Developing a Genuinely Tense and Scary Scene

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A few weeks ago, I woke up from a dream – more like a nightmare – frozen in place, unable to move from the fear it had evoked. And in true writer form, the first thing I thought was, “I must remember this feeling so I can put in it into a novel.”

As with all my dreams, it was fairly nonsensical. I arrived at my grandparents’ place and noticed a man standing in the street with a gun in his mouth. I went inside where my grandparents, one of my cousins and one of his daughters were unaware of what was going on outside. As I explained to my cousin what I’d seen, he went to look out the window and suddenly the man in the street noticed he had a house full of people at his mercy. He took the gun from his mouth and pointed it at the house.

We all rabbited to a bedroom at the back of the house but the hallway that runs the length of the weatherboard provided a clear view out into the street. Inexplicably, the man was suddenly on the roof of the house across the road and the gun that had been small enough to fit inside his mouth was now a bazooka that had to be carried on his shoulder. Then he was running down the driveway and had found our hiding place. There was nowhere left to run…

Thankfully, that’s when I woke up. But it had all the elements of a genuinely tense and scary scene. To frighten the pants off your readers, here are the individual components. Continue reading

The Death Decision: Which Characters to Sacrifice for the Good of Your Story

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Because writers are the gods of the little universes they create, eventually they must make hard decisions about their characters. And unless you’re a psychopath or sociopath, the hardest of them all is deciding which characters to kill and when.

Even in genres where it might seem like death isn’t going to or shouldn’t rear its ugly head, like romance, it can be an important background event. But it’s just as important not to overuse it. Violent video games have shown us that too many deaths leave people desensitised. But one perfectly-timed and meaningful fatality might be exactly what your story needs. Continue reading

Everyman Versus Hero Versus Anti-Hero Versus Villain: Making Choices About Your Characters

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Every story has to start somewhere. For me, it always starts with the main character. I often don’t even know what the story is when a character will pop into my head and demand my attention.

When a character is born in this way, they often make their own choice about what kind of main character they will be. But then all the characters around them have to be created and assigned a broad character type. If you have complex characters, they will often fall somewhere between two types. So you end up with seven broad categories:

*Everyman (or everywoman)
*Everyman (or everywoman) verging on hero
*Hero
*Hero verging on anti-hero
*Anti-hero
*Anti-hero verging on villain
*Villain Continue reading