

So, as Louis C.K. explains it in his so-wonderfully-awkward-honest manner, in today’s techno-bombarded world it is very easy to avoid emotion.

The strange thing is humans need that release. They yearn for it. Maybe a little more than pulling off the road for a good cry. Although, I do commend him for sharing this moment with the world, I think we need more than that on a daily basis, so it doesn’t bottle up and pop during a Bruce Springsteen song. But most people don’t get that release and instead of reaching inside themselves and risking getting hurt, they look to fictional characters to do it for them.

Most folks are drawn to art like movies and books for two reasons: they want to be entertained and they want to feel something.  I think it’s easier, um, no, the word I’m looking for is …safer for audiences to experience those feelings by watching/reading a fictional character experience them first.

Yup, you guessed it!  That’s where writers come into the picture!

What does that mean for your fiction? The emotions you write had better be as close to human as possible.

  • Be vulnerable.
  • Look into your past.
  • Observe your inner self.
  • Put the technology away.

You don’t want your readers to feel like they are having a conversation with a kid attached to a smartphone.

**********

Thank you very much for reading today.  Part Two will be posted next month! I will  be talking about creating an emotional base for your characters. Sounds just as important as crossing the Emotional Barrier, right? IT IS!

Can you think of a moment in your writing life where you found yourself hesitant to cross that barrier, or completely emotionally blocked? Share in the comments!  Ever have a Louis C.K. moment? Share in the comments! Have a question? I’ll be around all day.

BIO: Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online.

As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.

Beware of the False Hook

By Tiffany Lawson Inman

What do most writing craft books say about openings?

A lot of don’ts and dos.

Am I right?

  • Don’t use a lot of description.
  • Don’t open with back story.
  • Do try and start with action.
  • Do introduce the story theme and problem.
  • Do establish character and setting.
  • Do excite your reader.
  • Do show the promise of your novel in the first sentence, in the first paragraph.
  • Oh yeah…and DO hook your reader.

Hook your reader.

Hook your reader, HOOK YOUR READER!

All are true. All are dangerous. Why? Because everything rests on the HOOK!

E V E R Y T H I N G. Writers work their butts off on the beginning of their novels!

Or they should.

What happens after the first hook line? There should be a hooking paragraph. A hooking chapter. But that is not always the case.

How many of you have read a false hook? Loved the first line or paragraph, and then the book goes downhill. Such a disappointment. We don’t want a bunch of marketing tactics drawing your reader in for one bite, when the rest of the meal tastes less than good. It sullies our reputation as storytellers.

Writers should be hooking their readers through the entire novel. Raising questions. Little and big. Keep them turning the pages.

How to avoid the false hook? Look at more than what you are saying. Also look at how you are saying it. The tone.

You need to show the promise of your novel with what is going to happen and how the story will be told. They go hand in hand. The how is your needle, the what is your thread. Can’t have one without the other. Readers don’t want a great story that is written poorly. Nor do readers want a crappy story that was written beautifully.

Let’s look at how NY Times Bestselling author, Harlan Coben uses his needle and thread. Below are his first two of paragraphs of Tell No One in either the right order, or the wrong order.

Which one is the first paragraph? Does one have more or less promise than the other? **********You better not cheat. Don’t run and get your copy, or look on your Kindle.

Look at his writing.

Tone

Quality

What else?

The third piece to a solid hook: Reader questions. There are questions on top of questions on top of questions. Egging the reader to turn the first page and melt into this man’s world.

Paragraph A :

There should have been a dark whisper in the wind. Or maybe a deep chill in the bone. Something. An ethereal song only Elizabeth or I could hear. A tightness in the air. Some textbook premonition. There are misfortunes we almost expect in life—what happened to my parents, for example—and then there are other dark moments, moments of sudden violence, that alter everything. There was my life before the tragedy. There is my life now. The two have painfully little in common.

Paragraph B :

Elizabeth was quiet for our anniversary drive, but that was hardly unusual. Even as a young girl, she’d possessed this unpredictable melancholy streak. She’d go quiet and drift into either deep contemplation of a deep funk, I never knew which. Part of the mystery, I guess, but for the first time, I could feel a chasm between us. Our relationship had survived so much. I wondered if it could survive the truth. Or for that matter, the unspoken lies.

OOOOh I got the chills!

Are you turning the page for more? Yes you are.

He has given us over 20 questions in 163 words. And his tone? The intensity of his tone is one wave after another moving us further into his story.

It is always taught in speech writing classes: you tell the audience the same information three times in the course of an informational speech. It takes three times for your reading audience to really get what you are saying. Well. Harlan does it 20 times in the first two paragraphs. He wants us to listen and keep listening.

What is the difference between Harlan Coben’s novels and an unknown suspense thriller that has just been passed over in the submission pile? He uses the what, and the how, very well. And the tone he uses is a question in itself.

But, the biggest difference: Harlan keeps his answers close to his heart. He lets go of information in a deliciously suspenseful way.

A crumb here, a morsel there.

And he does not let go of those nuggets until after the reader has met the wondering threshold.

It is true.Timing is everything.

Harlan has excelled at the art of threading his hook through every moment of his Bestselling novels.

Look at your WIP.

  • How far does your hook get you?
  • How can you work in the concept of needle and thread?
  • When do you start giving up those precious answers?
  • Open to a page in Chapter 18, is the reader still asking questions?

Thank you so much for reading today!  Next month I will give you a bit more meat in the world of writing-craft-know-how, today was just a sample.

Do you have a favorite author that has a knack for threading a hook?   Let’s chat about it in the comments! I will be teaching online this summer and I will be giving a class away to one of the brave writers in the comments section. So don’t be shy, say “Hi!”

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Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in  late 2014.

As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.