Creating the Perfect Storm

© Can Stock Photo/ rozum

One of the most essential, if not the most essential, elements of writing fiction is creating intense climax scenes. They’re the “OMG!” moments readers expect, and, just like any other part of fiction writing, creating a page turning, believable climax takes some skill.

Set the stage properly

Introduce the conflict early in your story, and start it out small. I write contemporary romance, so my conflicts begin as seemingly everyday occurrences. Someone meets a stranger who seems familiar, but they can’t place them. Someone has fallen on hard times and has to do a job they don’t feel comfortable doing so they can pay their bills. Someone accidentally stumbles across something that looks incriminating about a person they thought they knew. From there you add more tension and conflict and build your story.

How to Create the Perfect Storm

As you build up the tension there will come a point when it needs to be released. For me, this is where the fun begins. The following is my formula, and I find it works well.

  • I begin by putting my protagonist(s) in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I don’t make it obvious. My locations have included a courthouse in the middle of a busy workday. A resort hotel on a busy night. A character’s backyard on a beautiful fall day. Wherever it is, I make it the last place where my protagonist would expect anything major to go wrong.
  • I try to involve as many cast members as I can. The more people on the scene when it hits the fan, the more potential for things to happen. Most importantly, I make sure everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong.
  • Miscommunication adds to the drama. In my novels phone batteries go dead, urgent messages aren’t delivered, and misunderstandings abound. Someone will inevitably get the wrong information and draw the wrong conclusion.
  • I break up the action as much as I can. If more than one character is involved, I’ll end one scene with a cliffhanger, such as a character waiting for help to arrive, and then I’ll jump over to another character to see what he or she is up to. Also, depending on the story, I may even jump to a character who doesn’t know anything is wrong. At least, not yet, and they’re not knowing something has happened adds to the overall tension. Breaking up the action while everything is falling to pieces creates more suspense and keeps the reader engaged.
  • Timing is everything. I don’t want my climax to end too quickly, nor do I want it to drag on for too long. Each story I write is different, so I have to rely on my own intuition. Typically, my big climax scenes go for two to three chapters, sometimes less. It all depends on how complex the scene is, and how many characters are involved.

So there you have it. The more things go wrong, the more suspenseful, and dramatic, your climax will be, and the more it will engage your reader.

Gayle Martin

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You Only Have Ten Seconds

So you’d better make them count

© Can Stock Photo/ stillfx

You have about ten seconds to capture a reader’s interest. Ten seconds. So my advice to you is to make them count. People have short attention spans, and social media is making them even shorter. This means you, the novel writer, had better grab their attention fast. If you don’t hook them within those first few seconds, they are far more likely to toss your book aside.

I think of my opening sentences as, “Lights, camera, action!” I always start with an action narrative. Nothing overly dramatic, such as explosions going off, but with something interesting enough to intrigue the reader so he or she will want to learn more. So, how do I do this? I write an opening sentence that creates tension, and I’ll use the first sentences from some of my Marina Martindale novels as examples.

Strong opening sentences

Rosemary McGee had the next traffic light perfectly timed until a car from the other lane suddenly cut in front of her minivan.

Well, I’m sure that got your attention. What happened next? Did she have a accident? You’ll have to read more to find out.

My openings aren’t always this dramatic, but even if the opening subject matter is more mundane, I can still create tension in my first line.

Emily St. Claire reached for another tissue to dab the sweat off her forehead and grab her water bottle, but the once-cold liquid had turned lukewarm.

Well, that certainly feels uncomfortable. So where is Emily? And why is it so hot? Again, you have to keep reading to find out more.

Opening lines and your characters

No doubt you’ve noticed I’ve included a character’s name in these opening lines, and you certainly want to start introducing your characters as soon as possible. However, you don’t necessarily have to include them in the opening sentences, nor does the opening line have to be about a leading character. Rosemary was actually a supporting character. My lead character is introduced a few sentences later when Rosemary asks her if she’s okay. Emily, on the other hand, is the lead character. My stories are all different, so my openings are different as well.

A descriptive opening line

Some authors like to begin their stories with a descriptive narrative of where the story takes place. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, you still need to create some tension. An opening paragraph that’s nothing more than a flowery, detailed description of the scenery without any action or tension is less likely to capture the reader’s attention. So unless something really interesting happens within the next paragraph or two there’s a good chance the reader will set the book aside. My advice is to end that fluffy narrative with something to suggest things aren’t quite as peachy as they appear. Here is a descriptive opening from another Marina Martindale novel.

The moonlight reflected off the snow-covered mountains, creating a dreamy, picturesque landscape, which could easily hide a deadly hazard.

Yikes! So what kind of hazard could be hiding there? Again, you have to read more.

Remember, when writing fiction, the conflict drives the plot, so you want to create as much tension as you can. The sooner you start creating that tension, the quicker you’ll draw your reader in.

Gayle Martin, aka Marina Martindale

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