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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The Problem with First Person Narratives

Graphic by Gayle Martin.

As fiction writers, we have two ways to present our story; a first or a third person narrative. This time, however, I’m going to speak as a fiction reader, and not an author.

As a reader, I simply hate the first person narrative. To me, it’s the narcissistic narrative. It’s all, me, me, me, I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, I. That gets really old, really quick. However, I still get it. The author wants me to have a more intimate relationship with the lead character. Unfortunately, not only does the narcissistic tone turn me off, I also want to know what other characters, particularly the antagonists, are up to.

I love reading fiction written in the third person narrative. To me, and no doubt to many others as well, reading a novel is, essentially, watching a movie in my head. I want to see the bad guys cooking up their evil schemes. I want to be with them when they do their dastardly deeds. I want to experience the moment of shock and surprise when the protagonist gets caught their trap. Likewise, I want to experience the protagonist’s feeling of triumph when the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is why, as a reader, I only read third person narratives. I get to see multiple points of view, and I get to see scene changes with different characters, just like they do in the movies.

I realize this is a personal take, and that other readers may like the first person narrative. To each their own. However, I personally don’t care for it, which is why I always write my own stories in a third person narrative.

Gayle Martin

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Outline or Treatment?

© Can Stock Photo / katielittle25

It can be a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?

Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.

A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creative. For us, writing is an art, not a science.


My treatments tend to be short; no more than one to one and a half pages. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.


Some fiction writers write bios for their characters, and that’s certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (This may sound freaky to non writers, but every fiction writer experiences this.)

Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write. And that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again that’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works. 

Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. That’s because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.

One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly disappear from the story. However, Jeremy was also leading man Ian’s son. And as I got into the story, I soon realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win leading lady Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers. 


As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. But, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. 


Gayle Martin

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Knowing When to Quit, Part One

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / tomasfoto

 I was an art major in college, and I’ll always remember one of my painting professors said.


“Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done. Otherwise, he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”


It’s extremely difficult for us as artists to see our work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we realize we’ve overworked something, it may be too late to salvage it. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.


I was near the end of the story. I’d resolved the main conflict. But as I was tying up remaining the loose ends I suddenly discovered a huge opening for one of the antagonists to go after the protagonist a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. However, in this instance, the conflict would have been virtually the same as the conflict in the first book, thus making sequel redundant. In other words, it would have been a boring, “been there, done that,” story. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I wrote a definitive ending and killed off the antagonist, ending the feud once and for all. 


Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it may be that your story has become too redundant.


GM

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Soap Opera Plots–Time Tested Reliable Storylines

© Can Stock Photo / ginosphoto

Once upon a time, my friends and I were soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps. I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. I don’t watch soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers watched their favorite soaps when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that today’s soap operas are so poorly written.

Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then one day the producers decided they wanted younger, more hip audiences. As a result, the writers began writing outrageous story lines. Demonic possessions. Frozen cities. Characters buried alive. UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but certainly not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.

Those of us who write romantic fiction know basic plot structure revolves around conflict. For many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching.

The Romantic Triangle

Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. However, another girl is in love with the same boy, and she won’t go quietly into the night. She instead plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, thus becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.”

Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children.

The occasional side effect of the romantic triangle. Soap opera writers kept audiences riveted for years wondering when an unsuspecting husband, or ex husband, would finally discover that his son or daughter actually wasn’t his son or daughter. 

Long Lost Half Siblings.

Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight, but one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship. She does everything in her power to break them up, and soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child’s love interest. This means they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated.

Sometimes the writers will create a plot twist. The other mother will come forward later on and say no, so and so wasn’t her child’s father after all. Therefore, they were never half siblings. However, this only happens after the would-be lovers have moved on to other relationships. The fun never stops.

The Big Frame-Up

From time to time a villain has to be killed off, so why not frame a favorite character for a crime they didn’t commit? Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but not until they’d gone on trial, been convicted and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology by having the real killer tamper with the DNA test results.

Catastrophic diseases or injuries.

Hodgkin’s Disease. Brain tumors. Comas. High risk pregnancies. All were common soap opera maladies. Tripping over a waste basket could cause a miscarriage, and how many times did a favorite character go blind or deaf? Luckily, in Soap Opera Land, everyone recovers, only to be struck down with another malady a few years later. However, soap opera characters are immune to one disease. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

amnesia

A rare medical condition in the real world. At one time, however, it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.

Returning from the dead

A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or similar event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return later, oftentimes with another actor assuming the role.

This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia. Or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return. The other scenario is when the character returns after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until after their spouse or lover has found someone else.

And there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet, and they work just as well today. I use variations of them in my Marina Martindale romance novels, and my readers tell me they can’t put my books down.

Gayle Martin

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