Why a Book’s Pacing is Like a First Kiss – Guest Post by R.Q. Garcia

canstockphoto18807121So you’ve finished the first chapter of your book and made sure to open your story with either a bang or a captivating introduction to the tale.  You’ve given the reader something to be interested in; however, now it’s your job to create some sort of investment.  If the reader isn’t invested in the story, chances are they might not even finish reading your book.  This is where pacing comes in to play.  In many ways, it’s analogous to both first time and subsequent kisses.

A story’s pacing is the fabric that weaves together character and plot development.  Without pacing, heroes stagnate, villains become boring, and the entire story falls apart.  Why?  Because the reader will get bored wading through all of that exposition and meaningless dialogue that does nothing to advance the story.  It’s no different than exchanging a first kiss with someone with whom you realize (perhaps even instantly) there is no chemistry.  The kiss is awkward, dull, and so painfully slow that you just can wait to disengage and find a polite way to say goodnight.  A proper first kiss is tantalizing and subtly implies that there are even more exciting things down the road.  The question then, of course, what is that road like?

There are many types of first kisses that fulfill the dual promises of excitement and foreshadowing, and the same is true of pacing.  Some stories require a hot and fast pace, while others demand a sort of slow burn. To some extent, your characters, and their impact on the plot, will affect your story’s pace.  Additionally, you’ll need to have a good sense of the type of person you believe will read your story.  Employing a slow burn style of pacing may work for some, but not all readers.  Alternatively, others may be turned off by a plot that moves at break neck speeds if the reader feels like character/story development was sacrificed.

As a writer, you have to remember that you are exchanging a very personal and intimate part of yourself with a total stranger.  Your book is the first date.  The pacing of your book is the first kiss that determines whether there will be another date (i.e. your readers pick up your sequel, series, etc.).

*  *  *

OMAM Internal CoverRQ Garcia is a Writer-Attorney living in Orlando, Florida. His mystery novel, Of Murder and Monsters, is available on Amazon. You can visit his blog at rqgarcia.blogspot.com.

What exactly does “Show, don’t tell” mean?

canstockphoto6655007The best writing advice I ever received was how to identify when I’m “telling,” rather than “showing.” And I’m going to share that advice with you.

You probably already know what “telling versus showing” means. If so, skip down past the examples. If not, well, read on.

“Telling” is relaying information. It’s generic, lifeless, and rather detached. It’s often the opposite of storytelling, but rather info dumping.  “Showing” allows your reader to follow your characters into the moment. The reader can see, feel and experience what the characters are experiencing. It also makes your book more interesting and impactful.

For example:

  • Tom was angry at the boy on the bike. (Telling)
  • Tom’s face reddened. He reached down and grasped a large rock then hurled it at the boy on the bike. (Showing)
  • Cheryl was in love. She had never felt like this before. (Telling)
  • Cheryl’s heart thudded in her chest as she glanced up at Chad. She smiled at him, before her legs tuned to jell-o and her forehead broke out in perspiration. She honestly didn’t know what had come over her.  (Showing)
  • “We need to leave,” Addy said impatiently. (Telling)
  • Addy drummed her fingertips on top the desk and looked over her shoulder for a third time. She fidgeted in her seat. “We need to leave.” (Showing)

Take the time to paint the scene. Don’t explain what’s happening, use sensory language (see, hear, taste, smell and touch) to reveal what’s happening. Use an active voice, rather than a passive voice, meaning beef-up sentences that rely on “had” and “was.”

I received some great advice about how to recognize telling versus showing. If you’re not sure, ask, “If this was a movie, could the camera see it?”

The camera can’t see “angry” or “in love” or “impatiently.” Intellectually, we understand the meaning of those words. But, we’re writing a novel, not a text book. We want our readers to feel anger, and love, and impatience.

The camera can see – as well as our own mind’s eye – descriptions of “Tom’s face reddening and him reaching for a rock.” We can feel his anger; we don’t need to be told that he’s angry.

There are exceptions, but as a whole, asking “Can the camera see it” will help you spot and eliminate telling.

5 Dialog Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

canstockphoto6243281This may read like Grammar 101, but I see these mistakes in a lot of unpublished, new author’s works. Unfortunately, these mistakes scream “Amateur!” and hurt the author’s chances of getting published.

If these rules are elementary, skip them. For everyone else, print them out and nail them to your monitor.

Problem #1:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said. “You know I’m involved with someone.” Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic.”

Don’t put two character’s conversations into one paragraph. It makes it very difficult to figure out who is talking.
Start a new paragraph every time a new character speaks.

Problem #2:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone.” Said Kim.

“Stop being so melodramatic!” Said Mallory.

The character’s conversation and the tag should not be two separate sentences. This is a basic grammar rule. Use a comma instead of a period, and make the conversation flow into the tag.

Problem #3:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone“, Kim said.

Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic“!

Always put terminal punctuation (commas, periods) inside the quotation marks.

Problem #4:
“I can’t believe you, Mallory! You sandbagged me with another blind date when you know I’m involved with someone. Ross and I are madly, deeply in love. I just think you’re jealous of our love. You always have been, but this time you’ve gone too far. Too far, I tell you! And, I will never forgive you. Not today or tomorrow or in a million years from now. Our friendship is officially over!” Kim said.

Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic! Ross broke up with you. He cruelly, unceremoniously dumped you and he’s not coming back. No matter what you do or say, he will never come back. You need to make peace with that and learn to accept it. That’s why I set you up. Because I’m your friend, and always will be.”

The characters need a chance to breathe. Besides, no one really talks like this — and if they do, no one is really listening. Keep the dialog brief and to the point. The conversation above would be much easier to follow if it was broken-up into an exchange between the two women.

Problem #5:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said angrily. “You know I’m involved with someone.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Mallory said indignantly.

Repeat after me: Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. If you need to explain the emotion, then you’ve written flat dialog or a stale scene.

* Examples based on an excerpt from the mystery novel Prey of Desire.

X Factor – The Unexpected Twist

canstockphoto2447238Every murder mystery must include an X Factor — the twist that heightens the suspense in the story and keeps it as unpredictable as possible.

Story twists should always come when the reader least expects them. Twists or surprises can be obstacles for the protagonists to overcome or temporary setbacks just as it looks like everything is going well.

Here are a few twists, surprises and curves I’ve come across over the years that could make great X Factors.

  • An unexpected discovery is made
  • Someone gets or delivers the wrong message
  • An urgent call is made, but the person who was to receive the call isn’t there
  • An inheritance comes unexpectedly
  • Help is refused sight, hearing or motion
  • Something of value had disappeared
  • A suspected enemy turns out to be a friend
  • The main suspect was being framed
  • The bluff is called
  • Parents interfere
  • A person thought to be dead is found to be alive
  • The suspected motive is shown to be false
  • An unexpected corpse shows up
  • There is no money in the account
  • An old wound is opened
  • The enemy discovers the plan
  • A man turns out to be a woman, or vice versa
  • Help that is expected and urgently needed doesn’t arrive
  • A traitor is present
  • Secret information is revealed
  • A letter arrives or is discovered that changes the course of events
  • The child is not waiting at the school
  • A trusted friend, lover, or coworker is not what he appeared to be
  • An unexpected invitation shows up
  • A witness comes forth
  • The car is stopped, but the wrong driver is behind the wheel
  • A suspect’s alibi turns out to be false
  • The wrong person shows up
  • A trusted character had lost a previous spouse under mysterious circumstances
  • Expected information doesn’t arrive or isn’t what was expected
  • A character suddenly loses
  • A character reveals that she is dying

Writer’s Block: Stuck on What’s Supposed to Happen Next

canstockphoto12444307For me, writer’s block hits for one real reason: I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen next. I generally have a clear outline, and I know I want to take the murder mystery from point “A” to point “C.” It’s “B” — or the murky middle — that either veers off path or writes itself into a corner. When this happens, I have to go back to that outline and take some time to plan.

One surefire tip I use to get back on path is to give the Protagonist a backseat and focus on another character. Returning to the outline, I pick a supporting character (often one of the key suspects) and plot out his story. What was he doing when the murder occurred? Where was he when the sleuth began the murder investigation? I take it scene by scene and explore what this character was doing. This will often reveal bridges from points where the narrative veers off path to the critical scenes that lead to the climax.

Plotting a supporting character’s story arc will hopefully develop into an exciting sub plot, one that leads the sleuth and the reader on a wild and bumpy ride away from the true murderer. However, if the supporting character’s story turns out to be just outline material, where very little of it is actually fleshed out and written into the story, that’s okay. It will still help strengthen the continuity of the mystery as a whole.

So, if like me you find yourself reluctant to to even think about your mystery novel, it could be you’re not thinking about it enough. Instead of forcing yourself to write the next scene, let the keyboard sit idle and invest thinking time in plotting a supporting character’s story. You may be surprised where it takes you.

The Ticking Clock: 25 Ideas to add Suspense to your Mystery

canstockphoto16299362Want to heighten the drama and suspense in your thriller? Then your story better have a ticking clock.

This element is used to increase the intensity of a situation that must be resolved within a given time.Time limits combined with various obstacles put additional pressure on the protagonist. If the goal is not accomplished within the time set by the clock, all will be lost. And it keeps the reader on the edge of her seat.

The following lists some ideas to add a ticking clock device to your story.

  1. The protagonist will lose a lover or loved one
  2. The patient will die
  3. A bomb will detonate
  4. A storm will arrive
  5. A collision will occur
  6. A person will commit suicide
  7. A terrible, irreversible mistake will take place
  8. A secret will be revealed
  9. A marriage will be torn asunder
  10. Oxygen will run out within an enclosed space
  11. Something important will be destroyed
  12. The only path home will be blocked
  13. An identity will be revealed
  14. A witness will be silenced
  15. A pet will be put down
  16. The wrong person will die or suffer a terrible fate
  17. A donor will not be found
  18. An innocent man will be put to death
  19. Someone will drown
  20. The bank will foreclose
  21. The plane, train or ship will depart
  22. A warning will not be received in time
  23. A fortune will be lost
  24. The enemy will attack
  25. The environment will be affected

 

Language of the Body: Add visual dialog to your conversations

canstockphoto13397004Do you feel like you’ve got too many “he said,” “she said” tags in your dialog? Are you leaning on adverbs to express your character’s feelings? Do some research on body language to add emotional and descriptive depth to your character’s dialog.

Body language can bring your conversations to life. It subtly strengthens the dialog, and plants mental images in your reader’s head. Consider the following:

Angrily = Shoulders retracted, head leans forward, fists closed, neck and forehead veins bulge,
Apologizing = Eyes lowered, hands clasped together
Defensively = Arms crossed, fists closed, brows furrowed,
Fearfully = Shoulders raised, eyes wide open, mouth scrunched.
Forced Politeness = Oblong smile, eyes pointed, stiff posture
Friendly = Broad smile, open palms, arms outstretched
Interested = Eyes raised, Body leans forward, Long gaze
Leave Me Alone = Shoulders hunched, Chin to chest, Eyes nearly closed
Lying or Withholding Information = Rapid blinking, Avoids eye contact, hands hidden, nods head frequently, places finger between lips, ankles locked
Nervously = Biting fingernails, Forehead sweating, Change of complexion, Dry mouth, Repeated fidgeting (with item, running hands through hair, changing positions, tapping fingers), clammy hands,
Pensively = Hands to cheek,
Responsibility = Shoulders square, chin raised, chest out
Sexual Interest = Lips parted, hands touching the other’s shoulder, feet pointed toward the other, fingers touching hair
Tensely = Swallowing, Gulping

Want to read more? Check out:
Knock ’em Dead with Verbs

 

Endings: Crisis, Climax & Resolution

canstockphoto16966074You don’t get a second chance to make a final impression.

Obviously, the first five pages are probably the most critical pages in your book. But, your ending may be what your reader always remember. How many times have said, “I loved the book, but hated the ending?”

A good ending is a well planned ending,

The structure of a murder mystery follows a plot structure, which I outlined here. Going a little deeper, the ending also follows a structure with three parts: Crisis,Climax and Resolution.

Crisis
Something wicked this way comes… and your sleuth is going to have to face it head-on. Here, you sleuth uncovers the secret hidden within your story, and that leads to the final, peaking confrontation. The showdown between good and evil. With it, your sleuth may  also discover:

  • the identity of the murderer
  • the location of the murderer
  • the motive of the murderer
  • he has been believing a lie
  • the true plot
  • the obvious suspect was falsely accused
  • he has been conned all along
  • the object or person he has been seeking

Climax
The point of no return. Now, your story’s over-arching question is answered, and your character’s fates are decided one way or another. The sleuth must take the action that will bring resolution to the plot. The more challenging, painful and suspenseful that action is (and is written), the more engaged your reader becomes. A few questioned answered in the climax, may be:

  • What have the characters learned about each other
  • What tools or devices must the sleuth use to achieve his goal? What does tools does the murderer use to protect her position or identity?
  • Is your sleuth the type of person to use a weapon? Does she know how to use that weapon? How clever and resourceful is she? Does she have any skills or specialized knowledge to fall back on? What is in the environment around her that she can draw upon in that climatic scene?
  • How evil is your villain? What level of violence is he capable of in the showdown? What will the collateral damage be?

Resolution
What are the consequences of the showdown? Good or bad, the problem must be resolved, and the sleuth must achieve her goal — at some level — with the resolution. Even if there’s a sequel planned, this story here must be resolved. If your characters are well written, they will tell you what they will do and to what lengths they will go to achieve their goal or to resolve their problem. A few resolutions may be:

  • Lovers learn the truth and reconcile
  • The murderer is caught before committing another crime or act of violence
  • The villain brings about his own demise
  • The sleuth rescues another intended victim
  • The sleuth gets the murderer to confess his sin or crime or goal
  • An intended victim is found safe
  • A hostage is rescued
  • Last minute evidence is found to clear the innocent suspect and prove the guilt of another
  • The patient recovers
  • A cure is found
  • The medication is brought in time
  • Someone sacrifices himself for another
  • A dream is finally fulfilled
  • Someone’s faith is restored
  • A coward becomes a hero

 

Amateur Sleuths – How your next door neighbor solves crimes

canstockphoto1499758There are three kinds of sleuths in a murder mystery:

  1. Law Enforcement – the city cop, sheriff, deputy, district attorney, Federal agent or military law enforcer
  2. Private Investigator – the hired PI, the retired or ex-cop
  3. Amateur Sleuth – lawyer,  reporter, any private citizen who gets accidentally involved or has a vested interest and chooses to become involved in the criminal investigation

Personally, the Amateur Sleuth is my favorite to read and, as an author, I love coming up with all kinds of ways to plunge my Protagonist into the throws of a good murder investigation. Here are a few ideas that I’ve collected over the years.

Giving your Amateur Sleuth reason to solve the murder

  • Comes to aid of another
  • Curiosity
  • Defense Attorney seeks the truth
  • Hired as a bounty hunter
  • Hired to find a suspect
  • Mistaken identity
  • To bring a crime to police’s attention
  • To claim a reward
  • To get an exclusive story
  • To settle an old score
  • To write a book
  • Prevent own demise
  • Protect another from harm
  • Prove another’s innocence
  • Prove a crime was committed
  • Prove own innocence when suspected of the murder

 

Your Author Platform: What is it? Do you really need one?

canstockphoto0897631I’ve heard a lot of buzz lately about creating an Author Platform. Professional writers need it; agents and publishers expect it. But what exactly is it?

Putting it simply: your platform is the strategy to reach your target market, i.e. the people who are interested in you, what you have to say and, of course, who will potentially buy your book.

I’ve just started constructing my platform.

The first step was setting up a blog and website. I’m still perfecting this site and finding my voice. But it’s a logical step one.

Step two has been broadening my reach with social media. I’ve set up a Facebook fan page and a YouTube channel. I’ve got a GoodReads page and an Amazon author page. But I know that’s just a tip of the iceberg. There are so many social media programs out there, that it can get a little intimidating. Most experts tell you to select two or three programs and use them regularly, rather than do very little across many sites.

The next step is to start compiling a mailing list. Some articles advise to set-up a newsletter or some reason for people to give you their email address, and want to receive information from you. In this day and age, I’m hard pressed to figure out what I could email people that they can’t just as easily Google on their own. And I don’t think this world needs another newsletter. :)

Somewhere down the line I’ll jump into the Twitter-verse. But that’s another day.

All in all, it’s going to take time to build a solid platform, setting up one component then the next. And, it’s going to take even longer for those components to grow  and build momentum. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Want to read some good articles about building an Author Platform? Check out: