The killer opening line.
The brilliant prose and dialogue that keep the middle from sagging.
The dead run to the end.
The Epilogue that makes you want to start the book all over again.
Great books are like the best kind of roller coaster. They take you on an up and down and twist around kind of ride that, when the cars pull back into the station, have you hopping out and racing around to the line so you can ride again. When you love the ride, you don’t mind the wait. You don’t mind the line.
As writers, regardless of genre, every single one of us want to take our readers on the best kind of ride. Some like the slow build…that long climb up the hill on the coaster and the steep, racing drop into the first turn. I love those kinds of books because you just know that hill is coming and that the rest of the ride is going to be epic. It’s hard to read the first one of these books though, just like it’s hard to ride that long hill the first time. Usually these kind of coasters are like Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles; a little opaque at first, a slow build. Where are we going with this? Why should I care about this guy in 1547? I’m grateful to Anna Campbell every time one of the beautifully crafted lines or scenes or situations from The Game of Kings pop into my head. She recommended Dunnett and told me not to mind that it didn’t start as fast as some, more modern novels. I listened, and I gotta say, Dunnett writes one heck of a ride.
Then there’s the kind of story that, like the Great Bear at Hershey Park, drops you out of the gate and never stops until it spins you back into the station. I can’t tell you how many times my eldest son and I have gotten off The Bear, staggered a few steps to get our bearings, then run back around to ride it again. There’s something about the exhilaration, the thrill of it. It’s a safe brush with deadly forces. You know you’re going to come back into the station, safe and sound, but during the ride? Breathtaking adrenaline! Reads like that come from Ilona Andrews, Suzanne Ferrell and, in February, a great new one from my friend KJ Howe. Action, a breath of a pause, then another twist and turn, until shocked and amazed, you turn the last page. Wow.
I so want to be that kind of writer.
I can even take the analogy to the coasters that may not go as fast, but whoa, do they rattle and roll and give you a ride, sometimes dropping you into the dark, or racing you through the rain. Anyone been on the Harry Potter ride at Universal in Florida? That kind of roller coaster makes you feel differently than a fast-paced twisty-turn-y one, but are often even more exhilarating. Those are the books that keep you enthralled, desperate to know what happened, thoroughly engaged even though you don’t––can’t––know the end, the who did it, until the very…last…page. Kate Carlisle’s mysteries. Dan Brown’s thrillers. Many of Nora Robert’s single title books. The ride isn’t herky-jerky-fast and breath-stealing, but it’s SUCH an outstanding ride, you run back to ride this one too, again and again.
So how do we, as writers, make this happen? How do we capture the reader on the ride, make it impossible for them to get off, get out, put the book down? I don’t know about you but I really want my readers to be stirring dinner––and eating it too––while still reading one of my books. Or, like I do with a great title from Nalini Singh, holding their Nook or Kindle or iPad as they brush their teeth, not wanting to stop reading long enough to do that little chore without taking the story with them.
The question is, how? And I have a one word answer: Editing.
I know, I know. Tough one. Writing can sometimes suck, but editing almost always sucks. But it’s the best answer I have. We all (I presume) want to write a gripping, engrossing tale right off the bat. Maybe, for those writers I mentioned, it just comes out that way with all the prose hitting the turning points, all the dialogue making the reader long for that character to speak again, but I doubt it. It’s a discouraging thing for me, but a story never flows off my fingers and onto the page in that glistening, ramped up, roller coaster format. The first draft may move along at a decent clip, but only rarely does it grip me, scare me, or move me on re-read. Seldom do I think, “Wow, that was awesome!”
Heck, I almost never think that about my own writing, especially when it’s in progress. Do you?
But when I go back, and edit, when I consciously work to make the chapters end on a hook. I make the turning points more intense, and work in the bodies hitting the floor. In edits, I can better see and refine the shape of the thrill, the speed of the turn, and the sudden spinning drop of a plot twist I hinted at but never revealed until the bottom drops out and everyone’s left gasping.
That’s fun. That’s exciting. That makes the book a joy again. Sometimes, when the sagging middle or can’t-wrap-up-the-end-issue has left me grumpy and out of sorts with a work in progress, it’s the only thing that keeps me going. It’s the idea that, in edits, I can make this lump of coal story into some kind of a diamond. That’s what keeps me writing some days.
So again, how do you do it? One of the best things I’ve found, as I edit, is to split the manuscript into those drops and turns. How long is my climb to the first hill? Too long? Cut it. If it’s got to be long, what creaks and groans can I add to make the climb more intense? Then Wheeeeee! First hill is a rush, a rattle, a scream, and whooshes into the first turn. Ooops, what’s the first turn again? Oh, yeah. The person you thought killed the guy couldn’t have because he was in jail at the time of the murder. Twist. There’s two more suspects, both with motive. Turn. They’re both murdered. The bottom drops out on a turning twisting spiral. There! That’s the guy! How do we catch him? Twist, turn, whee! Ahhhhh, into the station.
It’s not a heck of a process description, but somehow, it works for me. I’m always asking myself, as I edit, how can I make it more roller-coaster-y? How can I drop the bottom out of whatever theory seems like it’s “the answer” so that my heroes have to start over, or look elsewhere? How can I plant red herrings and false turns and spirals that lead nowhere?
I just can’t do that when I’m writing, not that intentionally. When it’s edited though, the thrill is there. I hope it keeps my readers coming back for more. I hope that when someone reads my latest paranormal thriller, The Witches Walk, or my straight suspense, Dead Run, they close the cover, sit a minute then open the front cover again, or swipe the bar back to the beginning of the book and think, “I never saw THAT coming. Now I have to read it again!”
What about you, do you like roller coasters? What’s your favorite, and at what park? Do you love that intensity in a story, if so, who’re some of your favorite authors for that roller-coaster-read?
Jeanne Adams writes award-winning suspense, paranormal, mysteries and urban fantasies. She’s also a sought-after speaker, who knows a thing or two about getting rid of the evidence…
Jeanne specializes in thrills and suspense. Even her paranormal and urban fantasies have a suspense element, so be prepared! She loves football, baseball, dogs, Halloween and the weird and she teaches classes for writers on body disposal.
Jeanne lives in DC with her husband and two growing sons, as well as three dogs – two Labs and an Irish Water Spaniel. Don’t tell, but she’s prone to adopting more dogs when her husband isn’t looking.
Featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine, and other publications, her books have been consistently hailed as “One of the best Suspense Books of the Year!” by Romantic Times. You can find her at her newly redesigned website: www.JeanneAdams.com, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JeanneAdams or at www.Facebook.com/JeanneAdamsAuthor
THE WITCHES WALK – Haven Harbor #1
WELCOME TO HAVEN HARBOR – Haven Harbor #2
A YULE TO REMEMBER in Under The Kissing Bough – Haven Harbor #3
THE TENTACLE AFFAIRE, Slip Traveler #1
DEAD RUN, Faithful Defenders #1
GIVEAWAY – Jeanne will give away one copy of her paranormal thriller, The Witches Walk, or her award winning suspense novel, DEAD RUN, in either Kindle or Paper format to one of today’s commenters. US only for paper copies.
Sizzling seduction and hair-raising suspense combine in a gripping novel about a woman whose past returns—with a vengeance…
They Must Run For Their Lives…
Dana Markham is running from a cold-blooded killer who knows her all too well: Donovan Walker, drug trafficker, criminal mastermind, and her ex husband. Wanted by the authorities, armed and dangerous—he’s also out to kill her. What she knows about him could land him behind bars forever…or put her and her young son in an early grave if Donovan finds them first. Dana’s one chance lies with a man she barely knows. Tall and darkly sensual, Caine Bradley is an undercover FBI agent who’s been posing as Walker’s henchman. Compelled to work with Caine to lure her ex out of hiding, Dana must fight against her attraction to yet another dangerous man. Is he who he says he is? Or is he really working both sides? Her passionate desire for him could be her salvation—or her greatest mistake…
“Non-stop action! Jeanne Adams turns up the heat in this thrilling debut featuring a desperate mother, sexy undercover agent, and a chilling ex-husband who will stop at nothing to reclaim his only son. DEAD RUN will leave you rapt and breathless.”
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