Genre advice

“want our heroes frustrated, walking the edge between good & evil”

I don’t know where this quote comes from, but it’s great, isn’t it?


For amusement (and also because it’s worth thinking about), those who write epic fantasy, should check out the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam.


What mystery readers hate in a story (a list from readers on a mystery listserv)


Joe McKinney gives five reasons great horror stories work:

  • Not enough to have a great setting; you need to give “a sense that we are closed off from the rest of the world, that we are no longer free or able to run away, that we are shut in with something very bad.” The challenge is “to make readers feel that what was once familiar and comforting has suddenly become oppressive and menacing. … you need to change your characters’ attitude toward the setting, and you do this by showing the setting before and after the horror takes the stage.”
  • “need viewpoint characters who get scared so that we get scared vicariously through them.”
  • Need to give a reason “why they don’t just up and leave the moment things start getting weird.” “A surprising amount of good horror is built from economic necessity.”
  • Need a reason the good guy and the bad guy are connected.
  • Need a convincing and truly frightening villain/monster, and they should have some degree of moral authority/purpose.


Writers Digest has several reports from Thrillerfest 2011. Points I thought worth noting:

7 Keys to a Thriller That Actually Thrills:

  • Forgo the endless array of action sequences. “sometimes the only way to create suspense is to take the opposite path—create more stillness.”
  • Make more promises. i.e. foreshadowing
  • Be careful with violence. “the more violence there is in a story, the less it means.”
  • Ensure that your danger is intimate and personal
  • Turn a twist the right way. ‘Plot twists [should] unravel everything that came before and then rethread it, providing a fresh shot of meaning.”
  • Craft an artful peak. “the perfect breed of climax is one that nobody would guess … but readers feel they should have known all along.”

3 Things to Do Before You Start Writing Your Thriller:

From bestselling medical thriller writer Michael Palmer:

  • Formulate a what-if question for your book.
  • Develop a MacGuffin. “ basically the answer to your what-if question.”
  • Answer the question, Whose book is this? Consider who has the most at stake

On pacing:

In Ken Follett’s novel Eye of the Needle “a memorable and climactic fight takes place on the edge of a cliff. Follett knew it had to last a while—so he arbitrarily decided it’d last six pages, and he swore he’d make it last six pages no matter what.
To pull it off, he made a list of everything that could happen in a fight. He came up with 30-some things, and he worked all of them in.”

Also from Writers Digest, David Morrell & Ken Follett Talk About Writing:

“Donald E. Westlake, the great crime writer… encouraged me to go to bookstores and read the first pages of books that had just been published. … what I was going to discover: that most of the books felt as if they’d been written by the same person…. he said if you had 100 books, that chances are only five of those books would be what we’re looking for, and all five of those would be different from each other.
When I teach writing, I have a mantra: Be a first-rate version of yourself, and not a second-rate version of another writer.
I think every writer has a dominant emotion … and if you can identify it and try to understand it, it becomes your subject matter, and it makes you different from everybody else.

I always say thrillers are about people in danger. … There’s a rule of thumb that says every four to six pages the story should turn. If you leave it longer than that, people start to get bored. If it’s shorter than that, it’s too frenetic. And a story turn is anything that changes the situation for the characters, so it could be quite minor—somebody telling a little lie—but it’s a story turn.

neither book feels like a genre book. It has umpteen action scenes and all of that, but we believe that this story is happening to actual people. The element of believability.