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Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Essential Elements of a Bestselling Thriller

Essential Elements of a Bestselling Thriller

If you want your thriller or other crime fiction to be a compelling page-turner, make sure you’ve included most or all of these elements:

1–A protagonist who’s both ordinary and heroic. Rather than having a “Superman” invincible-type hero, it’s more satisfying to the readers if you use a regular person who’s thrown into stressful, then increasingly harrowing situations, and must summon all of his courage, strength and inner resources to overcome the odds, save himself and other innocent people, and defeat evil.

2–A likeable, sympathetic protagonist. The readers need to be able to warm up to your main character quickly, to start identifying with her; otherwise they won’t really care what happens to her. So no cold, selfish, arrogant characters for heroes or heroines!

3–A worthy adversary for the protagonist. Your antagonist needs to be as clever, strong, resourceful and determined as your protagonist, but also truly nasty, immoral and frightening.

4–An interesting setting. Readers like to find out about places they haven’t been, whether it’s the seedy side of Chicago, glitzy Hollywood, rural Kentucky, the mountains of Colorado, or the bayous of Louisiana — or more distant, exotic locations. And milk your setting for all it’s worth.

5–A story that fits the protagonist and vice-versa. If it doesn’t, change your protagonist — or your story line. You can always use your present one in another novel.

6–An inciting incident. What happens to the main character to set the story events in action? Make it tense and compelling.

7–A great plot, with ongoing conflict and tension. You need a big story question and plenty of intrigue. And every scene should contain tension and conflict of some kind. If it doesn’t, delete it.

8–Lots of suspense. Keep the readers on the edge of their seats, turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen next. See my blog post at http://crimefictioncollective.blogspot.com.

9–Multiple viewpoints. Narrating the story from various points of view, including that of the villain, will add interest, complexity and suspense to your novel. But don’t head-hop within a scene! Wait for a new scene or chapter to change viewpoints.

10–A tight, generally fast-paced writing style. Streamline your writing to improve flow and pacing. Go through and take out all unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs, and any repetitive phrases, events or ideas. Thrillers are not the genre to wax eloquent.

11–Increasing danger. Keep putting your hero in deeper and deeper trouble, to stretch his courage, determination, physical abilities and inner resources to the maximum — and increase the reader’s admiration and emotional investment in him!

12–Troubles that hit home. Endanger the protagonist or someone close to her, to add a personal dimension and more stress to the threats and conflicts.

13–Internal struggling of the protagonist — Give her a moral dilemma; show his inner conflict. Make them complex and fascinating; never perfect, complacent, or overly confident.

14–Lots of emotions. Bring your characters to life by showing their fear, trepidation, panic, pain, determination, courage, satisfaction, relief, joy, excitement, elation and other emotions.

15–Vivid sensory descriptions. Put the reader right there in the scene by using all five senses wherever possible, plus emotion. Show what the character is hearing, smelling, feeling, touching and tasting, not only what they’re seeing.

16–Critical turning points. Present your hero with life-or-death decisions and show his anxiety, tension, and indecision.

17–Obstacles in the way. Your heroine runs out of gas on a lonely road; your hero’s weapon falls into the river far below; he is wounded and can’t run; her cell phone battery is dead; whatever can go wrong does, and more.

18–Enough clues. Be fair. Use foreshadowing and layer in clues and info as you go along, to slowly reveal the plot points and character backstory and motivation to the reader.

19–Twists and surprises. Write in a few unexpected plot twists, but make sure that, in retrospect, they make sense to the readers.

20–A compelling climax. Put the protagonist at a disadvantage in the final conflict with the antagonist, to heighten the stakes. Pile on the adversity the hero has to overcome at the end.

21–A satisfying ending. Leave the unhappy or unresolved endings for literary fiction. Let the good guy overcome the bad guy — by a hair.

22–Psychological growth and change in the hero/heroine. Adversity has made him or her stronger, braver, wiser, a better person.

Jodie Renner is a freelance manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Check out Jodie’s website at www.JodieRennerEditing.com and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at http://JodieRennerEditing.blogspot.com, as well as Crime Fiction Collective, of which she is a founding member.

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Heightening the Suspense, Part III

Specific Techniques to Ratchet up the Suspense

 

* Use the setting to create anxiety and suspense. This is the equivalent of ominous music; harsh, stark, or very low lighting; strange camera angles; or nasty weather in a scary movie. This applies to both indoor and outdoor settings, of course. Also, appeal to all senses, not just the visual… breaking glass, a dripping faucet, footsteps on the stairs, a crash in the basement, rumbling of thunder, a sudden cold draft, an animal brushing the skin in the dark, a freezing cold, blinding blizzard, a putrid smell coming from the basement…

* Mood and pacing: Thrillers and other suspense fiction generally need a tense mood and fast pacing throughout most of the novel, with “breathers” in between the tensest scenes.

* Compelling, vivid sensory imagery. “Show, don’t tell.” Invoke all five senses to take us right there, with the protagonist, vividly experiencing and reacting to whoever/whatever is challenging or threatening her.

* Raise the stakes. As the author of a thriller or other crime fiction, keep asking yourself, “How can I make things worse for the protagonist?” As the challenges get more difficult and the difficulties more insurmountable, we worry more and more about whether he can beat the ever-increasing odds against him, and suspense grows. And as a bonus, “Increasing pressure leads to increasing insight into the character.” (Wm. Bernhardt)

* Add a ticking clock. Adding time pressure is another excellent way to increase suspense. Lee Child is a master at this, a great example being his thriller 61 Hours. Or how about those great MacGyver shows, where he had to devise ways to defuse the bomb before it exploded and killed all kinds of innocent people? Or the TV series, 24, with agent Jack Bauer?

* Add obstacles and complications. The hero’s plans get thwarted; his gun jams or falls into a river during a scuffle; he’s stuck in traffic on a bridge; he’s kicked off the case; her car breaks down; her cell phone battery dies just when she needs it most; the power goes out, leaving the room in total darkness; a truck blocks the only way out of the alley… You get the picture. Think Jack Reacher, Lucy Kincaid, Elvis Cole or Stephanie Plum in any number of escapades. The character has to use inner resources to find a way around these obstacles or out of this dilemma.

* Incapacitate your hero. Your heroine is given a drug that makes her dizzy and hallucinating; your hero breaks his leg and can’t escape or give chase; she’s bound and gagged; he’s blinded by sand in his eyes…

 
* Create a critical turning point. Which way did the bad guys go? Should she open that door or not? Who to believe? Go up the stairs or down? Answer the phone or let it ring?

* Make the ordinary seem ominous. Zoom in on an otherwise benign object, like that half-empty glass on the previously spotless kitchen counter, and imbue it with extra meaning. Who was here? When? Why?

* Plant something out of place in a scene. Or even something just slightly off, just enough to create a niggling doubt in the mind of the reader. A phone off the hook, an open window, wet footprints on the entranceway floor, an overturned lamp, a half-eaten breakfast, etc.

* Use the occasional omniscient tip-off. The author (omniscient narrator) steps in to clue the readers in on something unknown but ominous that’s about to happen, with a statement something like, “If Henry had known what lurked in the house, he never would have gone in,” or whatever. Can be very effective, but use this one sparingly, as it’s kind of “cheating.” Best to stay in the story world, in the point of view of the POV character for that scene/chapter.

But of course, you can’t keep up tension nonstop, as it’s tiring for readers and will eventually numb them. You need to intersperse tense, nail-biting scenes with more leisurely, relaxed scenes that provide a bit of reprieve before the next sensory onslaught begins.

Resources:

Jack M. Bickham, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
Hallie Ephron, The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel
Jessica Page Morrell, Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us

See also: 20 Essential Elements of a Bestselling Thriller; Writing a Killer Thriller, Part I, Writing a Killer Thriller, Part II, and Writing a Killer Thriller, Part III
Jodie Renner is an independent editor specializing in crime fiction. For more info on Jodie’s editing services, visit her website at: http://www.jodierennerediting.com

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

Guest Blogger: Anne Trager: Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Anne Trager, translator
The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Can you actually make your own gold? I uncovered the truth recently while working on a fun thriller by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne called The Lafayette Sword. The plot has gold fever, Freemasonry, murders, and the quest for a stolen, priceless sword. It also has alchemy. It’s fiction, but to write it, the authors did a lot of research, and to translate it, so did I.

What exactly is alchemy?

Alchemy dates back four millennia, spans three continents (China, India and Europe), and includes a lot of symbolic mumbo-jumbo. But in short, it was part science, part magic.

Medieval European alchemy set out to make a substance called the philosopher’s stone—it was not actually a stone, but similar to wax in consistency. It was supposed to transform base metals into gold. Perfect for the greedy and power hungry, you may think. In fact, alchemy was more than a quest for a money-machine. It was also a symbolic journey of self-realization and the precursor to chemistry.

Magnum Opus

At the time, people thought everything was made up of fire, air, water and earth. If a common metal like lead was made of these elements, then gold was too. Thus, in theory, one could be transformed into the other.

The alchemical world view also included the idea of progression or maturation. Gold was considered the most mature metal because it had a perfect balance of these four elements. In some traditions, it also symbolized the most advanced stage in a person’s spiritual refinement. The transmutation of lead into gold was like the transmutation of the physical body into a higher energy—that is, becoming immortal.

The key was in the philosopher’s stone, which not only transformed metals, but also had healing powers, and was an essential ingredient in the elixir of life.

So, the alchemical Great Work, or Magnum Opus, was the process of working with the prima materia to create the philosopher’s stone. It ultimately led to gold, a perfect body and soul, and enlightenment—an enticing promise.

Pseudo-science?

Not so fast. As an article in Scientific American states,

“Alchemists have often been dismissed as pseudoscientific charlatans but in many ways they paved the way for modern chemistry and medicine. The alchemists of the 16th and 17th centuries developed new experimental techniques, medicines and other chemical concoctions, such as pigments. And many of them ‘were amazingly good experimentalists,’ says Lawrence Principe, a chemist and science historian at Johns Hopkins University. ‘Any modern professor of chemistry today would be more than happy to hire some of these guys as lab techs.’ The alchemists counted among their number Irish-born scientist Robert Boyle, credited as one of the founders of modern chemistry; pioneering Swiss-born physician Paracelsus; and English physicist Isaac Newton.”

Isaac Newton, who was a Freemason and practiced alchemy throughout his life, even played an important role in the gold market. In 1696, he was appointed to the Royal Mint. At the time coin counterfeiting was rampant. He managed to recall all the coins in circulation, manufacture and issue new secure coinage and introduce the gold standard. Go Isaac!

Perhaps the most famous alchemist of all times was Nicolas Flamel, who figures in The Lafayette Sword, as readers follow his quest for the philosopher’s stone. The legend around him grew during the seventeenth century, when alchemy was all the rage, and continues to this day. He’s quoted in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, he figures in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, he’s mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. (Now, that’s an odd combination of titles to have in one sentence.)

Yes, you can

Today alchemy is actually possible. We have the technology, and it’s been done. Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg tranmuted tiny quantities of bismuth into gold in 1980. What you need, again according to Scientific American is: “a particle accelerator, a vast supply of energy and an extremely low expectation of how much gold you will end up with.” The current consensus is that it would cost way too much (a quadrillion dollars per ounce) to be worth it.

Find out more

¥ For an in-depth examination of gold from antiquity to modern times, read Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession.

¥ The World Gold Council, www.gold.org, provides information about current prices, mining, supply and demand and research.

¥ For more about gold market manipulation, and the inspiration for the worldwide gold conspiracy in The Lafayette Sword: Gold Anti-trust Action Committee www.gata.org.

¥ On the science of turning lead into gold: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-lead-can-be-turned-into-gold/

¥ More on Newton: Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson

¥ More on alchemy: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/

Gold. Obsession. Secrets.

Cover

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English.

Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt. A priceless sword is stolen and deaths ensue setting the Freemason detective on a case of Masons turned bad. A clue points to mysteries and conspiracy about elusive pure gold, launching a frantic, deadly race between two symbolic places—the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. A captivating plot weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages into a modern-day thriller.

Web page: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/the-lafayette-sword

Praise for the series

•“Vivid characters, evocative international settings, and a history darker than midnight. I highly recommend!” —Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling coauthor of the famed Pendergast series of novel

•“A race against the clock.” —Le Figaro

•“A superbly esoteric blend of history and adventure.” —Glenn Cooper, internationally bestselling thriller writer

•“Giacometti and Ravenne’s series kickoff has abundant visceral appeal.” —Kirkus Reviews

•“Brilliantly plotted and well researched.” —Le Parisien

The authors

Authors

Eric Giacometti studied biochemistry and genetics in Toulouse, France, before going into journalism. Then, at the height of his career as an investigative reporter, Eric Giacometti was contaminated by the thriller virus. His life took on another dimension: journalist by day, writer by night. In 2013, he left his full-time reporting job with a French daily newspaper to work freelance and write. He teaches journalism and writing.

Jacques Ravenne is a high-level French Freemason. He is also a literary critic, known for his work on the writers Paul Valéry, Yves Bonnefoy, Gérard de Nerval and Stéphane Mallarmé. In addition to his academic work, he was also a local elected official for a number of years, and contributes regularly to Freemason publications. He discovered the Marquis de Sade’s château in 1985, beginning a

long fascination with the man, which has resulted in an anthology of his correspondence and a novel based on Sade’s life.

Book Info: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/the-lafayette-sword

Best,
Anne Trager
Le French Book
French books you’ll love in English!

Anne1

Anne Trager is the founder of Le French Book, a publisher dedicated to hand-picking, translating and publishing top crime fiction from Europe. Their recent release The Lafayette Sword is by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne, who rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown (over 2 million copies sold) to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English. Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt in a captivating plot that weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages in to a modern-day thriller. Find out more here. Or read an extended sneak preview here.

 
 
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