Thursday, May 31, 2012

Give that guy a gun - or maybe a phone - for some added drama

Raymond Chandler once said, "When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."

He was talking about adding tension to a story, of course. I would never doubt Chandler. It worked for him.  And I agree, guys and guns most definitely liven up a scene.

But there are other ways to add dramatic elements, too. My personal favorite? The midnight call.

You write what you know, and in real life, I find few things creepier than being woken from a sound sleep by the chirp of a cell phone or worse, the loud ringing of a little-used landline telephone.

You just know there's something bad on the other end. Your stomach knots, your heart starts pounding. But you have to answer it.

I hate when it happens to me.

But I love to do it to my characters. Because anything, or anyone, can be on the other end of that line.

Even a guy with a gun.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sprinkling details throughout a story can be devilishly tricky

I always found the phrase "the devil is the details" somewhat charming.

It's sounds very dramatic. Sinister, even. In reality, it's hardly that. It's simply a way of describing a situation that's time-consuming and, well, devilishly tricky to finesse.

I'm coming across it now as I try to add some realistic details to Paper Cut, my sequel to Death on Deadline. They're both newspaper mysteries, but in Paper Cut, there's a scene that takes place next to a printing press that's running at full speed.

It's important to me that the reader understand how immense and loud these contraptions are - a traditional newspaper press, after all, is huge - it stands nearly three stories tall. It's impressive-looking, too; a solid strip of paper is woven through rollers in a complex web. Once the press gets up to speed, an offset press can put ink on that paper and assemble the pages in the correct sequence to the tune of up to 70,000 copies an hour

It can be a dangerous piece of equipment. And if someone yells "Stop the presses!" it's a big deal.

I think the tricky part is balance - I want to add enough detail to capture the reader's interest, not lead a  tour. I want drama and ambience ... but there's not a test at the end.

I once read that details are like spices - if you can recognize them and point them out, there are too many. Right now, I'm striving for that perfect blend.