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Posts tagged ‘author of teen thriller fiction’

Research For Writing Novels, by April Henry

It bothers me when I read something in a book that I know is wrong. Wrong and able to be Googled by readers. I started writing before the internet, or at least before a widely available internet, when it was not quite so easy to check things out. Fifteen years ago, I felt more comfortable just guessing or making stuff up. No longer.

So in the last few days I have spent time finding out:

• Do red-tailed hawks eat road kill? (If fresh, yes).

• Does Oregon pay for braces for kids in foster care? (No.)

• What time are trial advocacy classes at the University of Washington? (Late afternoon.)

• What testimony did the original grand jury hear in the Phoebe Prince case? (Actually, I couldn’t find that, which makes sense. Grand jury testimony is sealed. Still I would like to know more.)

One of the absolute best parts about my job as a mystery and thriller writer is doing research. In the last year, I’ve:

• Pulled out everything from underneath my kitchen sink, crawled into the space and taken a picture to prove to one of my editors that yes, a body would fit under there.

• Asked my kajukenbo instructor to drag me across the room, his hands underneath my arms, so that together we could figure out how a character could fight and get away. (You can see what happens in The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.)

• Talked to a bioweapons expert about how my bad guys might infect hundreds of people with hantavirus. (Again, for The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.)

• Faced down armed muggers, home invaders, crazy people and robbers – all while armed with a modified Glock that uses lasers instead of real bullets. I did this at a firearms training simulator facility (the only one like it in the world that is open to civilians) which, lucky me, is just 20 minutes from my home. You interact with life-sized scenarios filmed in HD. The scenarios change depending on what you say (for example, “Hands in the air!”) and where your shots hit (a shot that disables versus one that injures). Meanwhile, the bad guys are shooting back. If you choose – and I do – you can wear a belt that gives you a shock if you’re shot. The facility even offers a simulation that is nearly 360 degrees, so you feel like you are standing in the middle of, say, the convenience store or the parking lot. This teaches you to look behind you for that second or third bad guy.

I’ve attended the Writers Police Academy, which is held once a year in North Carolina at a real police academy. I also graduated from the FBI’s Citizen Academy, which is taught by real FBI agents and included a stint at a real gun range where I shot a submachine gun. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and my local chapter has experts speak every month (the blood spatter expert was particularly interesting). I’m also an online member of Crime Scene Writers, which has lots of retired or even active law enforcement personnel who answer questions.


April Henry’s author website:

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     Boys without NamesHappyfaceDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels

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?


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.”


April Henry’s author website:

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


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