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Posts tagged ‘April Henry novels’

Writing Sociopathic Characters, by April Henry

When you write mysteries and thrillers, chances are that you will someday write about a person who is a sociopath. In my upcoming book, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, one of the characters is a sociopath.

Even though I had written about them, it took me years to figure out that someone I knew was a sociopath. People will often hear sociopath or psychopath – the two terms are basically interchangeable – and think you must be talking about a serial killer. But no. Only a few are. Most are people you might work with, live next door to or be related to. For the most part, they are people who leave a trail of broken hearts, empty wallets and frustrated expectations in their wake.

In some ways, I’m like a sociopath. I was born with no real sense of direction. I can be facing the setting sun and still have no idea where west is. I routinely get lost. It can take years for me to grasp how one street relates to another.

Sociopaths are like that. Only instead of being born without a sense of direction, they seem to be born with an inability to value other people as real, vulnerable human beings.

Robert Hare, PhD, is a pioneer in criminal psychology, specifically the study of sociopaths. He’s come up with some traits common to most sociopaths.

Sociopathic traits

Sociopaths have superficial charm. They are smooth and engaging. That’s because they are not in the least shy or self-conscious. The woman I know comes across well – at first. She easily struck up conversations with strangers.

Sociopaths have a grandiose sense of self-worth. They’re opinionated and cocky. They are so sure of their self worth that at first you might be too. The woman I know was thinking she should become a TV broadcaster – despite lacking any training or experience in this highly competitive field.

Sociopaths have a need for stimulation. They get bored, they take chances, they like thrills. They have a hard time finishing what they start. They are impulsive. The woman I know sometimes hooked up with near strangers.

Sociopaths lie, con and manipulate. It ranges from being sly to being outright dishonest.

The woman I know is an excellent liar. Caught in a lie, she simply layers on two or three more.

Sociopaths don’t feel any guilt. The only feelings they have about their victims are disdain. They have a lack of feeling in general – cold and tactless. I once saw the woman I know laugh because she had made a stranger believe one of her lies to the point the stranger cried with pity for her imaginary fate.

Sociopaths have a parasitic lifestyle. They are good at getting others to pay. The woman I know hasn’t had a job for years.

Sociopaths have difficulties controlling their behavior. They are annoyed, impatient, aggressive, hasty, and often angry. The woman I know ended up in jail for attacking someone.

Sociopaths have no realistic long-term goals. Or their goals are unrealistic – like become a rock star or a famous actor. Or, like the woman I know, to become a TV reporter.

Sociopaths are irresponsible. They may not pay bills, show up late, or do a sloppy job.

They also won’t accept responsibility for their own actions. According to the woman I know, nothing was ever her fault.

Sociopaths you have known

Sociopaths cause so many problems, but, at least right now, we have no way of curing them. Put them in the general prison population or in a mental hospital, and they’ll find ways to manipulate the other inmates.

In order for a person to be change, they must want to be changed. Dr. Hare and others say that sociopaths seldom, if ever, want to be fixed.

Think about people you have come across at work, at school, in your neighborhood, even at church. Chances are that there might be someone who embodies a large number of these traits.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Night She DisappearedThe Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenShock Point     Deadly Little SecretRikers High

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels, by April Henry

Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years about writing page-turners:

Act first, explain later

Many writers mistakenly think the reader needs to know all the backstory at the beginning of the novel. The problem with this approach is that it makes the real “now” of the story feel less important. Or writers think the reader will like the characters only if they spend a lot of time showing their normal, everyday lives. The problem with this is that the reader feels no urgency to continue. It’s much better if a novel starts on the day that everything changes.

Create a ticking clock

In a mystery or thriller this can be a literal bomb that the reader can’t stop worrying about. It could also be an ultimatum. Other ticking clocks could be the scheduled execution of an innocent man, the day the ship is supposed to land on Mars, the approaching prom, summer ending and the girl going off to college, the hurricane forecast to land in three days, or the lead actress for the big show coming down with mono leaving no one to play the part.

Play on common fears of readers

Common fears include: darkness, wild storms, something crawling on the skin, objects that cover other objects, a small sound when there should be silence, being alone, being helpless or unable to act, something under the bed, closed or partially open doors, hallways or tunnels that lead to the unknown, cramped spaces, basements, attics, heights, crowds, disease, death.

Give characters specific phobias

Give your characters phobias or fears – and then make them face those fears. Afraid of heights? The final confrontation should take place on a rooftop. Afraid of repeating the same terrible mistake? Give them the opportunity to get it right.

End each chapter with an unresolved issue

Have a character open a door, answer the phone, be confronted by someone with a gun, receive a mysterious letter, or make a decision not revealed immediately to the reader.

Cut filler

Look for passages that describe the weather, the landscape, the aftermath, travel, characters eating meals or drinking coffee, a character just sitting and thinking. Then cut them – or at least cut them back.

Hurt a main character

Hurt a main character early so the reader knows no one is off limits. Even better, kill the character – preferably a likable character. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, knowing that anything at all – even something very bad – could happen.

Make choices painful

Force the character to make a choice between two things she wants or to choose the lesser of two evils. Two loves. Two people to save (when only one can be). Addict/temptation. In a relationship/temptation. Maybe the main character knows brother will keep killing, but if she turns him in, he’ll go to death row.

Raise the stakes

Our main character was already nervous about singing in class, but now he has been asked to sing at the stadium. Or for a more mystery-related example, not only will someone die if our main character doesn’t catch the serial killer, but the next victim could be his girlfriend. Or it’s not just a child who will die – it’s a whole kindergarten! Ask yourself, “What could make it worse?” And then make it happen – even if you don’t know how your character will get out of it.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The HuntingProject 17

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Plot Is The Backbone Of All Page-Turners, by April Henry

As a mystery and thriller writer, I’m all about the plot. A good plot will have you turning the pages at a rapid pace and staying up too late to read “just one more” chapter.

Basic plot

Something happens that forces the character to leave his ordinary world. He does not want to. He faces a series of obstacles, most of which he doesn’t overcome. His efforts to fix things go awry, resulting in more problems. Finally there is a big showdown and he is able to reach down deep to overcome both his own internal issues and the external problem and triumph.

How much plotting do you need to do?

There are more elaborate ways to plot, with dozens of steps. Will your story fall apart if you don’t religiously plan out your plot? Maybe not. You may have unconsciously absorbed story structure through reading hundreds of books and movies. You do not have to have a checklist or fill out forms before writing. But you can.

You can plot something so detailed that your outline has a page for every few pages of finished text. You can plot by just writing each day and seeing where it takes you – although it helps to have the end of the story in mind.EL Doctorow said something about how when you drive at night, you can only see to the end of your headlights, but that turns out to be enough.

What your book needs and your life doesn’t

Conflict, conflict, conflict – plot is ALL about conflict. Your book should start with a conflict – the event that pushes the character out of his ordinary world.

Make it worse, also known as “Put her up in a tree and throw rocks at her.”

Make it bigger. Not only did he look like an idiot playing with the light saber in the garage, but someone put it on YouTube and he’s famous across the nation.

Make choices painful. Force the character to make a choice between two things he or she wants desperately – or the lesser of two evils. Edward or Jacob? Peeta or Gale?

Staying safe at home or risking life and limb?

Secrets

One way to ensure conflict in your story is to make sure that all of your characters have at least one secret. Only one person committed the murder, but the rest should have things in their past or their present that they are hiding. A secret can be something that a suspect doesn’t know – that her boyfriend once dated the murder victim, or that she stands to inherit her murdered uncle’s estate. A character may think a relative or friend is guilty, so they lie and say they were together. Or it can be something about themselves that they lie about in an attempt to conceal: gambling, drug use, embezzling, being on the verge of bankruptcy, cross-dressing etc. Because the characters have something to hide, they may act suspiciously, lie to your sleuth, steal important documents, etc.

Once you give each of your characters a secret, see what they do to keep it a secret.

Author Phyllis Whitney’s advice is: “In the planning stage, I make sure that all my characters have secrets that will be revealed gradually during the course of the novel.

Such secrets will motivate all sorts of unexpected action and furnish the surprise element that I’m trying for. Before I ever get to the writing, I examine my characters for those secrets they may be hiding, and I plan ways in which such secrets may affect the lives of other characters in the story.”

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     Raven SpeakHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Why I Write Mysteries And Thrillers – And Read Them, Too, by April Henry

I love reading and writing mysteries and thrillers because they offer the built-in drama of life or death. The stakes can’t get any higher. There’s also crime fiction for every taste. It can be as cozy or as bloody as you like. The mystery can be solved by cats or shapeshifters, amateurs or professionals.

Mysteries and thrillers are also democratic – appealing to most people at some point, if only as a beach or airplane read. It’s one genre that attracts a wide following. Most men won’t read romance. A lot of people won’t read westerns or horror. But almost everyone will read a mystery or a thriller.

So why do writers and readers like them so much?

Making sense of the senseless

All too often, real life often doesn’t make sense. Events happen randomly. You get a great new job, your best friend gets cancer, someone breaks into your car and steals one boot, you go to to the grocery store, you find a five-dollar bill in the bushes. There is no story arc.

It’s not always darkest before the dawn. Sometimes there is no dawn.

Real crimes are usually senseless and stupid. A lot of murders involve, not a criminal mastermind, but rival gang members, people selling drugs, or someone who is far too drunk to be driving, let alone handling a gun. The murderer may not be a black-hearted villain and the victim is not always lily white.

The randomness of life is one reason why the more predictable patterns of fiction are so appealing. And in a book, you can usually count on there being a good guy. A good guy who wins at the end. He may be bloody and bruised, but he still wins.

There is something very satisfying about writing or reading those kind of stories.

Using brain, not brawn

In a mystery or a thriller the crimes are usually clever, involving layers of deception. Each one is slowly peeled back to reveal yet another layer.

In the real world, killers are not often geniuses. The predator who manages to keep several steps ahead of the cops, or who plays a mean game of cat-and-mouse, is not a staple of real life. How much more satisfying for a reader to mentally match wits with a mastermind, not some mope with a gun.

And as a writer, it’s even more fun to think up a complicated, convoluted crime.

A little learning on the side

Often, the reader of a mystery or a thriller gets to learn something – something the writer either knows or had the pleasure of researching. (Of course, sometimes what you learn, especially if it’s on TV or in the movies, is wrong. Like female CSIs don’t wear four-inch heels and low-cut tops. And a lot of the flashy technology you see exists only in some screenwriter’s imagination.)

To research Girl, Stolen, I interviewed people who had gone blind, read autobiographies, and visited The Guide Dog School for the Blind. When you read Girl, Stolen, you not only wonder if Cheyenne will be able to escape her kidnappers, but you learn how to use a cane or a guide dog, and even how to create makeshift versions of those tools. You learn how blind people handle everything from money to meals.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

Girl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock PointTorched    ResponseTracksWinter Town

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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