I promised to tell you more about one of the writing workshops I attended at ChipLitFest last weekend, so here goes…
Tips that I picked up in the hour-long session (too short!):
1. A book with no tension = a bored reader.
2. You need tension in every kind of novel or story – not just a thriller.
3. One way of creating tension is to raise questions, which you don’t immediately answer.
4. If you understand how to create tension you’ll have a strong narrative and a reader who can’t help but keep turning the page.
5. You can generate a lot of tension from setting (eg: a remote place or somewhere claustrophobic).
6. Secrets build tension, so do obsessions and obsessive behaviour.
7. Journeys can add tension. What is the character going to find/discover when they arrive?
8. Time pressure is a good way of building tension into a story. Think about your ‘ticking clocks’.
9. Don’t spell things out. ‘Show, don’t tell’, as the mantra goes. If you bring the reader into the setting, they are much more involved and engaged and you can generate more tension that way.
10.Think about including ‘cliff-hangers’ or questions at the end of chapters or sections.
The Elevator Pitch
One of the exercises they set us to do, was to work on our ‘elevator’ pitches.
You’ve heard of those, I’m sure. Imagine you find yourself in a lift with an agent or a publisher (or Gaynor Davies from Woman’s Weekly, if, say, you’ve gone on one of their fiction writing workshops).
“Tell me what your book (or serials)’s about,” the person-you-want-to-impress says, pressing the button for the sixth floor. You’ve got as long as it takes for the lift to reach the floor (no more than 30 seconds) – at which point the agent-or-publisher will get out and you’ve lost her – to answer that question. You don’t have time to waffle so, whether it’s a novel you’ve written or maybe even a short story or serial, you should have your elevator pitch ready.
In an ‘elevator pitch’ you boil your story down to just a couple of lines – and, specifically, to where the tension is.
I’m not sure if this is what Emily Barr used as hers – and I think you’re allowed a few more words than this (I’ve heard ’25’ quoted)- but I noticed the ‘strap line’ on her novel ‘The Sleeper‘ is:
‘Two strangers meet on a train. Only one gets off.’
Ooh, that’s good, isn’t it?
There’s a little more about the ‘elevator pitch’ on the Writers’ & Artists‘ website here.
I heard another quote about elevators and writers recently, by the way.
An author was asked “So, how do you write your novels?”
And he answered, “Well, I just get into the elevator and press the button for the basement.. ” In other words, he just keeps going down and down, deeper and deeper into the characters.
I rather like that..