I recently received an email from a fellow reader/writer who had her fingers crossed that I’d answer a few “on writing” questions. Some authors would ignore these, after all, there are so many online sources that you could easily see what others are saying about the topic at hand, but I’m a sucker for replying to those who take the time to reach out to me in the first place. I love the idea of helping fellow writers reach their creative goals, and I know how scary and frustrating it can be to work on a project without anyone “in the know” in your corner. That being said, this fellow writer, who I’ll refer to as Dee, has allowed me to share her questions here in hopes of helping other writers like herself.
Because (I’m writing) a thriller, does the story have to (get a) “heart pounding, sweating” response from the reader every word of the book? If I slow it down a bit… will that be my story ruin?
God, no! I don’t think such a book exists, and if it does, it probably has a million one-star reviews. It’s all about pacing. Every story–be it a novel, a short story, a movie, or even a TV show–has highs and lows. Let’s just take TV as an example. Have you ever noticed how each segment of an episode plays out between commercial breaks? The episode begins with a hook so that you want to sit down and watch it for an hour. Then it lulls, and right before the commercial break it delivers a punch that tells you, “you don’t want to stop watching… you can’t, we’ve got you.” Novels are like that as well. You have highs and lows, like the swells of a tide. You start out with a hook. You capture your reader’s attention, shake them by the shoulder, tell them “look, you HAVE to read this… you NEED to know what happens to this character.” Then, that intensity lulls until you reach the end of a chapter, where, it picks up again and says “hey, you have to read chapter two, look what happened at the end of chapter one!” Rinse and repeat. Here’s a good article about pacing: 7 Tools For Pacing A Novel
I have heard friends (not authors) say that I should not have any writing in (my book) that would refer to a time before the time when the actual scene is taking place… is that true?
Is it harmful for my main character (villain) to have “human” moments although she is very sadistic?
Villains having “human” moments is absolutely key to making a villain real. If you have a chance, pick up my book titled The Neighbors and pay attention to Harlow Ward. Harlow is sick, twisted, terrible… but at the end of the book, during her most horrid, the main character (and hopefully the reader) actually end up momentarily defending her horrendous actions. A lot of readers hate being made to feel bad for a character that’s supposed to be evil, but I love doing it. One rule to remember about villains is that they don’t know they’re the bad guy. Every character has to have motivation, and the bad guy’s motivation (unless you want your bad guy to be a cartoon cliche) is never “I’m going to destroy the world”. The dude who wants to blow up the Empire State Building is doing it not because he wants to kill a bunch of people or throw New York City into turmoil; he wants to do it because he’s been wronged, because he has a chip on his shoulder, because be believes he DESERVES to see the Empire State Building go down in flames. Something happened to that villain to make him want to do what he wants to do. It all boils down to emotions, to feeling like he’s been slighted, and that’s a very human response.
So, there it is. If you yourself have writing questions, feel free to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to answer, as long as you’re happy to let me share my answers with others.