Saturday, April 28, 2012

Serial killer or Serial books?

       Your first novel is published. Is it set aside, forgotten like a serial killer who’s gotten the “book” thrown at him? Or, as you're starting a new book, is your first thought that fan who wanted to see more of your characters? With him in mind, do you continue the first novel as a series?
            Serials and trilogies are all the rage. As a reader, I tend to be quite judgmental of them, since they are difficult to do in a manner satisfying to both the readers who requested the sequel and  to new readers who have yet to bond with the characters. It’s not easy to get it right. I read a lot of series books. Jonathan Kellerman bears mentioning, his famous duo Detective Milo Sturgis and psychologist Alex Delaware are a team I never tire of following as they unfold countless murder mysteries in the streets and surrounding areas of Los Angeles. Kellerman uses very little carry over from book to book, endearing his writing to my taste.

            My list of grievances with series’ is as follows:
1.     One of the worst offenders is the second (or fifth) of a series that assumes the reader has not only read the first novel, but has read it yesterday. The reader feels as left out as a spouse at the other spouse's class reunion.
2.     My personal worst is the sequel that spends 50% of the book in a giant laxative dump, explaining every detail of what took place in the first book.
The reader feels like he is still at that reunion and being dragged around and introduced to everyone who could care less about meeting him.
3.     The one I'm getting very weary of is the dreaded, evil killer who always survives to make a comeback in the next novel, succeeding in being more annoying than recurring post-nasal drip. Patterson is fond of this repeated reincarnation in his Cross series. And I don't think Patricia Cornwell could write a book without a villain from a past novel playing a starring role, or at the very least the son, daughter, cousin, mother, father, or adopted child stepping in to repeat the pattern of the diabolical relative. What happened to creativity?

I do follow the series of my favorite authors. I’m their biggest fan and worst critic! I must give a mention here to Jeffrey Deaver who, along with Kellerman, does both stand-alones and series equally well, his Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance characters keep me spellbound from start to finish.
      As critical as I am of series, I’m reluctant to attempt one myself, although two of the characters from my first novel will be making cameo appearances in my second. I’m leaving the door to a series open!

Dear readers,
Once more I’d like to ask for your input; Do you read books in series’? Anything about reading them you find annoying? Favorites? Do you think today’s readers prefer books in a series?
Lots of questions. Pick one or two. I’d love to hear from you.
Happy reading,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chapters—The long and short of them

             In my suspense novel, She’s Not There, I kept the chapters short, ranging from one page to five or six. As a result, the novel contains 123 chapters, along with a prologue and an epilogue. Too many?
            I have to confess I originally modeled the book after James Patterson’s style. His chapters run from 2-5 pages long. Why so short? The popular answer is that today’s reader reads on the run, and short chapters make for a convenient break.
            Interestingly, my critique group has chastened me for doing such short chapters, and in the novel I’m working on now, I’ve acquiesced to longer chapters, seldom using one that is less than five pages long.
            But recently I received feedback from a reader who said she really appreciated the short chapters because a vision problem limits her reading time. Now I have to ask—if short chapters are convenient for many readers, are they annoying to the others?

            Some considerations:

1.    Long chapters. Writing style and genre need to be taken into account. Unlike Patterson, many authors are reluctant to break up a scene in the middle of a chapter. Part of this consideration for chapter length is decided by knowing your target audience and what they enjoy reading. In general, genre novels have shorter chapters than their literary cousins, but there seems to be no hard and fast rule governing length.

2.  Short chapters. Many readers prefer them. One thing to keep in mind, is if your manuscript is to be a print book, not just an eBook, short chapters will add to the length of the book, making it more costly to publish the print version. The first time I read one of Patterson’s books I remember thinking I was glad it was a library book. If I’d bought it I might have resented paying for all those blank pages between such short chapters.

3.   Chapter beginnings. Keep in mind, especially if you’re writing short chapters, that today’s average reader doesn’t spend a lot of time reading during one sitting. So remember to start chapters with a reminder of where the reader left off if the opening is ambiguous.

4.     Genre. I write suspense. I believe it’s safe to say the majority of suspense writers keep their chapters to what I’d call medium length, maybe in the eight to fifteen page range. Some author’s chapter length varies greatly, while others keep them all a rather consistent length. As a reader, I don’t really care, although I don’t like extremely long chapters.

5. Chapter endings. Traditionally, cliffhangers at the end of chapters have been recommended  as the right way to end a chapter in the mystery/suspense genres. They are indeed tantalizing to the reader and encourage him to keep reading. Food for thought: if today’s reader prefers short chapters due to his busy lifestyle, will he be frustrated by constant chapter-ending cliffhangers?

Dear visitors,
Please take time to answer two questions: First, do you find reading short chapters annoying? And second, if you enjoy short chapters, do cliffhangers at the end of chapters frustrate you if your reading time is limited?
Thank you for visiting this blog. Here’s wishing you a healthy and happy week to come.
Till next week,

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Suspense - With or Without a Shot of Romance?

Suspense – With or Without a Shot of Romance?

         I write suspense. When I was writing my first novel, one of my critics accused me of having written a romance novel because there was an element of romance within the story. I objected vehemently but changed the ending from happily ever after to maybe happily ever after.
Now I’m writing my second suspense novel and agonizing over the ending. The protagonist finding love seems to be a nice way to wrap up the story, but again, I’m being sensitive to possible genre-labeling. As a reader, I enjoy a romantic subplot and wanted to add that to my suspense storyline. That said, how much is too much?
            It becomes necessary to look at how the differing genres are defined.

1.     Romance. This hardly needs description. The romantic progression is the main theme. The lovers meet, there is conflict between them, they grow, they (in most cases) live happily ever after. No ambiguity.
2.     Romantic Mystery/Suspense. By definition, this category includes any mystery/suspense story in which the romance is the main plot but which also contains a large element of mystery/suspense. Today, this category has many offshoots, very often with the mystery and the romance getting equal billing, which is done frequently by some of the big names in romance writing. 
3.     Adding a romantic element to a mystery or suspense book. Want a touch of romance in your mystery?
a.     The romance has to remain a sub-plot and cannot dominate the story. The mystery/suspense must be the main focus of the story line.
b.     I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am weary of male protagonists who bed everything that moves. I read a book recently where on one page alone, the hero was mourning the death of an old girlfriend (One with whom he’d had goodby sex two weeks previously), getting ready for a romantic (sexual he was hoping) evening in his apartment with a new woman, a client in an investigation, and he was also regretting the fact that a woman he worked with and had formerly had a long time relationship with, had just refused to get back together with him because he’d had sex with the woman who’d gotten killed. It was a bit much for me, but I suppose male readers would be vicariously cheering him on.
c.      Long story short, romance entwined in a mystery/suspense novel should be believable. (Unless your target reader is male.!)
d.     I’d appreciate your feedback on this, but I’m thinking the final chapter should be suspense related and the story shouldn’t end with the culmination of a romance that developed within the novel.

Dear readers,
I hope all of you had a wonderful Easter weekend. 
We just survived Friday the 13th and the world is still functioning. I got some bad news on the thirteenth; a friend whose opinion I value told me my published ebook/printbook still had too many errors. This is a book that has been proofed multiple times, so it was a terrible blow, since redoing it will be costly in time and money. I’ve gotten great feedback about the story, however. Maybe those that get caught up in the story don’t notice. I’ll need to make a decision what to do about it, but meantime I’m trying to wrap up my second suspense book. The current dilemma is the ending, which inspired today’s blog.
Happy reading and writing,

Saturday, April 7, 2012



Heavily into editing and revising my second novel, now I’m questioning its ending. An avid reader, I’m possibly the harshest critic of endings. For me, the ending can determine my overall enjoyment of a novel, so I labor over just how to bring my own story to completion for its readers.
After deciding to write about endings, my first thought was “and they lived happily ever after.” Now that might work for fairy tales, but I’m writing suspense.  Do I really want a storybook ending?
            I’ve put together a list of different types of endings and how they might be germane to the story, assuming of course, that genre does have an impact on what type of ending an author selects.

1.     Happy endings  These are mandatory and expected in fairy tales, children’s books, and romance novels.
But just how happy to leave the reader when ending a thriller, suspense or mystery novel can be a quandary. Although I put an element of romance, or, I suppose I should call it angst-laden encounters between the sexes, in the genre of suspense it is necessary that they be secondary to the main plot. A writer of these genres must be careful that his ending never remotely resembles the ending of a romance  novel or even romantic suspense novel. In other words, the getting together of the protagonist and his/her romantic interest, should not be the main theme of the ending and be a promise, rather than a guarantee, that the two will continue on the path to romantic nirvana.

2.     Everything neatly tied up endings. Like deciding how much romance to end with, the author needs to decide whether to tie up all the loose ends. Should something be held back? As a reader, I say no. I like knowing the whys, and without them, I suspect the author of forgetting something.
A definite reader turnoff—a long dialogue between characters explaining all the loose ends. If using this method of revelation at all, keep it short.

 3.    Nothing ties up.  Seldom used in mystery/suspense, but sometimes as a shocker in horror or science fiction. A friend of mine just wrote a suspense/horror novella in which the two protagonists are murdered by the killer at the end of the book. This ending was so bold and unexpected, that I kind of liked it. But keep in mind, the average reader may not.

4.    Epilogues. These aren’t as common in the mystery/suspense genres, but as a reader I like them, especially if the story line is heavily into the personal lives of the characters. The reader wants to know how the characters fared after the dust settled.

5.    They just screwed with me!  This seems to be a favorite ending for screenwriters these days. I don’t know about everyone else, but for the most part, I hate this type of ending. When the final scene or page, throws out everything its follower spent time being engrossed in, the reader/moviegoer, feels cheated. Again, there will some who like it, but an author must always remember just who he is writing for and what they enjoy.

6.     Alternate endings. Why? As a reader, I avoid these gimmicky ploys to offer something different. I suppose you could look at them as a way to give each reader a satisfactory ending, but to me it’s an author cop-out. I want to know how the story really ended in the writer’s mind. The author has to figure out the best, most satisfying ending, not dangle choices in front of his readers.
7.  A final twist. Unlike number five, the ending twist can be a satisfying finale if done well.  I like a good twist, but they can be a tricky way to tie up the end of a novel. Don’t do one, just to get it in. Be sure it's one the reader will love!

Dear readers,

Here’s wishing you a wonderful Easter weekend, filled with people you love, the service of your choice, a basket of your favorite treats, and happy endings.

Till next week,