Keeping You in Suspense- by Donna

There is nothing better than fall in Colorado. As I write this, a horse drawn wagon filled with pumpkins and kids just clip-clopped down my street to the accompanying swirl of bright red leaves. There is a fresh dusting of snow on the Rocky Mountain Park’s 14ers in the distance, and the porches lining my neighborhood are decorated with ghosts and witches blowing in the crisp breeze. So I think it’s only natural my thoughts have turned to … SUSPENSE.

And that leads me to a confession. I know I’m going to date myself, but I loved Dark Shadows. I rushed home every afternoon after elementary school with my best friend, Marsha Courtney, to park in front of the television and scare ourselves silly. When Quentin’s Theme came on I would watch the screen through carefully spread fingers. So wanting to see—but so not wanting to see—the next scene. I happened to watch an episode of the old TV show a couple of years ago and was shocked at how different it was from my memory—horrible special effects and over the top camp—but it was the beginning of my love of suspense. Later in life that passion would become a love of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels (Check out The Ivy Tree) and a wide variety of crime/detective mysteries. The common denominator remained the same. I loved not knowing for sure how things would turn out and I especially loved it when the stakes were dangerously high for the main character. Maybe it was life or death or maybe it was the potential for love lost—but there was a chance I might be surprised at the outcome—and that kept me reading.

In researching, I found “suspense” defined as a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety about the outcome of certain actions with tension being a primary emotion. Bingo. That delicious combination of anticipation and uncertainty about the future is exactly what makes me love a good suspenseful read and it made me start to ask some questions about my current work in progress:

 What’s at stake for my main character? Physically? Emotionally? Both?
 Is there a real possibility of unpredictability of the outcome?
 What’s the risk involved?
 Is there doubt about the outcome?

According to Greek philosopher Aristotle, suspense consists of having some real danger looming and a ray of hope. To me that’s a perfect definition for “narrative tension” and I hope it’s in every chapter I write. So join us this week as we explore the concept of suspense and let us know what you think.

Happy Halloween!

Follow Friday- Emma Dryden

I was very excited to recently learn I have the opportunity to work with editor extraordinaire, Emma Dryden. Emma brings over twenty five years of publishing expertise to her consultancy service for authors and has edited books that have won the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, National Book Award nomination, Coretta Scott King Author Award, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustration Award, Indies Choice Book Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Award, Museum of Tolerance Children’s Book Award, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, Christopher Award, Jane Addams Book Award, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and National Parenting Publications Gold Award. Wow! That’s like editorial royalty!

As she describes on her website “My expertise is working with authors to help define, enrich, and craft their work to make it viable for the current marketplace. I am a skilled fiction, fantasy, and poetry editor and my interests range from picture books and graphic novels to humorous middle grade, high fantasy, and edgy teen fiction – and anything in between!”

Her company, Drydenbks, offers:
* freelance editorial and creative services to children's book authors, illustrators, agents and publishers;
* workshops and presentations on subjects pertaining to the children's book industry;
* consultancy services to administer direction and advice to authors, illustrators, editors, students, and anyone seeking to break into or expand their presence in the children's publishing arena.

So I encourage you to visit and become a Facebook fan. Or follow Emma @drydenbks on Twitter.

Characters Build Character by Talia

Last week I talked about how pieces of my characters come from people I know. And I don’t think it can be helped that all of my characters have pieces of me. But my favorite characters are the ones who show up fully formed in my head, chattering away until I get them down on paper. Since I write in first person, these characters often become the primary character for my novels, and if I’m lucky, they don’t stop talking until I’ve typed the words, “The End.”

Yes, sometimes I do worry that I must fall off the very deep end of even Donna’s Texas-style crazy scale. But it’s these characters who teach me the most, by letting me see and experience the world through their eyes. They’ve also given me something I never expected: a little nerve.

You see, despite their different backgrounds, situations and conflicts, all of my main characters share a common trait. They’re invisible. Whether it’s by circumstance or design, they are safe in the shadows. But it’s by stepping outside of their comfort zones and letting others in, that each discover their true potential.

For Berry Fields, the teenage private investigator in SPIES AND PREJUDICE (Egmont 2012), staying in the background is a necessity, and keeping boys away is a conscious choice. So when Tanner Halston sits down across from her and flashes a perfect grin, she’s not prepared:

“My breath momentarily catches in my throat. Oh hell no. My stomach did not just flip inside out. I’ve seen countless men look at a girl in just the way that Tanner looks at me now. Right before they screw their secretary, the grocery store clerk, or some random coed in a diner. It’s nothing to get worked up over.”

I can relate. I wasn't at all prepared for the friendly, talented writers who sat across the table from me at my first conference critique. I didn't even know I needed the YA Muses until I found them, and now I don't know if I could do this without them.

Evoney Slater from my shiny new WIP, is literally invisible. She’s a ghost who only appears to the living as an omen of their impending death. She knows better than to try to get involved in what’s left of their lives, until she doesn’t:

“Most of the time, I just stand there and stare at the person staring at me, watching their facial expressions change as I vanish before their eyes. That’s what I’m going to do now. Why not? He’s not so bad to look at. “Trust me, you don’t want to know me.” Crap. Did I just answer his question? Edgar and his effing improv.”

I was the same. Always thinking about writing a book but never doing it. Until I did. And then there was no going back.

In BANDIA (Flux 2012), Brianna Paxton is panicked to realize that after years of being invisible to boys, Blake Williams suddenly sees her:

“I straighten my spine and walk to the island, taking a position next to Haley where I am sure to disappear.

It will only be a second before he looks back at Haley.



Any second now.

Blake doesn’t look away, so I do. I concentrate on one blue shoe. Stupid, uncomfortable, way too high shoe. Like running was ever an option.”

Sometimes I feel like disappearing too. But high heels or no high heels, running is not an option.

Three characters who’ve spent years lurking in the background, hiding from the world and hiding from themselves. None can discover their true potential until they are thrust outside of their safety net, but no journey worth taking is without complications, conflict and heartache.

Is it any wonder I’ve started to ponder what’s at stake for me as I step out of the shadows? Well, if Brianna can face her darkest fears, and Evoney can confront life and death, and Berry can learn to trust in love, what do I have to lose by actually writing a book instead of just burying my nose in one? What do I have to gain?

I guess I’ll have to wait for the second act to find out. But in the meantime, I’m taking a page from my characters and enjoying the journey.

Confession by Katherine

Katherine Longshore Reply Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Little known fact:  I wanted to be an actress.  Spent several years studying it.  I even got an acting scholarship to my (first) college.  Live theater, the murmur of the audience, the smell of the dust and sweat in the costumes, the creak of the floorboards.  The applause.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the applause.  But the best part?  Getting into character.

I was taught acting by a believer in the Stanislavski system – related to Method acting – where the actor must discover ways to become the character in order to represent her fully onstage.  Every scene, every action had to be questioned (which, at the age of 18, became a little tedious, but now I get it).  Why does the character arrange the flowers in this scene?  What is her motivation?  What does she want?  And what will she do to get it?  Not in this scene, or even the next, but is she thinking about what she will do in Act II already?  And how do you convey that?  With a look?  A gesture?  A stillness?

Brilliant stuff, right?  So what does all this have to do with writing fiction?  Everything.  But you’re clever people, you’ve figured that out already.  Because what do we do when we write a scene?  We ask ourselves the question, “What does my main character want?”  But Stanislavski and I are asking you to go a little deeper.  Walk in your character’s shoes.  Sit for a minute in his chair.  Listen to the silence or the chaos that surrounds him.  Drink his cold cup of tea.  Feel that.  And write it down.

You don’t have to run out and take an acting class to get into character.  You can do it at home.  Answer Veronica’s questions.  Think of some of your own.  But if you want to try, go for it.  It’s awesome.  You get to do things you’d never do in real life:  slap people, kiss strangers, dress up as the opposite sex, spout gibberish, become a queen or a mad man or Blanche DuBois (one role I always coveted and never got to play).  But then, you kind of get to do that, anyway, don’t you?

End note:  What happened to my dream of becoming an actress?  Halfway through my college career I took my first trip abroad.  And round about month three, in the deserts of Morocco, having seen real faces and characters and life and death and fear and pain and joy, I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a windowless black box.  I’ve done lots of plays since then, and hope to do more.  I admire the people who make a living at it.  I admire even more the people who strive to – therein lies passion.  But me?  I’m much happier where I am.

The YA Muses Character Worksheet

There are plenty of writing tips and exercises out there, but there's only one YA Muses Character Worksheet.

This is a fun little questionnaire we bat around from time to time to loosen up the writing muscles. Try it with your protagonist. Try it again with your antagonist. Just try it.
You might be surprised...

1) If your character was an animal, he/she would be a:

2) Your character's favorite song/type of music is:

3) Their favorite ice cream flavor is:

4) If your character had an hour to do anything they wanted, they would:

5) Their phrase to live by is:

6) If your character walked into the room right now, you would notice/say:

7) You love your character best when he/she:

8) Your character bugs you when they:

9) If they suddenly appeared in Las Vegas with $500 in their pocket, the first thing they would do is:

10) The one thing you can't forget about this person is:

Now off with you. Go forth and write!
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