Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summer Murder and Writing Advice

on the WriteWordsInc.com

by C.M. Albrecht

   Sleepy Sand Bluff hasn't had a murder in twenty years. That's about to change!"

   When Jonas McCleary gets the opportunity to join the force in sleepy Sand Bluff, he jumps at it. A cushy job in a little town where nothing ever happens. He can relax and enjoy life, and since Jonas is getting onto thirty, he’s hoping with a little luck, to meet Miss Right. But on his third day in Sand Bluff, another officer finds a body in an alley.

Question from the e-mail:  I'm taking a class at my local arts center. I'm "from the community" and not a "member" there, so, besides writing mystery stories while they are "creating Literary Art," I'm a bit of an outsider. They rarely comment on my work, except to give a general comment like, "Perhaps a bit flat..." or "Might need a little more reader involvement." I'm used to a little more detail in critical statements. I don't need polite chat. I want them to tell me what is WRONG and then to tell me how to FIX it! Can you figure out what they mean?

Your former student, Jeanne.

Answer:  I think so, Jeanne. "A bit flat," usually means they don't care enough about what's  happening to the characters. " Might need more reader involvement," means about the same thing so they do agree -- and the way to fix that is to set up the central problem right away, then put the character in danger of losing what he or she wants and by including more "hooks," so the reader will have questions in his mind and care what happens next.

A hook should raise a question in the mind of the reader that will be answered when the story is done. Hooks heighten reader interest, pure and simple. There are teachers who will tell you that hooks are the stuff of pulp fiction and are "beneath" the writers of literary fiction. I disagree with that. In good fiction, the hooks are always there, but they're just more subtle. I firmly believe the difference between "page-turner, commercial fiction" and " beautiful, gripping literary prose," lies only in the subtlety of the hooks.

Look at the paragraph above describing C.M. Albrecht's book. In the first line you have the following hooks: MURDER (a life and death situation) and while there hasn't been one in 20 years) it's followed by ... "ABOUT TO CHANGE" (a promise that a murder will happen on these pages, and soon. Both those things act as hooks. 

Carolyn Wheat, a noted mystery writer, once told me, "Drop the body on the first page." 

Once thebody is there you've caught their interest, and then it's up to you to keep them caught up in what is happening on your pages.

Remember, if your Protagonist (main character) isn't in trouble, there is NO story.  Readers should identify, like, and root for your protagonist to succeed. If they don't care whether the main character finds a way out of his trouble, that is "lacks reader involvement." 

Don't forget, every story ever written  is about someone who wants something, and whether they get it or not.

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