- Books for writers
- FAQ: I’m a new writer: which book should I read first?
- FREE Nail Your Novel Instant Fix: 100 Tips For Fascinating Characters
- My writing process: the picture tour
- Nail Your Novel: A Companion Workbook
- Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
- Reviews of Nail Your Novel
- Who’s tweeting about Nail Your Novel …
- Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel
- Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart: Nail Your Novel
- Email me
Posts Tagged thriller
Last Sunday I guested again at Litopia, an online writers’ colony and community. Every week they have a YouTube show, Pop-Up Submissions, where five manuscripts are read and critiqued live on air by literary agent Peter Cox @agentpete and a guest, or sometimes two (this time we had PR agent Kaylie Finn @kaylie_finn ).
The format is simple. Five manuscripts, each with a short blurb. We hear the opening pages, then talk about how they’re working – exactly as an agent would think about a manuscript that crossed their desk. This time we had YA post-apocalyptic fiction, a World War II spy thriller, a farce set in the world of British TV, a literary post-apocalyptic adult novel and a Cold War memoir. Issues we discussed included introducing a world and characters, stylised language, versatility of tone, orientating the reader so you don’t lose their attention, introducing a character with a peculiar problem, writing comedy, believability of a story concept, what makes a YA novel YA, ingredients for a historical novel, and how to get a toehold in the very competitive market for special forces memoirs.
Fascinating stuff – as ever, I talked loads, and I also learned loads from the responses of Peter and Kaylie. (That’s Kaylie and Peter in the preview pic.)
Enjoy! And if you’ve got a manuscript you’d like critiqued, apply here.
audio, beginnings, comedy, historical fiction, hook the reader, how to get published, Kaylie Finn, literary agent, Litopia, memoir, Peter Cox, Pop-Up Submissions, post-apocalyptic, spy thriller, thriller, video, video posts, what literary agents look for, YA fiction
My guest this week has been here before. Not in a reincarnation sense; she’s guested on the series, but under a different name. For her latest novel she’s using a pseudonym for a change of direction. She’s written a gritty psychological thriller about a woman who discovers her young daughter is being bullied at school. Her attempts to intervene spark a series of sinister events, played out in the gritty, graffiti-scrawled areas of Bristol. Her soundtrack is full of brooding menace (and includes some of my own favourites, Massive Attack and Tricky). Anyway, come and meet Sanjida Kay on the Red Blog, when she’s sharing her Undercover Soundtrack.
‘A sequence of notes to transport you to a time and place’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Debbie Bennett
My guest this week says she was always secretly a rock chick, and has provided pictorial evidence to prove it. When she turned her creative impulses to writing, music helped create the mood and tone. She writes gritty crime with a heavy dose of psychological thriller, and drew on a aural landscape of Alice Cooper, Soul Asylum, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. She is Debbie Bennett and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, contemporary fiction, creative impulses, crime, Debbie Bennett, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, psychological thriller, Rat’s Tale, rock chick, Roz Morris, Runaway Train, Skid Row, Soul Asylum, The hero, The Seekers, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, undercover soundtrack, Whitesnake, Women Writers, writing to music
We often don’t realise what surprises our own work holds for us. My guest this week tells me that while writing her post, she realised she was seeing her novel in a fresh light. She’s been on this series before, so is no stranger to Undercover Soundtracks. This time she has a psycho-sexual tale of a husband who vanishes and a wife who follows him into a seductive, mysterious and dangerous night world in which they all become creatures of darkness, ‘skinny-dipping in deep greenish hued waters charged with sexual tension and lustful predilections’. The novel is Lady Limbo, the writer is Sunday Times Fiction Prize nominee Consuelo Roland, and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
African jazz, authors, Bob Marley, Centre for the Book, Circus music, Consuelo Roland, contemporary fiction, Cuba, Desert Island Discs, female character, Lady Limbo, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, League of Extraordinary Authors, literary fiction, literary novels, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, psycho-sexual thriller, R.E.M., Roz Morris, Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2006, the Beatles, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, undercover soundtrack, Undercover Soundtracks, Wolof, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music, Youssou N’Dour
On The Undercover Soundtrack, we’re used to writers using music to summon the muse. My guest this week goes one better. One of his main characters is a computer hacker, who limbers up by listening to Vangelis’s music for the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise. In real life, the author has a lifetime’s experience in the IT industry and seems adept at opening files in people’s pasts – Dave and I used to play 1492 incessantly as background for our own writings. My guest did it again when his editor revealed she had trained as a musician, like another of his characters. He is Ian Sutherland and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack – when he’s finished hacking the pasts of his production crew and blog hosts.
500 Days of Summer, authors, Bryony Sutherland, cello, computer hacker, computer hacking, contemporary fiction, crime, crime fiction, cyber crime, cyber thriller, Dances With Wolve, Dances With Wolves, debut novel, Deep Web Thriller, Desert Island Discs, Elgar, Ennio Morricone, film 1492: Conquest of Paradise, hacking, Ian Sutherland, Invasion of Privacy, John Barry, Leftfield, main characters, male writers, Moby, movie soundtrack, movie soundtracks, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, The Beach, The Mission, The Smiths, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, undercover soundtrack, Underworld, Vangelis, web thriller, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing to music
My guest this week had talismanic pieces of music in his mind while he wrote his debut thriller. Indeed he says the music was such a guiding force that he cannot imagine how anyone reading the book could not hear it too. He chose anthems to embody his characters, their state of mind, their dilemmas and the way they change in the story’s events. They are protest songs, wry looks at characters who are abandoning their principles and songs of obsession and downfall. I’m also delighted to report that he includes Peter Gabriel – one of my long-time favourite musicians. He is Paul Sean Grieve and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
Animotion, authors, Christina Aguilera, contemporary fiction, debut thriller, Desert Island Discs, Eddy Grant, Gotye, Honduras, Katrina and the Waves, Kenny Rogers, male writers, Midnight Oil, Moulin Rouge, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Paul Sean Grieve, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Poison: A Novel, reggae, rock, Roz Morris, The Police, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, Toronto, toxicology, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
‘Abhorrent combinations… fear not as the music writes the story for you’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Josh Malerman
My guest this week says his novel was written in a trance. He rented an attic from a musician, who he could hear practising in the rooms downstairs, brought along a cageful of finches and set them free to fly around him as he typed. You’ll see from the title why they seemed like a good idea. These avian muses were also treated to the soundtracks of several movies – Rosemary’s Baby, The Fog and Creepshow – which doubtless helped them get further into character. When he needed to crank up the intensity, there would be two songs howling at once – the radio at one end of the room, classical music at the other. My guest reports that sometimes his birds got tired and stared at him. This endearing aural vandal is Josh Malerman, his novel is the post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
apocalyptic, authors, Beetlejuice, Bird Box, birds, birdsong, classical music, Creepshow, Danny Elfman, Desert Island Discs, Detroit, future, futuristic, High Strung, John Carpenter, Josh Malerman, literary novels, male writers, medium, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rosemary's Baby, Roz Morris, Shameless, Slumber Party Massacre, speculative fiction, The Fog, The High Strung, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, wild birds, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
I have a friend who is French, and despite years of living in England, he uses a vocabulary that is sometimes unintentionally hilarious. He became a legend when he referred to a top-down convertible as a ‘topless’ car. (I am so looking forward to the SEO results of this first paragraph.)
I’m currently reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, and one of the narrative strands is in the voice of Alex, a Ukrainian who speaks very little English.
In an attempt to seem more educated and impress the hero, Alex is, as he himself would put it, ‘fatiguing his thesaurus’. In his account, people sitting around a dinner table or at the wheel of a car are ‘roosting’. If something is nice or good, it’s ‘premium’. If a character is standing still they are ‘reposed’; annoyed is ‘spleened’. Alex’s choices are often unintentionally ridiculous, and he has no idea of their appropriateness or connotation.
This creates various literary effects in the novel, which I’ll come back to if you’re curious. But actually, a lot of writers – across all types of fiction – choose words that make their action or characters unintentionally ludicrous or comic.
In times of trouble
This particularly seems to happen with dramatic moments.
In a fight, the heroes might be ‘whacking’ and ‘walloping’. A vulnerable character might get their hand ‘squashed’ under an attacker’s boot, or ‘bounce’ down the stairs. These words might be accurate, but they have a comic ring that ruins the atmosphere. In a scene where a much-loved character is found murdered, there will be ‘blood-splattered’ walls. (Try this instead from Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon: ‘Bloodstains shouted from the walls.’) Someone discovers the body and lets out a ‘squeal’ or a ‘squeak’ – which sounds jolly instead of appalled.
This might happen for a number of reasons. Quite a few of my clients are merry souls even though they write dark stories. Or they’re trying to make a description dynamic, but in their vigour they pick a word that has gusto instead of menace. Or they’re trying to be accurate about what’s in their mind’s eye – after all, blood probably does splatter and spurt from a slashed artery. The trouble is, it sounds slapstick.
In prose, words suggest pictures and atmosphere just by their shape and sound. Those beginning with ‘s’ seem to be especially risky – I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen unfortunate appearances of squashed, spattered, squatted, squirmed and squelched.
Ear and eye
To control our text fully, we need to develop an ear for the mood suggested by a word, and for how it looks on the page. This is different from the way they might work if you were describing the scene to friends, who would have your personality and vocal delivery to disguise the odd inappropriate word. Similarly, you might be led astray if you read a lot of scripts instead of prose. Screenwriters don’t have to be so sensitive to these subtleties. They are presenting instructions for an experience that will come to life in other media.
But on the page, you are creating the actual experience. Your word choice is your tone, the personality behind the scene, the theme music, the lighting. We have to examine these qualities every word we use, both its sound and its shape. Look at that Thomas Harris line again, about a gore-splattered room: ‘Bloodstains shouted from the walls.’
In Everything Is Illuminated, the word choices appear oafishly comic, haphazard; mangled, even. As with all well-executed tomfooling, this belies a great deal of skill. Each odd word has been chosen by the author with great care, with an eye and ear for the grace of a sentence, for how jarring or surprising it might be, and to encourage us to think of what it might really mean. And this clumsiness also gives the narrator a great transparency; he is so unaware of other connotations his narrative has a quality of charm and honesty.
Choose synonyms with care.
Do you have trouble picking the right synonym? Do you have any examples of writers whose descriptions hit the spot for you – or don’t? Let’s share in the comments!
action, authors, Description, Everything is Illuminated, fiction, horror, how to write a book, how to write a novel, how to write action, how to write description, Jonathan Safran Foer, language for a novel, language for a thriller novel, language for dramatic scenes, literary fiction, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, polishing, publishing, Red Dragon, Roz Morris, scriptwriting, Thomas Harris, thriller, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart
My guest this week says she always begins a project by assembling a sequence of music tracks. To start with, she notices every word and note, but after a while they settle into a familiar environment – a mental writing room that claims her attention and tells her it’s time to immerse. The novel she’ll be sharing with us is set in 1938, so her soundtrack is a mix of her own favourite contemporary songs to help capture the mood, and then a lot of material from the period of her story to conjure the historical period. She is NYT bestselling thriller author Rebecca Cantrell, and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
A Trace of Smoke, authors, Berlin, Bertolt Brecht, Dagmar Krause, Dakota Staton, Desert Island Discs, Emily Barker, Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo, Hannah, Hannah Vogel, how to write a thriller novel, Joe Tesla thrillers, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Louis Armstrong, Macy Gray, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, mystery, mystery series, Nail Your Novel, New York Times, Order of Sanguines, Paul Whiteman, playlist, playlist for writers, Rebecca Cantrell, Roz Morris, The Blood Gospel, The Undercover Soundtrack, The World Beneath, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing room, writing to music
My guest this week describes his novel as having a subliminal soundtrack that wormed into his head and influenced the period, the tone, characters and the ties that connect them. The novel, Blow Your Kiss Hello, is a mystery and a thriller with a bit of Other too. It’s the story of a man searching beyond the boundaries of here and now in the hope of finding his missing girlfriend. It’s set mostly in the 1990s with threads of 1640, a crossing that becomes apparent as Faithless meets Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aenas. He is Andrew James and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
Andrew James, authors, Blow Your Kiss Hello, contemporary fiction, creativity, crime, deepen your story, fiction, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, literary fiction, My Memories of a Future Life, mystery, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, undercover soundtrack, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing to music
- Do androids dream of electric horses? Creating the future – interview about Lifeform Three at @AuthorsElectric @AuthorKatherine May 22, 2022
- Two opportunities for shortform writers, a treat for music lovers and a little interview May 10, 2022
- Writers, can you feel it? How to use gut feeling to guide your work May 9, 2022
- Jobs that give you time to be who you need to be: how I made my writing career – Ian M Rogers @iantheroge April 24, 2022
- Literary and historical novelists – your first pages: 5 more book openings critiqued by @agentpete @mattschodcnews and me! April 13, 2022
- Too much TV might spoil your… prose writing April 10, 2022
- How to build a reading list around a subject – and discover the best titles about the allure, tragedy and majesty of mountaineering March 25, 2022