Ten Writings Tips From a Thriller Author
I write legal thrillers and addition to writing thrillers, I read them. I’m a huge fan of the mystery/suspense/thriller genre, and my experience as a writer and reader has taught me the wisdom of some writing rules.
#1: If you write a chapter that doesn’t advance the plot, cut it.
#2: If you write a sentence that doesn’t advance the plot, strike it.
#3: If you write a word that doesn’t advance the plot, delete it.
#4: Write your original draft on paper. I use a pen, but pencils will also serve. A special kinship develops from the sight of the words written in your own hand.
#5: Whenever possible, write in a spot in which you are a prisoner. Airplanes are ideal; you can’t escape. These days, the pilot won’t turn off the seatbelt light long enough to let you make it to the restroom. We can’t fly every day, but life is full of traps, and they heighten productivity.
#6: There are two kinds of writers: pantsers and outliners. I’ve done it both ways, and both methods have charms and drawbacks.
If you are a pantser who works without an advance plan and lets the story carry you along, the writing process is much easier at the outset.
If you outline, the book is far easier to finish.
#7: Description: proceed with caution.
Granted, it’s important to let the reader see the characters and setting through the author’s eyes, but description is like salt. A dash enhances the final product. Too much can spoil it.
Writing at length about architectural details should be banned—unless you’re writing for Architectural Digest. And you must spare wordy descriptions of the characters’ physical appearance. The reader will provide it in his/her imagination with a suggestion from the author.
Warning: if you introduce a protagonist as a stunning beauty, ain’t nobody gonna like her.
#8: Literary devices: metaphors and similes
Ah, the mighty metaphor and its pal, the simile. Writers adore them. I slipped a simile into Tip #7 (description is like salt…).
But writers are fonder of these devices than readers will be. Some writers and editors advise you to avoid them completely. Others—George Orwell comes to mind—said to avoid common metaphors and find fresh ones.
Even Orwell’s advice can be dangerous. As a reader, I encounter metaphors so fanciful that they are jarring. They take my attention from the storyline. Make me wonder whether the author toiled over the unlikely comparison all damned day.
#9: Read your manuscript aloud.
If you have an audience, fine. If not, do it anyway. There’s a magic in hearing the words aloud. Flaws in dialogue jump out. And you’ll catch your typos while you’re at it.
#10: Ignore trends. Don’t be a follower; you’ll never make it work. Write your own story and use your own voice.