Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity Con

It has become an annual tradition! Every year at this time my blog is dedicated to explaining why every writer, aspiring author and avid van should be attending the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) Con this year. The C3 Con is the Mid-Atlantic’s book lover event of the year. And this year, we have two international bestselling authors as keynote speakers. But that’s only the beginning.

We draw readers AND writers of genre fiction: horror, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and paranormal authors will gather in Columbia MD, Sep. 30-Oct 2. 

So let’s count down the top ten reasons for attending the C3 Con:

#10 – FELLOWSHIP: Imagine being surrounded by avid readers and excellent writers for an entire 3-day weekend!

#9 – REED FARREL COLEMAN: Author of the heralded Moe Prager series and Jesse Stone novels, he’s been called our noir poet laureate. He’ll give a keynote address at dinner and teach a class.

#8 – ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF: Known for her Huntress/FBI thrillers, her smooth blend of paranormal and crime fiction is some of the most original and unnerving work around. She will give the other dinner keynote talk and offer a one-woman class on writing for the screen.

#7 - MEALS: The registration fee ($275) includes five meals: Friday’s dinner, 3 meals Saturday and Sunday breakfast, so readers and writers dine side-by-side. One day registrations are available too, and that day's meals are included.

#6 - PANELS: Readers and fans will enjoy 36 panels and presentations from favorite authors, including the keynotes and local guests Donna Andrews (mystery) and Cerece Rennie Murphy (science fiction.)

#5 - GOODY BAGS - Each attendee will receive one filled with cool stuff, including free books (from Mulholland Books, Stark House Press, authors Alan Orloff and Debbi Mack, ) magazines (like Mystery Scene and Writers Digest,) our exclusive anthology filled with stories written by attending authors, and a flash drive from Smashword pre-loaded with ebooks.

#4 - TWITTER CONTEST: the attendee who tweets the most leading up to C3 using our hashtag (#MDC3Con) will get a new Kindle Fire.

#3 - FOR AUTHORS: EXPOSURE: Published authors get to spend time with their fans, and to expose new readers to their writing by presenting on one or two of the 36 panels. Their name and a link are posted on the C3 website.  And they will be pictured in the C3 program book. 

#2 - BOOK SIGNINGS: Novel Books provides an on-site bookstore and hosts two giant book signings, open to the public, featuring all the attending authors and their books. This is how people who don't actually attend can enjoy the C3 Con, both Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 6pm.

And the #1 best reason to attend the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con: BE A STAR: The Baltimore County library will shoot a video interview for as many authors as they have time for, and Diana Belchase will be there in person taping for a segment of her show, Book Smart TV!

You can still register, and get more details, at http://creaturescrimesandcreativity.com

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Keep Them in Suspense III

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about suspense, the element that can make or breaks the end of your story. To give your story a truly satisfying climax, you need to escalate the tension. You can raise the stakes by making the danger more imminent, more intimate, more personal or more devastating. For one familiar example, if the shire is at risk in the first film, the world better be in danger at the end of the trilogy.  If the tension doesn’t escalate, your suspense will fade.

One technique to keep the tension high is to give us more promises and less action.  Suspense happens in the stillness of your story, in the gaps between the action sequences, in the moments between the promise of something dreadful and its arrival.

If readers complain that “nothing is happening” in a story, they don’t usually mean no action is happening.  It usually means no promises are being made. Contrary to what you may have heard, reader boredom isn’t solved by adding action – the solution is to add apprehension. Suspense is anticipation; action is the payoff. You don’t increase suspense by adding events, but rather by promising that something will happen.  So don’t ask yourself, “What needs to happen?” Ask, “what can I promise will go wrong?”
My favorite scenes in the Star Wars movies grow from one inspired bit of dialog.  Han Solo looks around and says…”I got a bad feeling about this.”  Actually, five different characters say that in the series but only Han Solo says it twice.

When Scarlett swears she’ll never be hunger again, or Marley tells Scrooge he’ll be visited by three ghosts, a promise has been made.

Suppose a jilted lover in a romance says something like, “if I can’t have her nobody will.” Maybe he hides in the bushes until his rival shows up. The bad guy pulls his knife. The good guy looks around, looks right at the bush but doesn’t see the bad guy hidden there.  He turns his back to the bad guy...
Milk that moment. That’s the suspense.

But make sure that eventually you show us what happens in front of that bush. You have to keep every promise you make.  And the bigger the promise, the bigger the payoff has to be.  A huge promise without the fulfillment isn’t suspense—it’s disappointment. That’s why Frodo can’t simply pull off the ring and toss it, and Rocky can’t knock out Appolo Creed with a lucky punch in the third round.
And remember, every word in your story is a promise of some sort.  If you spend three paragraphs describing a woman’s fabulous shoes, those shoes better be vital to the story. The cliché is, if you show me a gun on the mantle in chapter 2, somebody better darned well aim that thing at someone before the books’ over.

Stories sometimes fail because writers don’t make big enough promises, or they don’t fulfill them. Don’t let that happen to you.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Keep Them in Suspense II

Last week we talked about the importance of creating suspense in fiction. Because I think that applies to all genres it only makes sense to say that there are different types of suspense.

The most common kind of suspense is probably “will the hero accomplish his major goal?”  That can take different forms based on the genre you write in.  In a mystery, where the violence usually takes place before the protagonist is involved, the question may be “who done it?”  You maintain suspense there by keeping your villain one step ahead of your detective, and your reader.  In a thriller the reader may be anticipating the antagonist accomplishing his goal so the question is “how can this impending crisis or crime be averted.”  The reader might know about dangers the protagonist doesn’t know about – that in itself creates suspense.  In a horror story the question may be “will the protagonist survive?”  

So as we write, how do we ratchet up the suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats?  Well, part of this is why we talk about conflict and suspense together.  Because to really create suspense you need to create characters that readers care about, and then put those characters in jeopardy.

Narrative suspense is built out of four parts: reader empathy, impending danger, escalating tension and reader concern – or as i call it: worry.

We create reader empathy by giving your protagonist a goal or objective or an inner struggle that readers can identify with. The more they empathize the better.  Once they care about and identify with a character, readers will be personally invested when they see that character struggling to get what he wants.

We want readers to worry about whether or not the character will succeed.  Readers have to know what the character wants so they know what’s at stake, and they have to know what’s at stake to get engaged in the story. So, to get readers invested in your novel, make it clear what your character desires, what is keeping him from getting it; and what huge, horrible consequences he’ll face if he doesn’t get it.

Suspense builds as danger approaches. Readers experience worry when a character they care about is in peril. This doesn’t have to be a life-and-death situation. Depending on your genre, the threat may involve the character’s physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual or relational well-being. Whatever your genre, show that something terrible is about to happen—then postpone the resolution. That’s how you sustain suspense.

Next week I’ll share some rules for building tension in any story.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Keep Them in Suspense

Suspense is what keeps people turning the pages, no matter what genre of story it is, and since no one wants a reader to put down their book before the end, this seems like a good topic to explore. We writers love to use that word – suspense – but it might also be thought of as frustration.  The reader wants to know something and the writer keep saying, “I’ll tell you in a minute” and by the time that minute is over the story is done. If you write thrillers or that subgenre we call suspense, the word worry might work better.

I first learned about suspense when read the Tarzan novels.  Edgar Rice Burroughs had an interesting technique for holding his readers’ attention.  After the first book the stories involved Tarzan AND Jane.  They always took off on some adventure, and they always got separated. So you might see Tarzan running thru the jungle – he comes face to face with a lion – the lion roars – he pulls his knife.  The lion jumps at him and…

The chapter ends and we’re following Jane.  She’s lost so she climbs a tree.  She finds herself on the limb with a huge snake.  It gets closer.  She’s about to fall out of the tree.  The snake rises up, about to strike and…

The chapter ends. Suddenly we’re watching Tarzan grapple with the lion. And the whole time we’re watching Tarzan, we’re worrying about Jane. As a kid I found this kind of thing very frustrating – but fun. As an adult I learned that people like to be frustrated this way.
More technically, suspense is created by posing a question the reader wants answered.  In my own work i use three different kinds of suspense.  There is “what’s going on here?” suspense.  If you watched the television show Lost, or more recently Colony, you know what that is.  You came back every week trying to figure out what the heck was going on. 

There is also “why is this happening?” suspense.  This is what writers mean when they tell you to start the story in the middle.  Page one opens with someone holding a gun in your hero’s face, saying “This is what happens to people who go poking their noses into my business.” Of course, then the writer has to answer the obvious questions during the action. 

Btw, in my opinion, Stephen King is the best novelist alive and King writes suspense - not horror. Every King novel is a master class on how to write the “why is this happening?” kind of suspense. If you haven’t time to read one of his giant books, Rent the first season of his TV show “Under the Dome.” You’ll get the idea.

We’ll talk about other kinds of suspense, and how to create them, next week.