Category Archives: Writing Tips

Creating and Sustaining Suspense and Tension, Part 2

If we create suspense and sustain tension during the plotting and drafting stages, then we save truckloads of time on revisions.

Try one or more of these to sustain tensionWriting tips from Pulp Literature
  • Keep the story goal and central conflict front and centre, with a hint at the start of each scene, so readers remember what matters most deeply to our point of view character.
  • Within the parameters of genre, establish that anything can happen.  If the author has something unthinkable happen at the start, within the genre’s context, that raises the tension.  Readers never feel a hopeful young squire is safe just because he’s young and hopeful.  See the first scene of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones.
  • Remove tension killers.  Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than in the pen.” Check ends of scenes and chapters, make sure there’s no sentence that seems to finish things off.

More on tension and suspense next post.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.
The Writer's Boon Companion, Thirty Days Towards and Extraordinary Volume

If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Creating Suspense and Sustaining Tension, Part 1

At the wonderful Creative Ink writing festival I sat on panels on creating tension and suspense.  I have been thinking ever since about ways to accomplish these.  And, from the point of view of time management for writers, if we can create suspense and sustain tension as we plot and draft, then we save a crazy amount of hours on revisions.

First, it’s worth taking the time to develop a protagonist the reader will care deeply about. We’ve heard of the Monkeysphere — the theory that humans can only keep a certain number of people close to their hearts.  Along with family members and friends, we appear to have  room for fictional characters as well. Right, Netflix?

To develop engaging characters, it’s worth taking the time to list flaws and balancing strengths.  I see so many flawed protagonists in our subs box, but few of them achieve the balance that helps the reader take them to their hearts. Balance involves developing

  • inner and outer longings.
  • kindnesses and sacrifices.
  • falls and redemptions.

Look at the extraordinarily flawed and engaging Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  She’s not all flaws; in fact, her ferocious loyalty, physical strength, and world-beating intellect balance all the imperfections that make us love her.  Looking at my submissions inbox, it seems that there’s a lot of great work on developing flaws in characters, but not much attention to the strengths, as if somehow strengths were old-fashioned.

Once we create that engaging character, half our work in sustaining tension is done for us as the readers bring their own anxiety for the protagonist to the page.  The stakes, depending on our genre, may be survival, love and belonging, power, or freedom. These same stakes resonate with us all, through a character readers can believe in and take for our own.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers, Mel.

Read more about Creative Ink

Great Openings Via Tone and Setting


Establishing tone and setting right away is a good way to get point of view quickly and firmly established.  It’s not the only way to begin — we certainly read successful starts composed of rants, reflections, and resonant difficulties.  But, it might be worth our while to examine some excellent examples of authors establishing their authority with POV through tone and setting.

“A big noisy wind out of the northeast, full of a February chill, herded the tourists off the afternoon beach, driving them to cover, complaining bitterly.”

-The Quick Red Fox, John D MacDonald 

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.”

-Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt 

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

– Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Sometimes, if a writer is dissatisfied with the start, it may be worthwhile to dig about the first pages of the work, where lines like these may be lurking unnoticed, and try one of them as line one of the tale.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYour amazing ending complements your story beautifully. You saw it from the start. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

 

  

Four Quick Fixes for Chapter Starts and Finishes

galaxiesmallMost writing exercises are useful in some way or other, but some take us so swiftly and directly towards our goals, that they’re worth identifying and emphasizing. For example, taking a close look at the beginnings and endings of chapters.

  1. When changing POV character, it would seem a no-brainer that you want to get the new character up and identified as soon as possible. However, setting the reader directly into the character’s skin is more important still, while they’re learning whose skin they’re now wearing. The reader is naturally reluctant to leave the previous POV, and to name the new one too soon may cause the reader to set the book down rather than read on. To settle, see the next point.
  2. At the start of every chapter, and arguably every scene, we want to cover time, place, setting, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  3. At the end of every chapter, it’s worth making sure that it doesn’t actually “finish.” A great sentence that feels like an ending to the conflict may cause the reader to close the book. Sometimes the sentence must be removed; sometimes it works to move it to the next chapter.
  4. Watching out for rhythms in positive and negative starts and stops is a subtle way to establish storytelling authority. As author Beverly Boissery once put it to me, chapters that always begin positively and end negatively, read flop flop flop. If a chapter ends negatively, consider beginning the new chapter negatively as well, and end it positively, with a hint at future conflict.

Chapter starts and endings set us up to keep reading, keep invested in the characters, and love the book. Whether drafting or revising, these are fairly easy fixes to create even greater narratives.

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career. Cheers, Mel


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Writing Toolboxes

Internet sites talk about writerstechneforfun’ tool
kits as if they were purchaseable equipment, but in truth our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds.  We work in notebooks and on computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire.  Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower.

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain!  What do you do to get like that, Jeeves?  I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something.  Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?”PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin. Your Writing Muse

Anticipation and Time Management for Writers

Loving the work saves writers time. Actively looking forward to writing is a powerful practice for those of us working to create a writing career within a full-time life. When we love an activity, we prepare for it.

I love my drafting time like I love skiing, and If I know I’m going to be skiing on a weekend, I’ll think about it through the week, with pleasant anticipation. I’ll be ready. I’m not about to waste my skiing hours looking for my boots, or my drafting hours writing with reluctance, or without direction.

Time to do what we truly love is not time we’re likely to approach with worry or distress.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your writing career well. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Carving Out Writing Time

Of course, we love our work and so we’re motivated to make time for it. But, make time out of what?  Busy lives, demands from family, friends, home, and work appear to fill every day to bursting.

Carving moments of peace for employing our drafting skills — and for anything else, for that matter — is a skill in itself.  We blink, and the better part of the day is gone.  All we have left are a couple of hours best spent not with brandy in the basement, typing madly into the night, but with our loved ones, building lives and memories and getting ourselves and our writing brains  a good night’s sleep.

One way to approach carving out times of serenity is to begin by imagining the goal. Picture ourselves at our favourite time of day for drafting, in our favourite writing place. For many of us, we feel freshest in the morning.  And, we probably have an hour or two, within a morning or two during the week that is at least meant to be under our control.

The next step is to look at this block of time.   What activity fills it now?

Can it be canned, or perhaps chunked through the week, like shopping or cleaning?  Or, if it’s a wonderful activity, could it move to the afternoon or evening?

And if it can’t be canned, moved, or spread throughout the week, for example if you’re dealing with a 24/7 boss, or tiny children, it’s worth remembering the words of a friend of mine:  “There’s a time for everything, and your time will come.”

Because, when life really is too busy to write, that’s when we gain experiences to write about.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Stuck for an idea, you list 20 ways it could happen. Superb writing practice. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Walking, Sleeping, and Writing Better

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Historian G. M. Trevelyan

walkerbanner1We’re built to walk, and our bodies benefit.   Brains too, being part of the body (as I’m always forgetting as I hunch over and straighten up at my keyboard).

Walking helps gut health, as well, and I’m thrilled and baffled to learn that our guts are full of neurons.

Taking a tip from the Italians, who perambulate of a balmy evening, I’ve begun walking in the cold rain after supper, and by heaven, I sleep better.  There’s little better brain magic than sleep.

I’m up to 3 walks a day, at about 13,000 steps average, because, authors, I’m beginning to think that, like actors, swordfighters, and other athletes, we have a duty to our calling and our career to take our exercise, not just more seriously, but as a professional imperative.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou work hard to give your best to the world of readers. We are most grateful. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

For more on walking, see my page Walking to Write, with 100 days of writing and other rewards for integrating an hour a day’s walking into a writing life.

Writers’ Block Busting

As a mystery writer, I love misdirection, because it sets me to investigating.  Quick and unhelpful answers to writing questions are some of my favourite black boxes.

The knee jerk answer we all get when we ask, “Why am I stuck?” is, “Writers’ block”.  Litmus test on this answer:  Quick?  Sure.  Unhelpful?  Totally.  So why do we accept this answer?  I’ll tell you why some of us accept it, it’s because if we have writers’ block then that’s proof we’re actually writers. So, once we relax and agree we really are writers, just as we have always wished to be, let’s deal with the serious issue of being stuck.

If we’re stuck, it’s like being stuck in any aspect of our lives that is getting us down.  It means we don’t have excellent goals to keep us interested, excited, and on track.  In writing, goals mean outlining.  So, when brainpages adhere one to the other, one way to get unstuck is

  1. Procure a timer
  2. Set the timer for 5 minutes
  3. Outline the beginning, middle, and end of your story for 1 character.  I often use the story evolution page from the brilliant First Draft in 30 Days : A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript(Paperback) – 2005 Edition 
    by Karen Wiesner

Repeat as necessary, for more characters, until the writing mind is raring to go.

In order to avoid getting stuck at all, outlining this way in odd 5 or 10 minute parcels of time during the week works wonders.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWriting down your great goals fuels your writing career beautifully. Admirable practise.  Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Become a Patron!

Creating a Writing Career: Think Big

Some say we write for an audience of one.  Granted that our great work is writing the words that reader loves to read, we may also ask ourselves big-picture questions, like

  • What talks would I love to give?
  • How best may I receive, track, and deal with an increasing income?
  • How might I answer classic interview questions? 

Success expert Jim Rohn famously said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” That’s thinking big, for even the best keep getting better.  Let me rephrase. Especially the best, get better.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou arrange matters to get a great sleep most nights, ready for the writing ahead. Fab. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Mel will be dispensing more of her encouraging words of wisdom at the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby from March 31st – April 2nd.  She’s not here in town often, so be sure not to miss her!