Don’t Let Thrillers Hog The Freezer!

We’re so excited to have with us today at WITS: Tiffany Lawson Inman -Naked Editor! She’s not only Margie Lawson’s pride and joy, she’s an amazing editor who can help take your writing from good to great! Here’s Tiffany:

Why is it, we think only of a high intensity thriller when we hear the phrase, “Gripping page turner?” Is it the: Non-stop action, fast pace, a billion plot twists, high stakes, extreme emotions and exhilaration?

The stereotype breakers are the ones that I like to read.  Lisa Unger, Tana French, Elliot Perlman, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson.  While reading  each of these author’s novels, I have been on the edge of my seat, literally.

Why? 

Was it because of a brawny uniformed man swooping in to save the day? The convenient mass market size and price?  

Nope.

I read books based on these three elements:

1. Writing craft
2. Character development
3. Plot

Well, gosh…ALL three of those elements are at the top of my list for reading other genres too.  Hmmmmm….

Precisely. 

What am I saying? Strive to make EVERY novel a Thriller. Not with hype and a million plot twists, but with quality writing.  Just because you are writing Women’s Lit or a Western Romance, doesn’t mean you scrimp on the high intensity.  It means add it in, in an alternative way. Learn how to tell your story.  Find out what works and what doesn’t.

That’s what those pesky NYT best sellers are doing.  They’ve learned how to ramp up the character’s emotional detail rather than the gory detail of a thriller. NYT best sellers have learned how to show action when it’s simply a scene in a kitchen or coffee shop.  You say your Romance novel isn’t about life or death?

Phooey! 

It is.  The stakes can be just as high as life or death because your character’s spirit will die if she doesn’t have her happy ending. Right?

I don’t care what genre you are writing, I want you to be at the top of your game.  One genre is not above another in terms of writing craft…or it shouldn’t be.  From writers that pump out a book every three months for Harlequin to writers that have been working on the same novel for years and make it to Oprah, if you are striving to be published in ANY capacity, I expect excellence on that page. Not because I am an editor, but, because I am a reader.

You don’t want your readers passing on your book because they have read the first chapter on their Kindle and they aren’t impressed.  You don’t want your readers struggling to finish your novel and in turn, never buying another of your books. 

You do want your reader to be dazzled and emotionally attached to your characters, plot, and sucked in by writing craft.  How are you going to do this?  By following in the footsteps of the THRILLER. Dig in to a quality thriller and take note of how they:

  1. show emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
  2. show active description
  3. show active dramatic moments within the dialogue
  4. show character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues

Here’s a strange question for you: What does The Shining have in common with Little Women?  

They are both good enough novels to go in the freezer.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a Friends reference.  Season 3, episode 13,  where Joey is so grippingly scared by what is happening in The Shining, that he puts it in the freezer when he’s not reading it.  To somehow stop or “freeze” the events happening in the book, so he can breathe.  

Episode summary:

Rachel gives Joey her well worn copy of Little Women to read; a book he didn’t think could match the gripping ability of his much loved page turner, The Shining. The last scene of the episode shows a distraught Joey, so emotionally caught up in the character’s lives, that he is then forced to put Little Women in the freezer too. 

This is what I want to read, every time I crack open a novel, thriller or non-thriller.

So, writers.  Is your novel “freezer-worthy?”

Let’s do a quick ‘n easy Naked Editor Dramatic Dissection on a snippet from the first chapter of: Darkness, My Old Friend by Lisa Unger.  

“I’m Eloise Montgomery.”

It took a moment. Then he felt the heat rise to his cheeks, a tension creep into his shoulders. Pop- visceral reactions as his response. Christ, he thought. “What can I do for you, Ms. Montgomery?” Showing us his thought and then the line – immediately gives us an invisible tone to his voice, without saying, “ he said, with an irritated tone.”

She looked nervously around, and Jones followed her eyes, to the falling leaves, the clear blue sky.  What a fabulous way to show setting and a little of what this lady is all about.  Why would she be looking at these things, unless she didn’t want to look at him directly? Unger is a master of active description. “Is there someplace we can talk?” Her drifting gaze landed on the house.  Interesting – she is showing a lot with the way this woman is approaching the situation. She doesn’t want to look at him, she doesn’t want to intrude on his home, and yet there is a look to the house, as if to will him to invite her in, without her asking. Lots of stuff going on here between, under, and above the actual words.  

Can’t we talk here?” He crossed his arms around his middle and squared his stance. Maggie would be appalled by his rudeness. But he didn’t care. There was no way he was inviting this woman into his home. A strong reaction and an internalization – both very informative about his character.  And this raises a lot of questions in my reader brain – why is he behaving like this.  What has this woman done to him? A lot of emotion here for a man who didn’t remember who she was at first.

“This is private,” she said. “And I’m cold.” She started walking toward the house, stopped at the bottom of the three steps that led up to the painted gray porch, and turned around to look at him. She still has not verbally invited herself in – but her actions say something else entirely.  Her dialogue is short and unapologetic, which raises MORE questions about who and what this woman is to the man in the scene.

He didn’t like the look of her so near the house, any more than he did those doves.  On the previous page he mentions having to upend the home of some doves that had taken residence in the light inside his garage. They didn’t belong in his use either.  Birds make messes.  This is a fabulous tie in to something he doesn’t have to describe again for us – we know he is thinking she is invading his space and is likely to make a mess. Very nice technique.

She was small-boned and skittish, but with a curious mettle. As she climbed the steps without invitation and stood at the door, Nice slice of character description here. Love her word choice. he thought about how, with enough time and patience, a blade of grass could push its way through concrete. Perfect use of active and emotion infused analogy.

He expected her to pull open the screen and walk inside, but she waited. And he followed reluctantly, dropping his gardening gloves beside the rake. The next thing he knew, she was sitting at the dining-room table and he was brewing coffee. Simple compression of time here.  Very smooth, no speed bumps for me.  

My assignment for you: Dig through your manuscript and make sure you are:

  1. showing emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
  2. showing active description
  3. showing active dramatic moments within the dialogue
  4. showing character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues

Go forth and write!

P.s. I’m on page 267 of Lisa Unger’s book now and, yes, I want to put it in the freezer.  

I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours! The Lovely Bones and The Secret Life Of Bees are two of my freezer dwellers… My body can’t handle those high impact emotions all at once.  It’s the curse of Theatre School and the ability to live through the minds of characters.

Which books on your shelves, have you running for the freezer?  Have you learned anything from them? Do tell!

  

Tiffany Lawson Inman is a freelance fiction editor. Find more about her at www.nakededitor.net   Updates on where she’s been guest blogging, where she’s going to be next, and other writing/editing tips at Naked Editor Blog: http://bit.ly/NakedEditorFictionWritingBlog  

Want to learn from Naked Editor? Tiffany teaches online at Lawson Writer’s Academy.  Check out the course she has coming up in January– you don’t want to miss it! http://bit.ly/LawsonWritersAcademyCourses

Comment today and you could win her lecture packet: Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene. An Actor’s Take On Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action — based on the current class she is teaching. 

 **Don’t worry, if you wanted to take the Triple Threat course and learn in the one-on-one atmosphere with Tiffany, this course will be back in the spring!

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41 Responses to Don’t Let Thrillers Hog The Freezer!

  1. Sharla Rae says:

    Tiffany, another stupendous blog! I love seeing and learning by examples and yours hit the target. Thanks so much.

    • Aww thank YOU for reading! And for being my first comment :)

      What’s your genre? What are your freezer worthy reads?

      Well if you liked this, then keep posted on what I am up to http://bit.ly/NakedEditorFictionWritingBlog because this winter I am going bonkers with blogs, and will be on several regular blog schedules starting in November on my site and others! Writing tips, line-by-line edits, dramatic dissections, class giveaways, post-NANOWRIMO specials on content editing! Weeeeee!

      Blogging, editing, online teaching, and my own writing…my poor hubby is going to think he married a laptop.

  2. Thank you WritersInTheStorm for letting me gab on your site today. And what a lovely snowy winterland day in Colorado to be a guest blogger in my PJs and slippers :))

    I have green tea steeping, a dog on one side of me, a cat on the other, and a laptop on my lap.

    Perfect day for writing. Cheers!

  3. Rayka Mennen says:

    Great post, Tiffany. Thanks for showing us how great craft techniques worked in the example.

  4. Jenny Hansen says:

    I didn’t see that episode of Friends, but I can imagine it perfectly. I LMAO just reading this post and imagining Joey shoving a book in the freezer.

    This has been such a crazy month that I’m not getting to properly appreciate your Triple Threat class. That just means I’ll have to take it AGAIN when I get back to the fiction you’ve made me long for. (Thanks a lot, missy!) :-)

    I was thinking about my freezer books: The book that scared the crap out of me was Intensity by Dean Koontz. When the heroine gets into the motor home, I got up and checked all the doors and closed all the shades. More recently, I was blown away by “How To Bake A Perfect Life” by Barbara O’Neal.

    Thanks for another stupendous post. You rock, girlfriend!

  5. Joy Shaw says:

    Powerful blog. I strive to add that “thriller” aspect in all I write. I have 2 WIP’s right now. One a Sci-Fi romance. The other a historical/paranormal romance. Both include elements of danger, plot twists and deep emotion. We’ll see how they pan out. Thanks for your examples of the craft.

    • You are welcome :) Happy I could share!

      Right on — Glad to hear you are pumping the high intensity, high quality craft into your work.

      And kudos for you for having the brain to wrap in and out of a historical paranormal – LOTS of things to work on in a book like that!

      Keep posted for more learning ops on my blog or https://twitter.com/#!/NakedEditor

      I might hold a contest during or right after Nanowrimo to give writers freakout break – I’d love to have a historical/paranormal writer join in the fun :)

  6. Great tips and I love that episode of Friends. I like how you worked that in!

    • OH yes, Friends :)

      I don’t think they would have ever imagined what kind of wisdom an editor from Colorado would pull from a Joey and Rachel scene, years after they went off air…Interesting, eh?

      The whole thing gives me happy tingles…Oh wait! That might be from the hot chocolate I’m drinking.

  7. Thanks for this post, Tiffany. Although I read everything (well maybe not steam-punk … since I am not sure I know what that is) … my passions are mystery, romantic suspense and paranormal suspense. I love to play a bit of humor or romantic elements, but expect my female characters to take charge and get the job done without being rescued by the tall, dark hunk. He can visit later when she’s not busy :) After reading Donald Maass, I thought … I don’t think I want to have every single chapter end with a hook, or put so much tension I wear my reader to a frazzle. Of course, he needs to be read more than once to get the point across. Two of my fav thriller writers are Harlan Coben and Tess Gerritsen. Intelligent, believable plots, realistic characters and good stories. I might stick them in the freezer, since I usually can’t crack one open unless I know I will finish in one long read.

    • LOL – I think I’d like to hang out
      with your female characters :)

      Maass is one of my favorites, as is Dwight Swain. I don’t think you have to leave every chapter with a hook either. At least not a huge cliffhanger slam bam action hook. I DO believe in the emotional hook for your reader to still have little hooks in their psyche to pull them over into the next chapter. That is a delicate process :)

      I tell my hubby when I need to be “pulled” out of a good read, so I can finish daily tasks and do stuff like shower. Haven’t used the freezer technique since I got married – he’s my life saver!

  8. Sherry Isaac says:

    I don’t believe it. Did I beat Gloria here? Neato.

    Tiffany, love how you drove this every-book-should-be-a-thriller arrow into the bullseye. Why would anyone want to read anything boring?

    Just finished reading Kate Brady’s One Scream Away. Totally freezer-worthy. I can’t put faves Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly or Harlen Coben down long enough to put them in the freezer. My non-thriller-but-still-freezer-worthy books? Pieces of My Sister’s Life by Elizabeth Joy Arnold, and Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.

  9. Hi, Tiffany! I got a snippet of what you offer for all genres this weekend. One of your course participants (Lori Freeland) read an excerpt of mine that involved a gaze. Great, right? No flying body parts. Wrong! She said, “according to Tiffany, there is something at the end of that gaze.” She challenged me to tell her what my protag SAW!

    The set up: Protag is crawling on the floor when she sees something in her periphery. It’s a pair of polished boots topped with blue jeans.

    The old sentence: “Her gaze traveled north. When she reached the spot she planned to skip, he squatted, legs separated”

    The new sentences: Molly sat back on her heels. Nice boots—western. His jeans weren’t tattered, but they weren’t new—faded at the knees, crisp, creased, ironed. North of the knees, muscled thighs stretched the crease into a pale, worn line. Molly realized where this was headed—to the four-way stop of double-stitched seams.
    Nope. Not going there.
    He took her there when he squatted, knees separated.

    Now, when I write, I have to think “what would Margie do” AND “what would Tiffany think?”

    FREEZER READS? Perhaps the Dean Koontz book with a bright yellow cover and a black spiral pattern– INTENSITY, maybe? I screamed at the victim/protag in that one. “NO! Don’t do that!” I spent half the read curled up in a ball worrying what HE was going to do next. (I have the book. I’m too comfy with my laptop to unfold and look.)

    It could also be WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. I so want to freeze that book until they change the ending. I cry each time I read it.

    GREAT post! Can’t wait for your class in January.

    • I am doing a cheerleading kick in my living room for you and your intensified writing!
      Lori deserves a gift basket….and I might deserve the chocolate from that basket?
      :)

      Yes. Gaze is one of the words on my bad list. And look how much stronger your writing is without it! Fabulous!

      See what you would have learned if you took my class? JK, I know you will be there in January – oh, and before the new year, I will have my lecture packets from Triple Threat up and running. So you don’t have to wait till Spring to learn anymore NakedEditor gems.

      Hmmm sould I make wrist bands? W.W.T.T.? What Would Tiffany Think?
      LOL!

  10. EEE! Just skimmed the previous comments, including Jenny’s. INTENSITY! YES!

  11. Ack, I’m geekin out! @lisaunger to me on Twitter :)
    “@NakedEditor Thank you so much for that careful reading and analysis of my work, and for all the kind words. It really means a lot.”

    I feel special. Not the short bus kind either.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That is TURBO-cool, Tiffany!!! For you and for WITS. Now I get to say, “Thassss right, Lisa Unger stopped by Writers In The Storm just the other day!” *blows on knuckles*

  12. Hey Tiffany –

    Woohoo! That’s a POWER Blog!

    Love your title. Love your analysis, Love how you pulled your ideas together and cinched the blog tight. And the blog read like writing it was a cinch. Kudos to you!

    Snicker, snicker. Funny homograph.

    Tiffany – You’re always special to me!

    Waving to Immersion Master Class grads, Rayka, Gloria, and Sherry — and Immersion Grad wanna-be Jenny!

  13. Alysia says:

    Thanks for a fabulous post. I write historical romance and fantasy/paranormal YA. Emotional intensity is my goal in both. My freezer books are Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen and A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark. BTW, I loved that episode of Friends. I think I have most of the episodes memorized.

  14. Hi Tiffany :)

    I love when Margie points us over here. It’s always a mini-workshop with you. My freezer-worthy books are always Peter Abrahams–love, love, love him, but I immediately thought of a book published in the 1970s-CRAWLSPACE by Herbert Lieberman about a young man who comes out to the country as a oil heater repair guy and begins to “nest” in the crawlspace below an old couple’s farmhouse. I can’t even walk past the crawlspace in my parent’s basement without having a visceral response because of that book. Awesome!

    Always a pleasure, Tiffany :)
    Laura

    • Oooooooh THANK YOU Laura! Maybe that’s how I should promote my next guest blog –
      “After reading a Naked Editor article, you will feel like you’ve attended a mini-writing workshop!” :) teehee.

      In middle school and high school I had nightmares about my best friends crawlspace in her basement. For somereason the one in my own house didn’t bother me a bit. But I bet would, if I read Leiberman’s novel !

      I think I will pass…although I’m thinking more about it and maybe it would be good to use for class examples?

      Thanks for popping over here! Pleasure is all mine :)

  15. The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans. Okay. I admit I had seen the movie, but even if I hadn’t the loving, detailed way he sets up the opening tells the reader something is going to happen, something bad. I was reading it at lunch and I kept having to put it down. I couldn’t bear it, couldn’t not bear it. Good points, Tiffany. Thanks,

    • With thrillers I feel like my heart is beating too fast to keep reading, and with thrilling-non-thrillers my emotional heart feels like it’s been sqeeeeeezed too hard.

      That’s the point when they go in the freezer!

      Thanks for reading, Thea!
      Now,I’m going to have to pick up the Horse Whisperer and see if I can bear it. :)

  16. Such an excellent post–I’ll be coming back to this one again and again as my checklist!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  17. Ani Louise says:

    Great post, thanks! I try to mix that thriller pace/emotion with humor in my writing. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this post for the next time I revise.

    All of Stephen King’s books are freezer books, and The Shining was way scarier as a book than a movie (the original or the remake). The Simpson’s did a great take on it though.

    The Lovely Bones was a freezer book for sure. Too bad I read it during jury duty where there was no freezer! Luckily, I had tissues.

    Living Dead Girl was a freezer book too. It was so sad and what happened to her was so awful that I had to keep putting the book down.

    • Ani, hahaha!
      omg –
      I can just imagine your fellow jury duty members and other court officials thought about the weepy juror number 8 gripping a blue novel and box of tissues!

      I think I might have to steer clear of Living Dead Girl. Good to know it was a gripper though!

      Thank you for stopping by!

  18. By selection from random.org ——-Angela Ackerman – YOU ARE THE WINNER ! !! !

    Happy Dance :)

    By January 1st you will be receiving a Triple Threat Behind Staging A Scene Lecture Packet, by yours truly! I’m contacting you on twitter to get an address from you via DM

    Darn it, if we lived closer I’d take you to coffee too!

  19. Tiffany! Excellent post. I cannot get enough of your teachings. I’ve already decided that I’m going to take more of your classes. I’m discovering things about myself more and more through Triple Threat ~ I’m SO glad I won! ;p

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