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Posts tagged ‘YA thriller novels’

Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels, by April Henry

If you’re going to write mysteries, thrillers or even horror novels, you’ll need to decide how to approach writing about violence and physical harm.

There are at least three ways to approach it:

1. Slow it down. Each step makes it clear just how bad it is.

2. Make the readers fill in the blank. Their solutions are usually far more affecting than yours, because they will think of the things that frighten them the most.

3. Underplay it. Use short, simple declarative sentences. Think Hemingway.

A couple of years ago, I was running in Portland when I fell, cracking the bridge of my nose, and scraping my face, hands and knees. I knew it was bad when I saw the expression of two guys I waved down to ask for help.

Here are three ways to describe what happened.

Slow it down

“Running up 45th, April’s toe caught a crack in the sidewalk. The next thing she knew, she was in the air. Time slowed down, the way it did when you reached for a glass and knocked it over instead. She got her hands up in front of her as the sidewalk tilted at a crazy angle. Her palms skidded along the dirty concrete, but her momentum wasn’t slowed.

Oh no, she thought, not her face! – then there was the solid surprise of her nose meeting the unmoving sidewalk.

Still April fell. Her front teeth hit the concrete, wavered, decided to stay put.

Finally she was still, face down, unmoving on the cool Sunday morning.

Make the reader fill in the blank

One minute April was running, mentally writing her next blog entry. The next thing she knew she was flat on the sidewalk. Something was terribly wrong. Her face felt wet.

***

The woman standing by the side of the road was frantically waving her arms. At least Josh thought it was a woman. Her face. Jesus Christ, what had happened to her face?

Underplay the prose

She ran up the hill. It was a Sunday morning. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

The sidewalk had lifted at an expansion joint. Her toe caught the crack. She fell very hard. She lay on the cement. Maybe she was okay. It was just a fall. She started to move but something grated inside. Her mouth tasted like blood.

Next to her was a bush with white flowers. She stared at it. Her vision was growing dark at the edges. The bush would look good in her garden.

She closed her eyes and was still.

More examples of fill-in-the-blank

I think the fill-in-the-blank idea can be the most powerful of the three. Here are two examples, one short and one long:

Five miles up the road, he opened the window and threw out the first of Karen Reid’s teeth.

- The Intruders, Michael Marshall

She swam against the grain of the ocean, using a short and sharp stroke and a smooth kick.

She did not see the murky shape drifting toward her. It was more than half-submerged, and it had eyes. When she barged into it, the silent mass reared up.

Her scream was muted, most of it locked in her throat.

On the beach, her sons threw sand at each other and the man with the device unearthed a nickel. The lifeguard rearranged his legs in a way that the girls below could see the filled harness under his neon swim trunks. A stray cloud blotted some of the sun.

One of the boys pointed with his shovel. “Look at Mommy.”

- Widow’s Walk, Andrew Coburn

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

April Henry’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     TracksA Million Suns (Across the Universe)

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.

***

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

Writing A Novel That’s More Interesting Than Facebook, by Jack Heath

The greatest strength of the novel is also its greatest weakness: it’s very, very old.

The novel was there to watch – and often comment on – the infancy of almost every other medium, from photography to cinema to television to video games. The few art forms which preceded it, such as painting, sculpture and theatre, are now mostly appreciated by a wealthy and educated few. The novel, meanwhile remains enjoyable to anyone who can read.

It could be that the novel is so ancient that we’ve forgotten its admittedly forgettable origin; a time-killing device, used by those on long voyages or trapped inside on rainy days. The only burden placed upon the first novelists was that their words had to be more interesting than whatever was taking place outside the reader’s window. It was under these circumstances that 900,000-word epics such as Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, were published.

Modern authors fight a different battle. As boredom is gradually eradicated from our society (fewer and fewer people are walking around without the internet in their pockets, and many of us now use earphones not to enjoy our own music but to block out someone else’s) the market for the time-killer novel has dwindled. If you find yourself waiting ten minutes for a train, will you open a copy of War and Peace, or will you pull out your iPhone and update your Facebook status?

The most fiercely-contested territory in this war is the teenage brain. Pre-teens are forced by their parents to read, and most people aged 25 and up have already developed healthy reading habits. But teenagers are old enough to make their own choices, and young enough to prefer new media to old.

An elderly person, raised on radio, may well choose to read Tolstoy. A middle-aged person might not, but if the book were Raymond Chandler’sThe Little Sister, which was written to compete with cinema, they might. Teenagers, meanwhile, need a book to be more interesting than video games or social media before they will open it. They need novels which are entertaining, rather than merely diverting.

It is telling that the most successful young-adult series of the last few years – The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Alex Rider and others – are lacking some elements commonly found in classic novels. They have no lengthy passages about the weather, the shape of the land or the genealogy of the characters. They focus instead on the plots that the TV can’t articulate, sensations that video games can’t convey, and spectacle that Hollywood has no budget for (unless, of course, the film is based on a novel which was already a best-seller).

When I was writing Hit List, I paused after every paragraph to ask myself if a teenage reader would prefer to find out what happens next, or log in to Facebook. I would advise all my fellow young-adult authors to do the same.

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Jack Heath bio page

Hit ListMoney RunThe LabThe Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy)Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneStormbreakerThe Invisible Assassin

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