Keeping us riveted: the art of tension building – Game of Thrones

***Spoiler Alert*** to Game of Throne fans. If you haven’t watched the Season 5 finale, but plan to, then you may want to wait on reading this post until afterward.


I’m sitting at my computer, still reeling from the Game of Thrones Season 5 finale from a few days ago, and even if I am mad as hell that they killed off one of only three characters that deserve a happy ending on that show, I have to say I totally understand why they did it– to keep us interested.

If you read all of the post mortem tweets, you can find all sorts of comments from enraged fans who insist they’re done with GoT. Most of us had finally recovered from Ned Stark’s death in season one.The Red Wedding scene, though still a sore subject, had almost been forgiven. But this…this was going too far.

You want to know what I think? I think those very same people–the one ones who proclaim the loudest that they are walking away from their noxious relationship with GoT–those people will be the first ones to set their DVRs to record Season 6 next March.

A good story teller knows how to keep us guessing. As soon as we’re getting comfortable with the status quo “KABAM” you get stabbed in the gut with a knife…or in Jon Snow’s case…several knives. Ugh, it still hurts just thinking about it.

Anyway back to post. Right. Comfortable is probably not what one feels when watching any episode of GoT, let alone this last extremely brutal, humiliating and graphic episode. Am I the only one who heard a bell ring, followed by the words “Shame, shame, shame!” over and over again as they fell asleep that night? None-the-less, unless you read the books, I bet money that you had no idea that those characters were going to end up like they did. Who in their right mind could guess all that?

That’s what makes the show (and the books) so successful. The tension is always palpable. You can really never know what fate lies waiting in the dark corners of Winterfell, or the frozen ground of Castle Black. It really is a great ride.

Here are a few articles from one of my favorite author bloggers about creating tension in your story:

I haven’t read the Game of Thrones series (it’s on my bucket list), but someone told me that they knew Jon Snow would get it at the end of this season. It was written right in the pages of the book, he said.

I applaud you George R. R. Martin, for knowing your art, and building just the right amount of tension to make me want to throw my remote control at the TV.



Latest excerpts from Misspelled

COVER_06282013022657It’s hard to describe the feelings that engulf you when you finish writing a novel. Just getting to type those words “The End” fills you with a certain trepidation that can only be thought of as weird. I don’t know if other authors feel the same way, but I know I’m overcome with a combination of relief, happiness, fear and dread. Probably because I know that it really isn’t the “end”. There are many, many revisions before I can finally call it a finished first draft. Then I walk away from it for weeks. When I finally get the itch to pick it up again, I’ll read a few chapters and wonder why I even bother. I get depressed, I ponder giving up writing altogether, and then I usually get caught up in some other creative distraction…graphic art, photography and baking were all distractions when I became despondent over this last project. So now I can create my own book covers, which is fantastic, but I also gained like 100 lbs (not so fantastic). But I always end up going back to the writing. Finally, after what feels like ages, I open the manuscript again…and fall in love with it all over again. Most of it anyways. Okay, small pieces of it. But enough pieces, that I’m inspired to tweak it, and massage it until it’s better. Much better.

Of course this massaging process takes another few months, but you eventually get to a new “The End”. And then, guess what? I go through all that crap all over again. (Sigh)

But the despair is less debilitating and the time away from the writing is spent on written inspiration…reading, writing short passage ideas for the second book, firming up the story line. But there’s always time for baking right? Maybe not.

So now I have a really, real first draft. Since I’m going to try going the traditional route this time and find an agent, I’m sending it out for some copy editing. I’m quite certain I’ll be rewriting much of it again, but I’m moving forward. And this is a good thing. I keep telling that to my stomach, upset with churning bile.

At any rate, I’m closer to the end goal (with book 1). I know the title, and have comped up the book cover (tell me what you think of it) and am hopeful that the real “The End” is right around the corner for Misspelled. Now I wait for my beta readers enthusiastic feedback, and the copy editor to gently tell me I suck. Meanwhile, I’m off to start book 2. And here we go again.

Latest excerpts from Misspelled can be read on my What’s Next page.


Character writing

I admit it, I’m a horrible (with a capital H) blogger! I see other people’s blogs, and wonder how they do it. How do they find the time or inclination to sit down and type something profoundly interesting about the nothing much on a daily basis? I think my problem is that I spread myself too thin. I can’t concentrate on any one thing for too long. Wait, I think that’s called Attention Deficit Disorder isn’t it? Not good.

At any rate my new writing project has been taking up some of my time. Probably not as much time as it should be though. I have almost 50,000 words, I need to get to 80,000 before I can say I’m ready to take a serious second pass through it. I’ve gotten into a bad habit of getting up and walking away from my computer whenever I hit the slightest wall. And it’s a hard habit to break. But I think instead of heading for the kitchen to eat a snack that I neither deserve nor need, I should force myself to do sit ups. That might be just enough of a deterrent to keep my rear firmly seated in my chair, and my fingers dancing away on the keyboards.

So here’s the long and nebulous way of getting to the reason for my post – character writing.  My mom’s gotten me hooked on Grey’s Anatomy reruns. I watch way too much tv as it is, and the last thing I needed was another distraction. From its onset, Grey’s Anatomy was one of the shows I made a conscious decision to stay away from. Not because I thought it was a bad concept, I mean who doesn’t love watching sexy good-looking people going at it in a hospital? But I stayed away because I had been a faithful E.R. enthusiast (until the last couple of seasons…bleh), and frankly, I resented any show that could even think of replacing it. But my mom, who is retired, has become obsessed with watching it on Netflix. I’m quite certain she is fully intent on watching them in order (season 1, episode 1 to the current season), but since she is a little memory challenged sometimes, she tends to flip around the seasons quite a bit, and the time lines start to get all muddled together. To her this is not a big deal. In fact, I think it makes things more interesting for her as I’m pretty sure she creates her own story lines for the characters in her head anyway. But for me, who needs stories to be told in a specific order, it was frustrating. Not that I write my stories in a precise chronological order, because I definitely do not. But it needs to make some sense in the end right?  Whenever I came to visit, I would sit and watch with her. And because she would watch the episodes in random order, I wouldn’t know if Meredith and Derek were together or not, if Christina was married or not, or if Callie was gay or not. Basically, I couldn’t become invested in the characters because I couldn’t see their development. To me they were just a bunch of randy doctors screwing each other.  And because I wanted to enjoy my visits with my mom, and be able to talk with her about her current favorite show,  I ended up starting to watch the episodes on my own…in the correct order. And only one season in, I’m officially hooked. Okay, maybe not obsessed like my mom is.  I certainly don’t always sit in front of the tv and watch each episode with undivided attention. I usually have it on in the background while I’m doing housework, or editing, but I admit I look forward to seeing how the characters grow and progress. I love it when you start off hating a character and then after getting to know them and spending time with them, they end up being your favorite. That’s just good story writing. I’m excited to see how the surgeons of Seattle Grace Hospital will surprise me next.

Now to the crux of the post…(told you it was a long way to get here)

It’s fair to say characters are the drivers of a story. You have a plot, you have an outline. You may even have a definitive moral of the story. But the character building is what gets you to the end.  As you get to know a character by writing about them -giving them words to say in dialog, describing their expressions and movements – the story changes. The characters themselves take you in different directions. Of course in order to keep the reader interested, the characters have to be believable. That isn’t always an easy task.

I thought I’d take this time to share the character backgrounds for a few of my characters in Finding Normal. I sort of  knew how I saw Emma before starting to write anything, but I had to get through writing the first passage before she truly formed in my mind. I scratched these character prompts onto a piece of paper right after I finished her first memory sequence in the story. I had yet to create the outline for how the story would progress or how it would end up. I just knew I had to get to know Emma more, in order to tell her story, but in the end, she made the story all her own.

Emma Rose Peterson -16 years old, brown hair, brown eyes, slender. Smart, clumsy, awkward. She’s not shy, but keeps to herself. She feels that friendships are complicated. Unapproachable. Has major issues of abandonment. Parents split when she was eight. Spends most of her time at home with her mom. Does well in school. No social skills. Low self esteem. Favorite color is blue. Loves old black and white movies.   Think real love is only in movies or books.

Jackie Peterson – Emma’s mom. Pretty, flirty, fun. Got pregnant and married young. She grew up in a very catholic family with a moderate income. Her parents disowned her when she got pregnant. Loves with all her heart, but doesn’t really know how to be a parent so she acts like Emma’s best friend. Favorite color is yellow.

As you can see these were very simple and the bare minimum. Character backgrounds can be as extensive as necessary to help you create your story. But bare in mind, you might change your mind half way through, and instead of having velvety blue eyes, your character can have dark crazy eyes.  Here’s  a great blog post I found about character writing  prompts.

Alrighty then, I best get back to my new project. This distraction has come to an end.

Short passage from Chapter 2

I was hoping a long holiday weekend would give me ample time to write during the day so I could possibly catch up on some sleep. But here I am at 1:30 in the morning pounding away on the keyboard as usual. I wish I could be one of those people who say “Aww, sleep is over-rated.” But the thing is I LOVE sleep. I love it so much I dream about it.

I think I have another hour or so before my face hits the keys, and I have to drag myself to bed, so gotta keep at it until then! Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll have time for a more thoughtful and thought provoking post. That is if I’m not in a Labor Day BBQ induced coma.

Writer’s block be gone!

I was having just a wee bit of writer’s block with my story, and decided to find a writing exercise to jump start my brain again.  And I thought I would share what resulted from it.

There are lots of tricks out there that claim to help writers through those frustrating times, and with me being the enthusiastic newbie, I’m willing to try them all.  So this particular trick says to write about something completely different. Just something short and sweet, nothing too taxing that requires any research or any real work. You’re not even supposed to worry about the grammar really.  But it isn’t free writing, where you just write whatever comes to mind (though that is another trick that is supposed to work). For this you need a topic.  I found this topic by Googling “writing exercises.”  It was on another author’s blog and it read like this:

“Write a scene from your real life or a fictional scene in which a group of people is in some way deprived of the usual amenities we think we have to have. It could be a cabin with the road washed out or a Red Cross shelter, or simply an ordinary home that temporarily has no Internet access or television. How do people act? What do they do? Are there conflicts, either funny or serious?”

I started out with this concept, but quickly put a different spin to it. Goes to show that even when writing about something completely different, you never stray too far from your own writing style.

I also wanted to let you know that it worked, and I’m now diligently working on my own story again.

If you want to read the brief passage that resulted from this exercise,  just click here

Talking the Teen Language

I just watched the movie “Juno” (I love this movie, I’ve seen it 5 times now). It makes me smile, cry and laugh every time. And I’m in awe of the screenwriters ability to create dialogue that in it’s ridiculous verbosity, is so witty and relevant. But it got me to thinking about the challenges of an adult who is writing from the perspective of a teen. As a YA fiction writer, I am fully aware of these challenges and have spent many a late night rewriting dialogue, and then rewriting the rewrites.

I remember religiously watching Dawson’s Creek those many years ago, and not caring so much that the characters on that show spoke in a verbiage way beyond their years, or that I had to have my dictionary handy to even understand some of the words they were spewing out. I thought it was great!  And you can’t tell me that the demographic for that show was for the 30 somethings and up. It was on the CW channel for crying out loud.

I am no wordsmith, and my vocabulary is far from highbrow, so I don’t really have to worry about being verbose in my writing. But sometimes I do wonder if  being so far removed from my teen years, if I am still able to capture the essence of that time in my life, without layering in too much of the experience and perspective I’ve gained since then. I like to provide my young characters with a depth and understanding that I didn’t have, or at least I don’t remember having at that age. And in doing that do I stray too much from the perspective a teen?

Then I realize that no one really wants to read about a girl whose only thoughts are about what she looks like, what that one guy in school thinks she looks like, or what everyone else in school thinks she looks like.  Not saying that the majority of thoughts in a teenage mind are trivial or useless. On the contrary, they are complex and moreover extremely important. Because it’s how they deal with those thoughts that develop the qualities and characteristics they will grow into. BUT, I think it is fair to say that, because of lack of real-life experience, a teen is often ill-equipped to always deal with those thoughts in the most rational way. And I think it’s best to use that irrationality in developing the plot or the character rather than as the plot itself. Because in my humble opinion, a story– no matter how fantastical or surreal, whether it’s a love epic or a tale of horror– needs to be rational in the end.

Sex Scenes in books

So I was spending some time cruising a few blogsites, to get the lay of the land-so to speak, and I stumbled across one that was really interesting.  I tried to repost it here, so I could make a comment, but I guess these things don’t work that way..hehe. So here’s the link:

It’s his Sunday August 21 post. Basically, the author talks about the inclusion of sex scenes in books, and people’s reaction to it.  He has some very valid points in his post.

I have to admit, I wondered about that subject myself in regards to YA books. I myself have tried to be fairly careful on what to include and elude to, and what would be considered too risque for a YA audience.  The thing is, (without admitting that I was any kind of slut by any means) when I was a teen, I was pretty familiar with the whole sex thing.  And I was definitely one of the millions of teens addicted to harlequin romance novels which often had a substantial spattering of sex. But I suppose those were meant for a more mature audience.

So just how much sex can a YA novel reader handle?  Does the YA stamp, actually mean that the author is responsible for providing good clean role models in their protagonists? And is the inclusion of non-explicit sex scenes (kissing, fondling, then fading to black) okay?  Would say, 10% or 20% of the book be acceptable?

I myself am a fan of sexual tension in stories, so I do spend a lot of my time playing around with that angst in my stories. But as they say “sex sells”. So if the sex plays an important role in moving the story along, and adding a integral layer to the character building, what would be wrong with including it?