Tag Archives: setting

How to Build Suspense In Any Genre

(This is a repost. Because this lady is on a mental health break. Thanks for understanding.)

Hello writer bugs!

Whether you are writing a mystery or a horror, or even a romance, suspense can be a total game changer in any kind of story. Here are some tips that will have your readers hanging on the edge of their seats in anticipation.

What is Suspense?

Dictionary definition:
A state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen. A quality in a work of fiction that arouses excited expectation or uncertainty about what may happen.

Simply Put: The fear of the unknown. Keeping the reader guessing. Who is the true murderer? What’s in the haunted mansion down the lane? Building suspense means offering the reader a question that they feel they must learn the answer to. The trick is to prolong giving them that answer while maintaining their interest.

Now, let’s talk about techniques you can use to help build up suspense in your story.

Solid Villains and High Stakes

See the source image

A stirring tension and conflict can be crucial in any genre. Great antagonists who challenge the protagonist create that exciting conflict. Explore the villains motivations. Why has he set this evil plan in motion? What is his connection to the hero? Throw away the idea of a villain who only wants to rain on a parade for no good reason. Really flesh out the character and make them a worth opponent for the hero.

The stakes must be high. Whatever is at risk, whether it’s a loved one’s life or the world’s safety, needs to be important to the protagonist. So important that they will jump through any hoop the antagonist throws at them. And if they fail, they would be devastated.

Point of View

Focus on the character’s perspective. See the world through their eyes. Let the reader learn information as the character does. Narrowing the point of view is an excellent way to build tension. Unlike an all knowing, omniscient narrator, the character won’t know what’s around the corner and what will happen next. Consider who tells the story, and how the story gets told.

Think about it like this. Imagine shining a flashlight into a dark room. You only see the beam of light, and not the rest of the room. The freaking Frankenstein monster could be standing in the corner, and you wouldn’t even know. Gives me the chills just thinking about it.

Image result for flashlight shining in dark cartoon

Pacing and Ticking Clocks

Experiment with style a bit. Short, fragmented sentences give a feel of breathlessness. Brief pauses will add weight to a scene. Keep in mind about the pacing of the overall story. The longer answers stay hidden, the longer some readers will continue reading. But don’t hold out for too long, readers may loose interest. It’s all about leaving a trails of information breadcrumbs for them to follow.

The use of time is another way to build suspense. Everyone can relate to the feeling of time running out. Your MC should be working against the clock. That’s why scenarios like “You have 24 hours to find the girl” work so well. Will the hero make it in time? What will happen if time runs out?

See the source image

After a Dark and Stormy Night

Hope you guys use these techniques when adding some suspense to your next story. What’s your favorite moment of suspense in a book or film? When I think of suspense, I always think of the movie, Speed. Keanu Reeves and a bomb strapped to a bus? Classic suspense thriller.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

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Celebrating 600 Followers – Excerpt from Mystery WIP

Hello Writer Bees!

It looks like I’ve reached 600 Followers on WordPress! What a great present!

Thank you for all of your kindness and support. Every sweet comment makes me smile. Between my new job, preparing for the holidays, writing a novel and updating this blog, I’ve been juggling a lot lately. Knowing I have such wonderful readers out there keeps me afloat.

So, to celebrate this milestone, I’m doing something I rarely do. I’m sharing an excerpt from my WIP, as terrifying as that sounds. Usually, I don’t like others reading my unfinished drafts, but tis the season for exceptions. You’ve all been so lovely to me, I wanted to share a piece of my NaNoWriMo project with you all. Be gentle, I’m still drafting. Enjoy!


 This is my story just as much as it is his story. Fifty-fifty. And I’m going to tell it to you straight.

If he didn’t have his morning paper and cup of coffee by eight o’clock sharp, then he claimed to have a headache for the rest of the day. This meant that I too would have a headache for the rest of the day.

As I left our shoebox apartments, a brick of humidity hit me square in the chest. The Summer of 1924 was unbearably hot. A gift, perhaps, to make up for the blizzard filled Winter we had. Sure, I could go on and on about the smell of rotten garbage and livestock sweat, but I’ll spare you from that cruel and unusual punishment. 

Welcome to Brooklyn. More specifically, Coney Island. Even more specifically, Mermaid avenue. You will find the irony in this street name later on. Trust me. 

You know, some fools out there think that the streets here are paved with gold. That opportunity is dripping out of leaky faucets. Some will even cross oceans just to touch their nose to the sidewalk. What a bunch of suckers.

Forget about those glossy postcards, dispensing pictures of an unspoiled city. Of course, you’ve got those classic landmarks swarmed by tourists, like Central park, Empire State building, that place on Houston street that sells the best bagels. Don’t be too impressed. Let me tell you about the real monuments, the kind I strolled through every morning. We got monuments not found in brochures.  Those are the ones you should be looking at. 

Like the guy who digs through garbage cans named Mister Thumbs.  No one knows his real name. Everyone calls him Mister Thumbs. Each day, he smiles at passers by and jabs his thumb to the sky, happy as a clam. Rumor has it that he lives in a mansion.

Off Neptune street, a dewdropper fished for spare change. An exhausted mother, with raccoon eyes pushed a wailing bundle of colic in a carriage. And let’s not forget the string of Mrs. Popov’s unmentionables being hung in an alleyway. Those are the real genuine landmarks.  

My usual trek through the jungle wasn’t too complicated. Any fool with half a brain could follow the route. Cross Mermaid Avenue, pass the church, walk all the way to the hardware store. Jazz music  poured out of the windows overhead. Church bells clashed with a rebellious trumpet. I weaved through the bustle. You can’t help but find yourself marching to a beat. It’s an insistent, impatient cluster of bees settled under your rib cage. And if you stop, you get trampled over without a second thought. 

They call New York the great melting pot. And it is, really. But they never tell you what’s in the pot. What’s cooking for dinner? Ma called it a big stew, use whatever leftovers from last night’s supper that you’ve got. It will all taste fine, just the same. Gravy is gravy. 

You know, this may be the biggest city in the world, but there are these tight knit pockets no one ever hears about. Makeshift families of neighbors that relied on each other. Where everybody knows you, your mother, and those distant relatives. I always liked that about the city.  Every borough, every street is a home town. The patchwork of this quilt is top notch.


Hope you enjoyed this snippet from chapter one. That was my narrator, Oscar Fitzgerald, showing off his side of Brooklyn, 1924.

I’m opening the floor to you guys. What do you want to see more of on the blog? More on my personal experience as a writer? More creative writing tips? More short stories? Let me know in the comments. I’m really interested in what you all have to say.

Once again, thank you all for the support. Stay safe and keep writing!

— Lady Jabberwocky

You’re In Charge (Short Story + Self Critique)

Hey Writer Bugs!

Today, I’m taking a look back in the archives and sharing a story I wrote from 2015 from Fiction Writing Class. Since this piece is four years old, and my writing has evolved over time, I’ll be self critiquing myself at the end of this post. This is me learning from past mistakes.

—————————————–

    “Audrey?”
            “Yes, Arthur?”
            “Is our house gonna get blown away? Like in the Wizard of Oz?”
            We crunched potato chips as the wind howled outside.
            “That was a tornado,” I answered “This is a hurricane.”
            “They called it a super storm on the news.” He said
matter-of-factly. He was a small boy, with blonde hair and big curious hazel eyes, wearing Batman pajamas. My little brother was six year old, an age where he had a question for everything.
            We were sitting on the sofa, a pile of junk food between us. Our elbows leaned against the windowsill. Mrs. Goodrow’s tree across the street was teetering from side to side, threatening to fall. She was a wicked old bat, who would yell at children, including my brother, for playing in the street too loudly. Said the kids were ‘disturbing Winston’, her bird. Nutty weirdo. Part of me wished that tree did fall.
            “It’s an extra big hurricane, so they’re calling it a superstorm.” I explained, rolling my eyes, thinking we could wait out the storm, like the last one.
            “Mommy would be mad,” He started, digging his tiny hands into a bag of gummy worms. “Cause we’re up past bedtime, eating candy and chips and watching a scary movie.”
            Our parents left to Florida for a couple of days, for a business conference,  leaving me, a fifteen year old in charge of a six year old, Arthur. All I heard was “You’re in charge”, so I spent
my allowance on junk food and rented movies. They thought the storm’s route would redirect, that it wouldn’t hit New York. It did.
            “They said I was in charge, right?” I reminded with a smile. I glanced at the flat screen t.v. in the living room. An old scary movie was playing. There was a close-up on the werewolf’s face, which looked more like a cheap Halloween costume. “Look Arthur, you can see the zipper on his mask.” I laughed as I ran a hand through my messy strawberry blonde hair. He giggled too.
            “Are Mommy and Daddy ever coming back?”
            “Of course they are, they’re just stuck in Florida until this storm blows out of New York.” I answered, my gaze returning to Mrs. Goodrow’s tree, still swaying from side to side. The roots were beginning to peek through the ground.
            The lights began to flicker. I stared at the lamp in dread. “Oh no.” We were then engulfed in darkness.
            “The lights went out.” He informed, his Batman pajamas glowing in the dark.
            “I see that.” I huffed. This was perfect. I stumbled quickly into the kitchen, rummaging through the junk drawer for a flashlight.
            “I can’t see anything,” Arthur said, following behind me. “This is scary.”


Notes from Lady Jabberwocky

  • I like how the story begins. This is a good example of in media res. When the reader is dropped into the middle of a scene, or in this case a conversation, with little context. Grabs the attention of the audience quickly.
  • At this time, I hadn’t learned about Hemingway’s Ice burg theory. Some bits have too much unnecessary exposition. Like explaining how old the kid is, or why the parent’s are away. Show, don’t tell, Lady.
  • For some reason, I wish there was more physical interaction between the two siblings. Just to show more of their relationship as brother and sister. Their movements seem so staged. However, I made some interesting choices with a few verbs, like the boy digging his hand into a bag of candy, rummaging through a junk drawer.
  • Both setting and character descriptions need to be bumped up. I should’ve added more detail on the inside of the home itself. Right now, it feels like two kids floating in empty space, with only a window and a television to occupy them.
  • The idea of a young teen spending all her money on junk food and candy and movies while her parents are away makes me smile. Also, the boy’s glow in the dark Batman pajamas is an easy to imagine picture. It’s details like that that make this simple story feel real and relatable.

Back during peer review, we had to offer comments like this on stories written by fellow students. A proper, honest critique can really help someone grow and learn as a writer. And looking back at old work is definitely an enlightening (and cringey) experience.

What did you guys think of this short story (and my self critique)? Should I do more of these? Let me know in the comments. Have a great weekend, writer bees!

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

How to Build Up Suspense In Any Genre

Whether you are writing a mystery or a horror, or even a romance, suspense can be a total game changer in any kind of story. Here are some tips that will have your readers hanging on the edge of their seats in anticipation.

What is Suspense?

Dictionary definition:
A state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen. A quality in a work of fiction that arouses excited expectation or uncertainty about what may happen.

Simply Put: The fear of the unknown. Keeping the reader guessing. Who is the true murderer? What’s in the haunted mansion down the lane? Building suspense means offering the reader a question that they feel they must learn the answer to. The trick is to prolong giving them that answer while maintaining their interest.

Now, let’s talk about techniques you can use to help build up suspense in your story.

Solid Villains and High Stakes

See the source image

A stirring tension and conflict can be crucial in any genre. Great antagonists who challenge the protagonist create that exciting conflict. Explore the villains motivations. Why has he set this evil plan in motion? What is his connection to the hero? Throw away the idea of a villain who only wants to rain on a parade for no good reason. Really flesh out the character and make them a worth opponent for the hero.

The stakes must be high. Whatever is at risk, whether it’s a loved one’s life or the world’s safety, needs to be important to the protagonist. So important that they will jump through any hoop the antagonist throws at them. And if they fail, they would be devastated.

Point of View

Focus on the character’s perspective. See the world through their eyes. Let the reader learn information as the character does. Narrowing the point of view is an excellent way to build tension. Unlike an all knowing, omniscient narrator, the character won’t know what’s around the corner and what will happen next. Consider who tells the story, and how the story gets told.

Think about it like this. Imagine shining a flashlight into a dark room. You only see the beam of light, and not the rest of the room. The freaking Frankenstein monster could be standing in the corner, and you wouldn’t even know. Gives me the chills just thinking about it.

Image result for flashlight shining in dark cartoon

Pacing and Ticking Clocks

Experiment with style a bit. Short, fragmented sentences give a feel of breathlessness. Brief pauses will add weight to a scene. Keep in mind about the pacing of the overall story. The longer answers stay hidden, the longer some readers will continue reading. But don’t hold out for too long, readers may loose interest. It’s all about leaving a trails of information breadcrumbs for them to follow.

The use of time is another way to build suspense. Everyone can relate to the feeling of time running out. Your MC should be working against the clock. That’s why scenarios like “You have 24 hours to find the girl” work so well. Will the hero make it in time? What will happen if time runs out?

See the source image

After a Dark and Stormy Night

Hope you guys use these techniques when adding some suspense to your next story. What’s your favorite moment of suspense in a book or film? When I think of suspense, I always think of the movie, Speed. Keanu Reeves and a bomb strapped to a bus? Classic suspense thriller.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

Support the Patreon

How to Write About Fictional Foods and Feasts

Food, in any story, is almost unavoidable.

Whether your characters are cooking a traditional meal from their culture, or grabbing a bite to eat, food can become a memorable part of a scene.

Personally, I love when I get the chance to write about food, because of how descriptive you can be when talking about a meal. And its those small details that bring a story, and it’s characters, to life. Take a line from my WIP as an example: “I was rewarded with freshly baked bread topped with minced garlic and a generous drizzle of olive oil.” Got your mouth watering already, right? It’s the little sentences like that will hook reader’s attention in a snap.

No, you don’t have to sound like a menu when talking about what’s on the plate. However, plugging in descriptive details will enrich your story and build a realistic, clear image for your characters, and your readers.

Preparation

  • Boiled
  • Broiled
  • Fried
  • Baked
  • Roasted
  • Steamed

Taste and Flavor

  • Sweet, Sugary, Salty
  • Juicy, Fresh, Tart
  • Bitter, Sharp, Sour, Acrid
  • Refreshing, Rich,
  • Smokey, Fiery, Zesty, Vinegary

Texture

  • Crispy, Crunchy, Greasy, Oily
  • Charred, Sticky, Soft, Doughy
  • Mushy, Slimy, Luscious, Dry, Airy
  • Melted, Stringy, Tough, Ooey-Gooey
  • Ripe, Rotten, Chilled, Piping Hot

Rapid Fire Tips

  • If your writing about a cuisine from a culture that’s not your own, do the research. You’ll want to be accurate with the information from another heritage.
  • Writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Be creative with inventing delicacies that tie into your setting. Consider incorporating holidays that center around a certain meal. What does Thanksgiving look like on Pluto? You tell me.
  • When the story takes place in another time period, think about what food was common back then and how it was prepared.

Throw away vague words like “delicious” and give your readers something to chew on. What are some food related moments from your favorite stories? Does your WIP have a line regarding a good meal? Talk to me in the comments! Have a great weekend you guys. Right now, I’m off to an escape room.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

Support the Patreon

Tips and Tricks for Writing Setting Descriptions

Hello lovelies.

So sometimes,  writing descriptions of settings are difficult. I mean, a forest is a forest. The city is the city. While I’m not the kind of writer to prattle on about the specific color of blue, I still want a rich backdrop for my story. The world for my characters, and for the reader, should feel real.

One way I push myself to write more detailed descriptions is by asking myself questions. As silly as that sounds, trust me for a second. This actually works for me. How would I describe a scene to the reader? What do I have to do to paint that clear picture?

If you are like me, and struggle with writing about the setting for your stories, check out my list of questions below. Maybe they’ll help jog something.


Civilization

In what time does the story take place? Are we in medieval times or the roaring twenties or modern day? How can the reader tell? Provide examples of technology or clothing choices, those are usually great indicators for time and place.

Are there roads/paths to follow? Is it a dirt road or paved with cement?

What sounds are around? People chattering? Birds chirping? Absolute silence?

How’s the lighting? Is the room candle lit? Is there one buzzing electric bulb?

Is there garbage littered in the streets?  Is the room full of clutter? Or does everything look pristine?

Any smells lingering in the air? Freshly popped popcorn? What about burning wood? A posh lady’s perfume perhaps?

What is the state of a building? Is it worn down? Or newly built?

Think about the specific materials things of objects. Rough material, like burlap, versus delicate material, like silk? Think about texture.


Nature

What is the general landscape? Mountainous? Modern?

What is the temperature outside? Is it hot and balmy? Cold and chilly?

What does the terrain look like?

Are there any kinds of plants around? Trees?

Is there a water source (lake, river, pond) nearby? Or is it a lifeless wasteland?


Quick Tips

Really talk about colors. Beyond just sky blue or blood red. What does the color remind you of? Think about something really specific. I always loved the example of a “Stewed cherry dress.”

Looking up pictures on google helps sometimes, if actual visuals help jog your brain. (I got a stash of historical photos from the 1920s to look at when I have writer’s block.)

Although possibly distracting and frivolous, make sure you research, to be accurate.

Bottom line, you have to play around with the five senses. Keep those in mind when writing the fine details. Sensory details are key.


Write in the comments about what helps you create rich setting descriptions. I’d love to hear from you guys.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky