Planning your Novel for SpeedBo
Are you ready for SpeedBo? If you are, good for you! You’re way ahead of me.
If you’re a panster you might not want to plan how you’re going to write your story. You’ll just need an interesting idea (hopefully unique and intriguing), a few characters in your head and a general idea of where the story should take you. You’ll be ready to start writing without a lot of preparation but probably with plenty of enthusiasm.
If you’re afraid of getting lost in a forest of words without any clear path in sight, you might want to think a few steps ahead and make a plan, even if it’s a bit vague.
I like to plot, but not every last detail because I’d get bored before I finished my story. Like many other writers, I’m a combination panster and plotter.
I thought I’d tackle something new for SpeedBo. Since I love reading romantic suspense books I decided to try writing one. But reading and liking a genre doesn’t mean I can easily write and sell one. So I read a craft book about (you guessed it) writing suspense. Writing a Killer Thriller by Jodie Renner. I’ve written historical romance before but not suspense, so I needed to learn more about this sub-genre. After I plan the suspense, I’ll weave in the romance. Many writers would begin with the romance and then work on the suspense. Right or wrong, I always start with plot.
Some romantic suspense novels have more suspense than romance and vice versa. Many have equal amounts of each. It’s smart to check the guidelines for the publisher you’re interested in before you begin.
Before I even started planning, I needed to find out what a suspense/thriller actually involves. It’s a fiction story involving criminal activity, catching the bad guy(s), and at least one murder. In a thriller, the reader often knows who the villain is early on, and sometimes the hero does too. The hero’s goal is to outwit and catch the killer before he kills others, including the hero, or endangers the world. The protagonist is almost always threatened, fighting for his life as she matches wits with a clever, determined, and evil antagonist/villain.
Thrillers appeal to our emotions and our enjoyment of excitement and adventure, a desire to vicariously confront danger and defeat villains. They’re fast-paced and suspenseful. The hero/ine has a nearly impossible mission to foil evil. Her goal puts her into terrible trouble. Readers love the emotional high, the heart-pounding suspense, the apprehension and exhilaration that drive the narrative.
Their appeal comes from high stakes, nonstop action, surprising and exciting plot twists, and an intense pace that never lets up until the climax.
BASIC INGREDIENTS OF A THRILLER
A thriller needs skillful plotting, with lots of conflict, tension, suspense, twists and turns and surprises.
It needs exhilarating scenes, each connected to the next and to the story as a whole, with lots of direct cause and effect.
You need to create a clever hero and send him on a difficult, almost impossible mission to foil evil for the benefit of others. Use red herrings, plot twists, and cliff-hangers extensively.
A thriller has a character (hero/heroine) who wants something badly, and an adversary who is trying equally hard to prevent the hero from getting what he wants. In each scene, the hero attacks his problem in a new way, the antagonist fights back, and the hero either fails or his initial success leads to a bigger problem.
So, where do you begin?
Find a great idea that grabs your interest. Remember, this story has to sustain you, the reader, for a few hundred pages. If the idea doesn’t carry you to the end, it won’t capture the reader either.
You can either develop the plot further at this point, or concentrate on your characters.
If you prefer working on characters, you might start with the villain.
Spend some time creating a memorable, three-dimensional villain.
Find his evil mission and why he pursues this goal. This is the plot behind the plot, the hidden story. Consider his past and what led him to this desperate point in his life. Of course this doesn’t mean he’s justified in committing his terrible acts, but it does allow the reader to see something of his motivation.
The villain must be a worthy opponent who is at least as tough and smart as the protagonist, often more so. The villain usually poses the initial threat that sets off the story action, so make sure he’s complex, capable, well-motivated, and determined. You need a really bad bad guy.
A villain should be believable, complex, and chilling. Make him evil, devious and determined, but also someone who feels justified in his actions.
What does the villain want and why does he think the heroine is in his way? How does he explain his own motivations to himself? How does he rationalize his actions to himself?
Create a mini-biography of the villain
Include his upbringing and family background, early influences, and harrowing experiences or criminal history. You can use 1st person or diary form. Include resentments, temper-tantrums and schemes. You need to know what drives him to think and act the way he does.
INVENT A CHARISMATIC HERO/HEROINE
The heroine has to be impassioned, unique, and likeable.
Give her some inner conflict, baggage, and insecurities to keep readers identifying with her. Maybe add in a secret or indiscretion from her past.
The ideal heroine is clever, resourceful, charismatic, likeable, tenacious, experienced, and is physically fit. She has special skills/talents. She’s confident but not overly brash, passionate but not overly emotional, unique, unpredictable, complex (imperfect with some inner conflict), wounded but still vulnerable. A heroine has some self-doubt and fear. She’s also idealistic, honorable, self-sacrificing, often a loner or rebel, and courageous, but not perfect.
Give your heroine an Achilles’ heel (a weakness or phobia), a vulnerable spot.
A heroine may be an ordinary person whose life is suddenly thrown into turmoil. She’s forced to reach deep inside herself to find courage and the resources she never knew they had. Sometimes the heroine is a rebel who defies society’s rules, but she has inner integrity and a personal code of honor, and will risk her life for a worthy cause.
In a romantic suspense story you also have a hero who often joins forces with the heroine to catch the villain. He’ll probably be handsome and he’ll definitely have heroic qualities, just as he has in other romance novels.
DEVELOP A PLOT
Using your story idea play the “What if?” game. Write down the ‘what if’ questions, pick a few of your favorites, and then build on them to see where they take you. Ask more questions and add dilemmas and conflict. Keep escalating the initial idea by continually raising the stakes, the conflicts, and the suspense. In a romantic suspense remember to add lots of romance! Straight suspense usually has a love interest included, but the amount of romance will vary.
A thriller consists of a character (hero/heroine) who wants something badly, and an adversary who is trying equally hard to prevent the hero from getting what he wants. In each scene, the hero attacks his problem in a new way, the adversary fights back, and the hero either fails or his initial success leads to a bigger problem.
Or you could approach it by saying that the villain drives the story and threatens peace and security. The heroine spends the whole story reacting to the threads and trying to stop the villain before he reaches his ultimate goal(s) and commits the most horrifying acts.
Your plot needs:
A clever, resourceful, likeable but complex protagonist
A conniving, frightening, determined villain
An overriding problem
Other related conflicts
Interesting and memorable supporting characters
Lots of intrigue, suspense and tension
Some surprises and reversals
A final big, very close battle
A satisfying resolution, with a final twist or surprise, and all the major story questions answered
Even in a hair-raising suspense the heroine/protagonist has a character arc.
PLANNING YOUR NOVEL
Make a rough outline of your plot.
Start with a plot outline.
Brainstorm and list the main turning points of your story, and outline the main scenes showing the villain’s crimes and your heroine’s struggle. The main events should be linked by cause and effect.
What’s the premise of your story?
What’s the story about? What’s the main story question or problem? Write a one sentence story line.
CRAFT A KILLER OPENING
Tell us whose story it is. It’s a good idea to introduce the heroine first, although some writers begin with the villain. Situate the reader right away – where, when and what’s going on. Introduce some tension and conflict on page one.
Make us care about your heroine. She should be sympathetic, but with inner conflict and baggage. Show us her hopes, dreams, worries, and fears as soon as possible.
Give us characters in action. Quickly put her into a scene with someone else, in real time, with tension, dialogue, actions, and reactions.
Think of a gripping, stressful opening situation for the heroine that creates empathy and identification for her and raises intriguing story questions. Then show the scene in real time, with tension, action, and dialogue, through the eyes and ears of the heroine.
Then start writing! Keep on writing. Don’t keep re-working the beginning until you finish the book. Just get on with the story!
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