“Writing a good story is like painting a picture — the writer starts with a basic sketch and as she writes adds the color.”
I love a good mystery or thriller. Throw in the FBI, CIA and a few Navy Seals and I’m a happy camper. The genre of my current series is Romantic Suspense, and one of the challenges of this genre is building suspense and keeping the story moving without giving too much away.
The allure of the mystery/suspense story is trying to solve the puzzle before the characters in the story. When I was young, I was always trying to out-sleuth Trixie Belden or Hercule Poirot. A writer’s task involves dropping some hints and using dialogue and plot points to advance the story. Just when the reader is positive they know who the villain is — insert a plot twist.
“What is it?”
“It’s a tracker. Someone placed it on your vehicle, so they could follow your movements…” ~ Dave Cartwright to Clare in Exodus
Don’t you love the feeling you get when you’re at a critical juncture in a scene? The suspense has been building and building. I know something major is about to happen. My heart starts to beat a little faster, and my eyes fly over the words reading rapidly. I am anticipating what the next scene will reveal. Boom! Your theories just got blown out of the water. One of the best compliments I have received from readers is “I thought I had it figured out, but you had me second-guessing myself through the whole book”.
Secrets can be revealed along the way to advance the plot and to throw some red herrings into the mix. But the final solution or climax should remain a mystery until the last couple of chapters; otherwise, you lose your readers once they solved it.
Here’s a caveat — some thrillers and mysteries use the antagonist’s point of view to unveil their plot. These stories build suspense through the unpredictability of the villain’s next actions. The key is to have certain elements of the story remain in the dark.
I like to give my characters some flaws. Is the “good guy” telling the truth or acting out of character? The writer instills doubt with an unexpected action or a sudden change in temperament, for example.
A good story brings the reader along for the ride. A book is an alternate universe and the reader is wanting to immerse themselves in it. Whether it’s falling in love with the handsome detective or holding their breath during a chase scene, the reader needs to feel the tenderness and the heartache along with the fear and confusion. If the writer can involve the reader and get an emotional response from them, you’ve done your job.
Note from Kate:
I saw this poem this morning after I read my email. My email notice sounded sexist and I seriously was planning on ‘Unfollowing’ the author. Instead, I was blown away by the sensitivity shown by Luke Atkins. The author informed us that he wrote it at 4 am. Just wanted to give him a round of applause for poetry every woman feels and lives.
Venus. A limbless, lifeless lump of antiquity. A marble slab of meticulous, conscientious sexual tension. A photo opportunity—devoid of meaningful human exchange. No change or range. An estrange…
At the office, Barbara was known as the Post-It Queen. The multi-colored, adhesive-backed bits of notepaper cluttered her computer monitor, her phone, and the calendar on her desk. Her co-workers couldn’t believe she relied on an organizer/appointment book, so riddled with Post-Its and crammed with scraps of paper, coupons, and newspaper clippings, she had to secure it with a large rubber band.
“Why don’t you use the organizational apps on your computer and smartphone?” her friend, Dee, asked her after the rubber band broke and papers floated like confetti on the breeze.
“I like my system,” Barbara defended while scampering on her hands and knees to capture the intricate details of her life before she lost them. The next day, she missed an important teleconference and realized she needed to change her ways. A nearby bookstore had a section devoted to organization. By the number of books on the subject, Barbara ascertained providing instruction to people so they could deal with their messy lives was a lucrative industry.
The more promising book titles were removed from their shelves for a thorough assessment. A final selection was made, and Barbara walked with determination to the checkout counter. Her life was never going to be the same after this important purchase.
Barbara cradled her pathway- to-a-new-reality in her arms as she went home. A weekend spent in contemplation and enlightenment awaited her. Next week, she planned to put into practice her new organizational skills. But first, Barbara needed to remove some clutter from her coffee table for her new book. She stuffed the newspapers and adverts under the table.
Wanting to be in a relaxed mood to enable her full concentration, Barbara took a bubble bath. But first, she removed the dirty laundry from the bathroom and placed it in a pile in the hall. Then, she searched for the expensive bath salts she purchased six months ago. Barbara removed all of the items from under her sink. She emptied the shelf in the linen closet with shampoos, moisturizers, and mouthwash.
She couldn’t find them. Well, after this weekend, she wouldn’t worry about misplacing items. Everything would be in its designated place. How wonderful it would be! She could already imagine the looks of envy her friends would give her when they saw her clean apartment.
Since a soothing bath wasn’t in the cards, Barbara decided a cup of tea as she ingested the wisdom from ‘Organization for the Busy Professional’ would be just as good. Her mother gave her some tea for Christmas. Barbara checked every cupboard in the kitchen until she found it in its gift bag sitting on top of her refrigerator behind some other items. Now, to find a teapot.
After a lengthy search, Barbara lay back on her couch tossing and kicking items off to make room. Her new book sat under a layer of clutter. When she awoke the next morning on the couch, she was unable to remember where she put her new book. It took her most of the weekend to find it. But she did find it under a blanket, some pillows and a newspaper or two.
Closing the book with a decisive thump, Barbara smiled in triumph. Now she had the necessary tools to become more organized. Barbara considered herself a free spirit, and didn’t feel the saying “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” was true. A new way of life was around the corner. Barbara was sure everyone would be calling her Ms. Organization before too long.
*Author’s Note: This short story was written in response to the writing prompt — Organization.