Author: Rob

Gasoline on the Fire

Gasoline on the Fire

I’ve been working on techniques to improve the tension in my narrative, and was thinking back to the point of view techniques of two different authors: Stephen King in Mr. Mercedes and Jo Nesbø in The Snowman.

As he builds to the climax in Mr. Mercedes, he gives us a series of vignettes, each from the point of view of a different character. Each of them sees roughly the same scene, so we are held in limbo, narrative time on pause as we journey through the character’s minds. This cliff’s edge clarifies each character’s stakes, and heightens the breadth of the risk if the killer should succeed. In my book, I was able to do much the same, with multiple characters experiencing a moment of frightening violence. (Selections from this section were what I read at Crime Wave!)

Another technique that I admire is the one Jo Nesbø uses at the end of a number of his chapters in The Snowman. To drive up tension, he inserts a short scene at the end of the chapter in the killer’s mind. This gives us a not-so gentler reminder that he’s still out there, still hunting, still eluding the police. So no matter how safe the other characters think they are, the reader knows what waits for them. It’s effective because it’s so brief, just a hint of danger, like showing that you have a gun, but not brandishing it.

It’s been fun making POV work for me, driving up narrative tension, and pouring gasoline on the rising action fire.

Editing and POV, a Software Story

Editing and POV, a Software Story

I owe a debt of gratitude to Doug “D.P.” Lyle, with whom I took a Master CraftFest class at ThrillerFest in NYC in July. Not for what he did in the review of my manuscript (which was awesome), and not for what else he did, which was to inspire the hell out of me with his casual generosity (as did Gayle Lynds and all of the other kickass authors with whom I interacted there), but for doing a quick demo of the writing software Scrivener.

OK, full admission: I am a tech snob. I spent my whole career in tech, and am really good at learning and using software. I started my tech career teaching how to use tools like Microsoft Word in the early 90’s, so I know keyboard shortcuts like the back of my hand. So, when I’m asked about writing tools by other budding novelists, I proudly talk about writing in Word, outlining in Excel, and note-taking in Evernote.

But Doug did a quick 10 minute demo of how he uses Scrivener, and the scales fell from my eyes. Yes, that is a little hyperbolic, but seriously–the software rocks. What inspired me to today’s particular procrastination while figuring out the revisions to part one of my novel The Halting Problem was the extra trick that Doug taught us: tagging the POV of each chapter.

Since Scrivener allows you to break up a manuscript into independent documents representing scenes or chapters (which are equivalent for my manuscript), you can see how the manuscript flows at a scene level. And that is very useful, but Doug’s trick of color tagging POV is even more important, as it allows me to think about the impact of whose voice is relating each chapter.

And why did that make a big difference for me? Because it forces me to think about voice in each POV: a collection that includes a female graduate student, her male Harvard humanities housemate, her MIT research advisor, and a running-to-catch-up FBI Special Agent, among others.  Who best to tell each story, move each plot element forward, build action, delay information, challenge reader expectations?

The tool is forcing me to become a more aware writer when I am tackling the very real challenge of being a novelist, what Walter Mosley in his ThrillerFest keynote so perfectly identified: your novel is bigger than your head. Trying to make these meta-level edits is already hard enough, and any help is very much appreciated.

So, thanks Doug!

Two Minutes in the Slammer

Two Minutes in the Slammer

I had the pleasure to attend another Maine Crime Wave last week, as produced by the amazing Maine Writers & Publisher’s Alliance.  With great talks and panels, including a fascinating keynote by F. Lee Bailey, and several sessions featuring honoree Doug Preston, it was, as always informative and fun.  But new for me this year was my participation in the Two Minutes in the Slammer event, a reading slam featuring the writing of conference goers.  I could have renamed it “two minutes of terror,” as I was exceptionally nervous in front of the crowd (ironic since I have done public speaking for my whole professional career!).

I read a scene from late in my novel-in-progress, The Halting Problem, in which an FBI agent and his team execute a forced entry to defuse a hostage situation.  I got through the reading just under the bell and sat, listening to other excellent, thrilling and compelling snippets from other conference attendees, thinking how great the writing was.  So I was completely flabergasted to hear MWPA Executive Director Josh Bodwell call my name as the winner!  Thanks to the judges, and Josh, for that experience, and for the lovely prize:  a writing class with the super compelling thriller writer Chris Holm, most recently the author of the Michael Hendricks assassin thrillers!

And as a final note, as I was still shaking my head in surprise at the outcome of the slam, only then did I realize it had been my first time ever reading my own creative work aloud, and it had been as terrifying as the prospect of a real stint in the slammer.