Using A Crowd To Create Tension In Your Story

By Sharla Rae

Personally, I dread crowds.

They make me feel a bit claustrophobic and oh, the noise! Perhaps this comes from working in my nice quiet office all day; I don’t know. I strive to hit a mall or grocery store on weekdays and not at end of the day when hungry, tired, short-tempered 9 to 5ivers race from work to do a quick and dirty grab for whatever they need. We’re talking lots of negative energy here and these scenes aren’t pretty!

There are many kinds of crowds, though and some are full of energy, the kind that makes excitement bubble beneath your skin and vibrates right down to the bones. This type of energy is contagious. You can literally feel and hear the high voltage zinging through all the people. Think favorite plays, concerts and sporting events. It’s exhilarating. The rushing crush to reach the parking lot afterward – no so much.

So what does this have to do with writing about crowds? We often forget how to use a crowd situation to our best advantage.

A crowd mentioned in passing like a piece of scenery, may have no purpose other than as a backdrop. That’s easy enough to write and in some cases that’s all that’s needed. But most of the time everything in a scene plays a specific part, even the scenery.

A Crowd is a great tool to create tension, good and bad. It can also be used to highlight character personality quirks. Consider some of the following.

  • A crowd might block a character from his immediate goal
  • An angry group of protesters brings out the character’s own emotions on the subject IMG_1538
  • Shoppers lined up at the cash register make the character desperately late
  • Family huddled together anticipating the arrival of a loved one who is late
  • People milling about waiting for good or bad news
  • Character amid a church goers who make her feel guilty or angry at their self-righteousness
  • Party guests mingling -character is a wallflower or the bell of the ball
  • The character hates the noise and jumps at every brushing touch, fearing the hidden enemy.

There as many crowds descriptions as there are kinds of people. Below are just few types of groupings. Keep in mind that both real and figurative meanings can be applied. Using figurative descriptions are a great way to show mood.

 1. It’s fairly common to see crowds of people described in terms of a collection of animals or birds. A fun site using animal groups is Fun With Words-Collective nouns.


  • A crowd compared to a stampeding herd of wild-eyed cattle
  • People compared to a swarm of angry bees? [A cliché but a good example]
  • One of my favorites: a congress of baboons (yes, that’s what they are called and think of the fun you can have with that one!)
  • A rabble of butterflies—think of the Legally Blond heroine with her friends.

2. Military terms: A platoon, corps, forces, brigade, battalion, squadron, regiment, troop etc.

3. Business or Professional: conglomerate, guild, night shift, a trust, alliance, executive branch, middle management, scientists, engineers, gardeners, flight attendants, etc. Example: a conglomerate of stiff-necked bores.

4. School Terms: faculty, class, fraternity, sorority, study group, teachers’ union etc.

5. Age and Gender: Grown women giggling like lovesick teens, Children mimicking their parents, senior citizens, daycare graduates, Yuppies etc.

6. We can also classify groups in terms of inanimate objects: trees, sticks, flowers in a garden, clay pots etc.

7. Race, ethnicity, and religious groups

Especially when using figurative descriptions make sure they fit the scene’s emotional atmosphere and/or the POV character’s opinion and emotions.

 If we used “a congress of baboons,” we’d expect the writer to be referring to a group of ridiculous people, since the connotation of calling even a single person a baboon, usually refers to silly or uncouth person. The description definitely sets a tone and expresses the POV characters opinion.

 Now here’s a list of phrases using adjectives and verbs to describe crowds. Enjoy.

A caucus of four
A clowder of greedy wildcats attacked the sales table.
Assemblage of peacocks at the opera
Battery of bullies in the making
Bored party guests
Bus swelled with all manner of humanity
Carried along by the flow of people
Caught in a clutch of
Children swarmed the ice cream truck
Clustered around the teacher
Congested hallways of the high school
Corralled like piglets in a playpen
Crush of teens at the burger joint
Enclave of artists
Exhilaration in simply being among them
Falling into a snake pit
Field hands, mill workers, and townies rubbed elbows
Flash mob
Fled the city in droves
Flock of ladies who glittered like jewels
Galaxy of movie stars
Gang parted like the Red Sea
Gawkers stood by like judge and jury
Good country folks at a hoedown
Herded people into
Hippy communes giving way to yuppie excutives
Hordes of bargain seekers
Host of loose-limbed little bodies
Huddle of plotting teens
Hustle and bustle of last minute shoppers
In yellow slickers like a caravan of ducks
Incredible din of chatter and laughter
Knot of dissatisfied union workers
League of mean girls
Legions of roaches
Like a night shift of sleepy-eyed custodians
Masses of people struggled to reach
Mean filthy lot
Militaristic faction of skinheads
Milling herd of cattle
Mingled conversations at the party
Mobbed the train depot
Not a gathering, but pure mayhem
Outfit from Red Rock Ranch
Pack of mad dogs snarling
Passel of teen rabble
Piranhas after a bit of meat
Playground jungle gym teemed with
Publisher’s author stable is full
Retinue of boot-lickers
Sandwiched our bodies among
Sea of heads bobbed and dipped
Secretarial pool
Shoulder to shoulder, stepping on toes
Squeezed into the elevator
Swamped with applicants
Thronged around the entrance of
Traffic jams blocked the


General names for Groups of people

Groups of People who work together

CC-Final-Small-Sharla has published three historical romance novels: SONG OF THE WILLOW, LOVE AND FORTUNE, and SILVER CARESS. SONG OF THE WILLOW, her first solo effort, was nominated by “Romantic Times Magazine” for best first historical.

When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books. You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm or on Twitter at @SharlaWrites.

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Down but Not Out: Finding Inspiration and Moving Forward

0011MichelleBy Michelle Gable

Earlier this year you might’ve read about the Parisian flat left abandoned for the better part of a century. Though photographs of the frozen-in-time apartment went viral only recently, I read about the discovery several years ago and it inspired my debut novel A PARIS APARTMENT.

It was late in 2010, on the heels of yet another heart-punching rejection, this time in the form of a failed five-way auction, which was not even the worst of it (see also: canceled book contract). I was feeling pretty blue.

I was also feeling pretty “maybe I should concentrate on my family and the career that pays me in dollars instead of tears.” It seemed logical for a second. Until, of course, I remembered that I’m a writer. I had to write.

I took a little break, a few weeks, where I didn’t think about the characters I’d already created or pay attention to the ideas trying to coalesce in my mind. Then I started feeling itchy, anxious, and I knew the self-imposed hiatus wouldn’t last.

But what would I write next? I wasn’t sure I could better my last novel which, as quickly as editors claimed to love it, was summarily rejected.

Then, a stroke of luck. First: an unusual discovery on another continent. Then an agent who noticed. Three weeks after my (self-perceived) going-down-in-flames, my agent Barbara Poelle emailed me the following link:

Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2010 15:35:11 -0400

Subject: I’m not sure why

But there is something AWESOME and haunting about this story and I think you should file it away for a book at some point.

And there it was: a forgotten, treasure-stocked Parisian apartment, once owned by a courtesan and later shuttered for seventy years. “Awesome” and “haunting” were merely the start.

Immediately I was drawn to the Mickey Mouse doll slumped in the corner, the grand but faded Ostrich, and the papers crammed onto a bookcase. My brain decided the documents were the courtesan’s private journals. It was the first seed of what would become A PARIS APARTMENT.

I spent months researching the apartment and the people who might’ve walked into and out of it. Alas, the facts remained sparse, not an altogether bad thing for a writer of fiction. When I began the novel we knew only that a young woman stepped out of the apartment in 1940, locked the door, and fled to the south of France. She never returned.

The woman was the granddaughter of Belle Epoque courtesan Marthe de Florian. In the flat was a portrait of Madame de Florian, as rendered by famed portraitist Giovanni Boldini. The artwork later sold for over two million euro at auction but was not the only valuable in the home. The apartment was filled, floor to rafters, with hundreds of museum-quality pieces.

What happened to Marthe de Florian? How did she acquire so many exquisite items? Her granddaughter died in 2010 but paid rent for all those decades. What kept her away from the apartment and its roomfuls of lavish furniture, the stacks of priceless artwork? And what must it have been like to step inside the home after its seventy-year slumber?

My novel explores these questions through the intertwining voices of Sotheby’s furniture expert April Vogt and Madame de Florian herself. Interestingly enough, it was the voice of Marthe that came the easiest.

I still wonder why news of the apartment went viral in 2014 in a way it did not in 2010. Was it the influence of the wildly successful, art world-based novel The Goldfinch? Perhaps the ever-growing appeal of Paris? Or was it merely due to more Twitter and more tweeting?

Whatever the case, the world has renewed interest in Marthe de Florian. And it makes sense. Who wouldn’t be entranced by her gilded, fairy-tale world?9781250048738_p0_v2_s260x420

About Michelle

Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. When not dreaming up fiction on the sly, she’s spent her career in finance with focus on private equity, mergers & acquisitions, and, most recently, investor relations and financial planning and analysis. Born and raised in San Diego, Gable currently resides in Cardiff by the Sea, California with her husband, two daughters, and one lazy cat. A Paris Apartment is her first novel and will be published April 22, 2014 by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books.

Find Michelle on online at, Twitter and Facebook.


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Do You Know Your Novel’s Theme?

Janice Hardy RGB 72By Janice Hardy

Theme is an often misunderstood and underused aspect of a novel. Years of English classes have made us think that theme is something reserved for literary novels or stories with deep, meaningful messages, not for commercial fiction and good old fashioned stories.

Total bunk.

Theme is a highly useful part of any novel, be it a light-hearted romp or a nail-biting adventure. It’s an element that gives greater meaning to the story and turns background fluff into substance. Basically, it gives a story street cred.

That’s because theme can tie individual pieces of a story together so they work on multiple levels. Descriptive details resonate with a character’s mood, or a plot point becomes a mirror to a internal struggle. Theme makes everything in the story matter.

Unsure what your theme is? Ask yourself…

What larger concepts do you want to explore with your novel?

Odds are there’s more to the story you want to tell than a series of plot events, no matter how cool those plot events might be (and if there’s not, that’s okay, too). Perhaps you’re exploring the nature of power, or what it means to be human, or how a good person can do bad things. Whatever it is, there’s something bigger in your story on a conceptual level. If someone asked you what your story was about, you might even use this to describe it.

Try making of list of the concepts in your novel. Are there any common elements developing? Can you see a bigger picture connecting them? If not, think about how you might connect them or how they might work together to create a larger idea.

If you had to pick one cliché or adage to describe your novel, what would it be? How might you adapt that as your theme?

It might sound silly, but clichés are practically theme shorthand. If it sounds like something you’d stitch on a pillow or Grandma has it framed on her wall, there’s a good chance it’s your theme. “Love conquers all” is a great theme for a romance novel that explores the struggles a couple goes through to be happy. “You can’t fight city hall” might work for a dystopian that explores the futility of trying to change the way society works. Or you might tweak it and say “you can fight city hall” to show that a small group of people can indeed change the world for the better.

Try picking the cliché that best fits your novel and see where you can use it to flesh out a scene or element in the story. Look for places where this theme can be illustrated. For example, show moments where “love” makes a difference, even if it’s obliquely. Themes don’t have to bang readers over the head to be effective.

What are common problems in the novel? Do they point to a theme?

If no cliché works, and there are no larger concepts behind the story, trying looking at the problems the characters face. Is there a common element to them? Are there similar obstacles or struggles to be overcome? For example, if you notice a lot of problems that deal with the protagonist trying to prove something about himself, then maybe the theme is about being true to who you are, or standing up to those who lack faith in you.

Try listing the problems in your novel and see if there’s a common thread that could be developed into your theme.

What are common character flaws or dreams?

The theme might apply to more than just the protagonist. Maybe every character is facing a similar problem, either internally or externally. If they all lack generosity in some way, perhaps the theme is related to greed or selfishness. What they hope for can also suggest a theme. If all the major characters wish for a life without fear, then overcoming fear might be your theme.

Try listing the flaws, then the dreams, of your major characters. Look for similarities that could hint at a larger theme.

Once you’ve found your theme, use it to deepen your novel by giving greater meaning to your scenes. While not every scene needs to be dripping with theme, even thinking about the bigger picture as you write could influence how you choose to develop those scenes–what details you use to describe the setting, how someone reacts, what happens overall. When faced with choices on what to use or do, think about how it might show the theme and if that will make the scene richer.

Do you use theme in your novels? Do you plan for it or does it just happen?

PYN_Ideas and Structure Cover.inddLooking for more on planning or revising your novel? Check out my newest book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel.

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel—including a one-sentence pitch, summary hook blurb, and working synopsis.

Over 100 different exercises lead you through the novel-planning process, with ten workshops that build upon each other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to do to start writing.

Find Exercises On:

- Creating Characters
- Choosing Point of View
- Determining the Conflict
- Finding Your Process
- Developing Your Plot
- And So Much More!

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to planning your novel, as well as a handy tool for revising a first draft, or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working.

About Janice

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy

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When You’re Stuck, Relax

by Orly Konig-Lopez

Last week my husband convinced me to go on a bike ride with him. My road bike has been in the basement on a trainer for well over a year. To say I was a bit nervous is an understatement. After all, in the basement I don’t have to worry about becoming a hood ornament or becoming intimately acquainted with a tree. But it was a gorgeous day, I was stuck with writing and it was time to squash that little negative devil in my head.

So off we went. A few minutes into the ride, hubby dropped back and said, “Don’t fight the bike. If you relax, it’ll be much easier.”

Okay. Relax. Easy. I can relax. Yeah, not so much.

Throughout the next two and a half hours, I’d hear “ReeeeeLaaaaxxxxx” from up ahead. I’d loosen my death grip on the handlebars and let the bike flow. And guess what? It got easier. And fun.

Somewhere around mile eighteen and half way up a steep uphill, I started laughing. Can’t breathe, legs are melting jello, and I’m laughing like a lunatic. Hubby was sure I’d finally snapped. Nope. Well sort of. It was one of those, “how did you not see this answer before” moments.

One word … Relax.

Relax about process. As writers many of us become obsessed over the process of writing. Laura Drake even wrote a post about Process Envy (yes it’s a real thing!). Are you making daily word count? Should you have a daily word count or a weekly goal? Do you write every day? Are you writing at the same time each day? Do you plot first or dive straight into the deep end?

I’ll admit to process envy. I love reading how authors I admire do it. Maybe if I try it their way, I’ll find that elusive secret to writing greatness. This latest WIP has had a lot of starts and stops. I tried plotting. The story refused to be caged. I tried daily word counts. Life refused to cooperate. Guess what happened when I relaxed about the process? Yup, I was able to … are you ready? … write. Really write. The moment I released my death grip on controlling the process, the words flowed. And it was fun.

Relax about finding the words. Do you edit as you write or dump words onto the page without editorial censorship? What do you do when that perfect word is hiding behind some random thought?

This was circulating around Facebook several months ago. I had to print it out and paste it next to my desk. I’m not a clean first drafter. There are times I stare at the computer, cursor mocking me with each passing blink over that one word that will not come out to play. Yesterday when I realized I’d spent counting 23 cursor blinks instead of moving the sentence forward, I wrote “something fresh here” and moved on. The rest of the scene flowed and a few paragraphs later, that “something fresh” showed up.

Relax about the ‘what next’. Do you have an agent “hit list” before you’ve even finished the first draft? Are you thinking about the best submission times before you’ve completed revisions? Do you worry about whether the book you haven’t started writing yet will sell as well as the one you just released? Are you worried about where the next idea will come from?

You can stress yourself into total paralysis. There are a lot of things that are out of your control. There’s no way to know what market demand will be in a few month, a year, two years. There’s no way to know if an agent will connect with your story even if she tweeted that she had a dream about purple flying unicorns and your book has purple flying unicorns.

Think about why you started writing. Let the love for telling stories be your motivation, not signing the agent or selling lots of copies. That doesn’t mean you abandon those goals. Not by any stretch of the imagination. If you give yourself permission to relax about the things you can’t control, the parts you do have control over – writing the best damn book you can – will be so much easier.

Relax. Such a simple word. So hard to do. I’ve found myself repeating hubby’s “ReeeeeLaaaaxxxxx” when the shoulders start to bunch up and slamming my head into the desk sounds less painful. I don’t always succeed. But when I do, it’s so much more fun.

What’s your solution to those “stuck” moments?

About Orly

Orly Konig-LopezAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.  When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website,


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Performing Your Book

Barbara Claypole WhiteBy Barbara Claypole White

Before the launch of my debut novel, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, I lost 5lbs to performance terror. Painfully shy as a teenager, my mother and music teacher once had to conspire to sneak Valium backstage so I could perform a solo in the high school band. (It’s okay, we’re talking about the seventies.) Bottom line? I was never having a career that involved podiums or microphones.

The day of my first author reading, I attained a catatonic state of anxiety so complete that I believed my heart would stop as I opened my mouth to whisper, “Hello, I’m Barbara.” For someone with high blood pressure and a family history of heart troubles, that’s not an irrational fear.

Three months ago I launched my second novel, THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, with an extra 5lbs and a normal case of the jitters. What had changed from one book to the next? Endless exposure to my fear, which is standard treatment for an anxiety disorder? A slew of polished performances? Nope. Acceptance was the key.

I learned to accept that my flaws are part of my performance. Peel back my nerves about author events and you reveal the underlying fear—that instead of projecting the professional author persona, I would crack jokes, loose track of my thoughts, rumble off on tangents, and speak from the heart. Maybe even get a little tearful or start talking about my favorite gin. I routinely do all these things in my author events and they seem to work. As I open myself up to strangers, they open up to me. The comment I hear most often is, “You’re so real.” (And then we have great discussions about my favorite topic: invisible disabilities.)

Does this mean I’m a flake who doesn’t prepare her talks? Au contraire, my friends. I prepare the heck out of every event, but I leave enough wiggle room so that I can be me—so that I can veer off on tangents and go wherever the mood takes me. I like to think of it as prepared spontaneity.

Back to basics, how do I achieve a non-catatonic state of performance being?

(1)  I go to loads of readings and watch A-list authors. I take notes and time their presentations. (I like to figure out how long they spend discussing the book, how long they read for, how long they leave for questions, etc.)

(2) I practice, practice, practice…. (Often I do this in the car, which means I get very strange looks at stoplights.)

(3) When I’ve figure out what I want to say, I give a dummy performance to the toughest critic I know: my husband. I’m cheating a little here, since my beloved is an internationally-renowned academic and a master performer. Really, I couldn’t pick a better coach.

(4) After my husband has told me what works and what doesn’t, I create a crib sheet with bullet points. As long as I cover those bullet points, I can be loosey-goosey. Also, if I get too far off track, I can glance down to see what I haven’t covered and rein myself it.

(5) Then I close my office door and using my crib sheet, I practice with a timer until the presentation works. This gives me a sense of how much I can talk around one particular point (for example, why I write about mental illness).

(6) I prepare several presentations of different length. This is key for book clubs. Some book clubs want a real performance; others want a brief introduction before discussion time. Again, if you’re prepared, you can seem spontaneous (even though you’re really not).

(7) I devote a huge chunk of time to practicing the reading portion of my event, marking words I stumble over or places where I want to pause to give backstory, inject an aside, or simply make use of silence.

(8) When my brain does implode mid-flow, which it did twice in a recent event, I turn it over to the audience and say, “There goes my middle-aged woman’s brain. What was I talking about?” When people shout out answers, you get to play twenty questions. :-)

(9) If the nerves return to haunt me, I remind myself that I AM the leading expert in the world on my novel. Yes, we all make mistakes in research, but nothing you say about your characters or why you wrote the story can ever be wrong. You are performing your book. This is your passion, your creation, your baby. Be yourself and be proud.

What tricks do you have for getting through author events or other speaking engagements?

In-Between HourAbout Barbara

Barbara Claypole White writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina. English born and educated, she’s married to an internationally-acclaimed academic. Their son, an award-winning poet/musician, attends college in the Midwest. His battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have inspired her to write love stories about damaged people. THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt, won the 2013 Golden Quill for Best First Book. Barbara’s second novel, THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, a story of two broken families released on December 31.

Connect with Barbara on her website, Facebook or Twitter

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Hunting Down A Sleuth: Creating a Crime-Solver Readers Will Love

SusanSpann_WITSby Susan Spann

Sherlock Holmes. Jane Marple. Jack Reacher.

Three famous names with something important in common … aside from the fact that each of them solves crimes in mystery or thriller novels.

What is this common element?

Readers love them.

The key to writing successful mysteries and thrillers doesn’t lie in careful plotting, clever crimes, or sneaky suspects. The heart of these stories beats in the chest of the sleuth.

Everyone enjoys a puzzle, and a tightly-woven plot is important, but readers return to a mystery (or thriller) series because they want to spend more time with a favorite hero(ine). Solving the puzzle is much more fun when you “ride along” with a friend, and a well-written sleuth is a reader’s friend indeed.

So before you sit down to commit—and solve—the initial crime in your manuscript, hunt down a compelling hero (or heroine) your readers will remember long after they turn the final page.

How do you “find” such a person? Let’s look at a few of the characteristics that most successful sleuths (and thriller-heroes) have in common:

1. Unusual Occupations. Many authors assume a sleuth must be a professional. The mystery and thriller shelves are filled with FBI agents, police, and forensic specialists doing their best to catch the killer and save the world.

But with so many “standard” crime solvers already in circulation, sometimes readers like to see a different kind of sleuth.

Brother Cadfael is a monk. Miss Marple, a widow. My own detective, Hiro Hattori, is a ninja.

Giving your hero a lesser-known occupation opens new worlds for the reader and also allows you a different range of crime-solving skills. Be creative! Your readers will love the change.

2. A Limp, An Eyepatch, and Battle Scars. In his popular screenwriting how-to, SAVE THE CAT, Blake Snyder recommends giving every character “a limp and an eyepatch” to distinguish him (or her) from the other characters in the scene. The idea applies to novels, too, and a good detective always has an unusual physical characteristic (or “tell”).

The characteristic can either relate your sleuth’s physical appearance—Is he missing an eye or a finger? Does she dye her eyebrows green?—or you can use it to establish a mood or reaction. My detective, Hiro Hattori, has a tendency to raise an eyebrow for ironic effect. His sidekick, Father Mateo, runs a hand through his hair when distressed or upset.

In addition to adding uniqueness and depth of character, physical characteristics can become an effective shorthand for a character’s mood or thought.

3. And Also, a Trunk Full of Baggage. Special Agent Gibbs (of NCIS) lost his wife and daughter (they were murdered by a drug lord). Jack Reacher has a shadowed past, and lives like he’s on the run. Miss Marple never married, and she’s crotchety as the day is long.

Nobody’s perfect, and your sleuth should not be, either. Every person has experienced disappointment, injury, and unresolved issues (or broken dreams). Your hero needs to suffer, too.

Whether the suffering happens onstage (for example, the death of a family member) or off (a tragedy or problem in the past) is up to you. But you must do something. Readers respond to damaged heroes. Watching a character overcome her own problems to help someone else is compelling on many levels.

Take a hammer to your sleuth’s emotional kneecaps. Use your plot or series to help him recover.

Your readers will love you—and your detective—for it.

4. Keep the Skeletons IN the Closet (Mostly). A good detective or thriller hero must feel like a real person, which almost always involves an extensive and detailed backstory.

Readers hate backstory. Flights of memory, or fancy, interrupt the flow of the narrative and distract from the sleuth’s objective: solving the crime.

The answer? Treat your detective’s backstory like a good mystery: drop some clues, but don’t reveal the entire thing. Spread the story across the series. Hide it in the stories like an Easter bunny dropping chocolate eggs. (Don’t spend too long on that metaphor. You don’t want to think about where those “chocolates” come from…)

By keeping your hero’s skeletons IN the closet, except for occasional peeks, you’ll keep your readers engaged, intrigued, and eager for the next reveal.

5. It’s Dangerous to Go Alone … Some sleuths do solve crimes alone, but most of them have a sidekick, a pet, or both. Sidekicks serve an important purpose (which, hopefully, I’ll get to share in more detail next month). Pets do too. They humanize the hero(ine) and draw the reader closer. Incorporating one, or both, allows the writer to bring the reader right into the story, alongside the sleuth, and to see the sleuth behaving like a human being as well as a hero.

The choices are limitless, and the options as wide as your imagination.

You don’t have to integrate all of these tips to create a fantastic, compelling sleuth. Select the ones that work for you, and ignore the ones that don’t. Even if you work with only one or two of these options, you’ll find your hero becoming increasingly three-dimensional and intriguing … characteristics that keep your readers coming back for more.

Have you ever thought about writing a mystery? How about a thriller? Do you use some or all of these elements when creating your protagonists? (They work in other genres too, you know!)

9781250027054_p0_v2_s260x420About Susan

Susan Spann is a California publishing and business attorney who also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Her second novel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases July 15, 2014. Susan’s legal practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website,, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).


Posted in Blogging Guests, Craft, Susan Spann | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Sharing the Love at Writers In The Storm

Scan 3We’re excited to announce that Writers In The Storm was named in the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest “101 Top Blogs for Writers” list! And to show our thanks to our amazing guest bloggers and readers, we’re throwing open the comments today for a little “Pimp and Promote.”

How does this work?

To quote Genie in Aladdin, “There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos” …

  • Pimp out somebody else’s work – this can be a favorite author, blogger, post or book you’ve read, a wonderful teacher or just someone who had profound influence on you as a writer or a person.
  • Promote one of your projects that you’re excited about – a hobby, a blog, a book, a new direction your writing is taking you. You decide. Just tell us all about it in the comments! The rest of us will jump in and “ooooh and coo” at you, and likely promote your project even further (because we’re just so darn excited today).

Better yet, do one of each! And please peruse the comments. You might find something else you like in the plethora of pimping that’s about to ensue.

Thanks again for making WITS one of the top writer’s blogs! We appreciate you.

~ Fae, Jenny, Laura, Orly and Sharla

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