The Da Vinci Code – Decoding Plot-Driven vs Character-Driven Novels

Robert Langdon, literature’s most famous symbologist, is called in to solve a bizarre murder at the beginning of The Da Vinci Code. The murder sets the plot in motion, driving the hero into a race to solve the puzzle before the villains. Certainly, The Da Vinci Code must be a plot-driven novel.

BUT Robert Langdon uses his specialized knowledge to advance to the next step in solving the puzzle, so The Da Vinci Code must be a character-driven novel.

Writers have been arguing the advantages and disadvantages of plot-driven versus character-driven novels since the birth of genre fiction. At a recent workshop, best-selling thriller writer, William Bernhardt, had a different take.

Plot and character must be interwoven for a story to be successful. The character is chosen for the plot. The plot is chosen for the character.

Every scene should have something happening that changes the protagonist’s life. That change, in turn, affects the next plot twist. The character is revealed by how she reacts under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.

So don’t try to define your novel as plot-driven or character-driven. To be successful, it has to be both.

Advertisements

The Surprising Secret of Bestselling Fiction? Using Non-Fiction

Here’s proof that thriller writers have more fun.

In his workshop on using non-fiction techniques in fiction, bestselling thriller author, Douglas Preston, pointed out that successful thrillers like Coma, The Firm and Raise the Titanic are, at their core,  non-fiction. So how do you integrate your passions about the real world into your fictional world?

First, write down three areas of your specialized knowledge. I chose Travel Writing, History and Public Relations for the federal government. You might think that last one is boring, but consider where Dan Brown’s latest blockbuster, The Lost Symbol, is set.

Now write down five goals you want to achieve before you die. As you can see from my author bio, I’ve been lucky enough to experience many wonderful adventures. In the workshop, I came up with five more:

  1. Go on another African safari, this time with my family.
  2. Go on an Alaskan wilderness trip.
  3. See the Taj Mahal.
  4. Stay at one of those huts perched over the beautiful waters off Bali.
  5. Raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with my family.

The goal of these exercises is two-fold. You not only should integrate your life into your fiction, but integrate your fiction into your life. For instance, if your novel involves a car chase, go to a hands-on lesson on race car driving. You’ll not only have a blast, but will use that reality to make your fiction more believable.

In my case, I used my interest in history and my goal to see the Taj Mahal by integrating the fascinating story behind the Kohinoor Diamond into The Seventh Stone. Preston told us his readers thank him for teaching them about an aspect of the real world through his entertaining stories. As a reader, I always enjoy learning through fiction, whether it’s historical, an insight into another culture or a scientific concept.

So go ahead and pursue your passions in your real life so your fiction can be more “real.” Your readers will thank you.

Jurassic Park meets Inception in New Thriller Book

I am thrilled and relieved to announce that The Emerald Tablet, the second book in the Christa Devlin series, is now available as an ebook and print book on Amazon. Check out this description of what I’ve been working on for 2+ years:

Click cover to buy it now.

Click cover to buy it now.

NEW HIGH STAKES THRILLER FROM BEST-SELLING AUTHOR ASKS READERS, WHAT DO YOU DREAM?

Trapped between a man who vows to save her future and a lover from her past, Princeton historian Christa Devlin is thrust into a heart-pounding quest for one of the world’s most dangerous and powerful artifacts. . . the Emerald Tablet. Last seen in the hands of Alexander the Great, the Emerald Tablet can open the portal between life and afterlife, between man and spirit and, Christa hopes, between her and the traumatized mind of her beloved father. Her ruthless adversary will stop at nothing to find the Tablet first and weaponize its power using the mind-controlling nanobot technology at the island’s prototype Dream Resort. Christa races through the jungle-choked island where the imagined becomes real, prehistoric animals morph into nightmarish beasts and love can twist into evil. She must find the Emerald Tablet and solve its ancient puzzle before the world spirals into a catastrophic future and she loses her father forever.

FROM THE AUTHOR: What if technology could tap into your inner thoughts and make the imagined become real? Some might develop this as the ultimate amusement ride or, taking it deeper, realize that it’s a portal to our inner soul, a way to strip away physical limitations and discover what truly makes us human. But this concept is as old as humanity. I knew little about the Emerald Tablet before writing this book. The more I learned, the more it emboldened me to weave its history into an action-packed adventure that, I hope, inspires as well as entertains. It’s a thrill ride through history, from Merlin and dragons, to the Greek Minotaur, to a mysterious vanished Mesoamerican civilization, looped together by the Emerald Tablet.

Thank you to all my readers and friends for your support! If you choose to buy it, I hope you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, I hope you review it on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

The Surprising Secret of Thrillers Readers Love

 

As thriller authors and fans, we scour the virtual shelves for stories that weave in several key elements, but which is the one that keeps you turning pages? Is it…

High Stakes  Often, the future of the world is held in the balance, whether it’s an evil conspiracy to control financial markets, a bio-weapon unleashed in the water supply, or a powerful artifact that will alter the destiny of humankind. I wove all three into my first thriller, The Seventh Stone.

Seemingly Impossible Odds  As in some of my favorites: Indiana Jones and his professor dad against the Nazi juggernaut; Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast against his clever but deranged brother; a teenage girl who must fight to the death to survive gladiatorial-style games in the Hunger Games.

Universal Theme  The search for truth about the fundamentals of the Christian faith, the utter determination of an innocent hobbit to right a wrong, underscoring the value of human life by risking, sometimes sacrificing, your own.

The Ticking Clock, the Moral Struggle, the Larger-than-life Characters and more are all ingredients for a successful thriller covered in the many writing books, conference workshops and how-to articles on thriller writing.

But, surprisingly, one key element barely merits a mention. It is the driving force not only of a compelling story, but what makes authors want to write that story and readers eager to turn the page. It motivates fiction and real life. It steers our choices and the story’s characters’ choices of what to eat, wear and say. It’s why we do what we do at work and in play.

The Surprising Secret of Successful Thrillers is:

The Desire to be Loved.

Romance is the most obvious use of this core element. Readers flock to the Mockingjay trilogy for the dynamic between Katniss and Peeta. Indiana Jones begins and ends the search for the Ark with Marion. And James Bond (well, need I say more?). But the desire to be loved can motivate the hero’s search for truth about faith to confirm the love of God or the villain’s need to control the world to gain his twisted father’s approval. Even when it is beneath the surface of the story, buried like the troubled past of Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island, the desire to be loved is why the reader connects to the characters and keeps reading.

What books have you enjoyed where you kept turning the pages not only to see what happens, but to find out if the character fulfills this fundamental desire to be loved?

 

 

How Leonardo DiCaprio Makes Thriller Writing Fun

I want to be like Castle on tv. He is an amazingly successful fictional fiction writer who spends as much time finding ways to have fun as finding clever plot twists. But since we don’t live in tv world for more than an hour or two at a time, I struggle as a thriller writer to create a world that will both compel and terrify my readers.

I’ve been obsessing lately with the danger of genre-bending, specifically wondering if a thriller toeing the edge of fantasy and science fiction is doomed for failure or destined for greatness. If you ever read my notes to myself, you might think I need a therapist, not a critique group (actual note: “I am having massive trouble with making this understandable and believable. Like the traps. The traps should already be in place. From the mysterious builder of the Dreamworlds. Why hasn’t anyone seen/visited the island, especially if it had castle, Parthenon?”). So on days like these, I take the Castle approach. Take time out for fun, like googling the “most handsome movie actors.” I’ve downloaded their photos to my writing software, but will not post them here for fear of being sued.

Time for some casting decisions:

As Braydon Fox, the rogue FBI agent who wants desperately to love my heroine, but she is terrified of loving him back – Leonardo DiCaprio, as he appeared in Blood Diamond.

As Leonard Lathe, my heroine’s competing lover, a brilliant man whose growing obsession with the power to manipulate people’s thoughts is causing him to lose his own mind – Johnny Depp.

As Damian James, the wealthy heir who only wants to be a good husband and dad, but feels he has to prove that he is worthy of his father’s money – Hugh Grant, wearing glasses.

Have you made any casting decisions for your novel?

 

How to Take Charge of Your Novel: Write it Now 4 Review and Scrivener Shout Out

I was a juggler on a tightrope balancing over a pool of crocodiles. I had way too many balls in the air–complex plot, historical references, multi-layered characters, puzzles, action scenes, spiritual themes, challenging settings, dynamic relationships. I was struggling to remember who had done what, who knew what, and did I change that yet in a previous chapter? The crocodiles were hungry to snap up anything that fell.

I could struggle through with Word. I’d written my first novel in Word, using global finds to locate my last stopping point with “start here,” or “changes needed,” or highlighting my notes to myself in red. I had a separate Word doc with character profiles, and another with chapter summaries, among others.

I knew there had to be an easier way. What I didn’t know is that writing software would change my entire approach to writing a novel.

One of my main reasons for investing $70 in Write It Now 4 was for the Story Board feature. It looks like this:

The non-colored column of boxes on the left are “parts” of my book. The columns of color-coded boxes are chapters within those parts. To use the story board format, I had to start thinking of my novel in a different way. Instead of one long manuscript, I had to separate it into major parts. This immediately helped me focus on the vital turning points in my story.  It also forced me to organize scenes into more manageable parts. I can rearrange scenes simply by dragging them into place.

Any change I make on the story board is automatically transferred to the main writing/editing sections of the program. Pull down tabs also take you to whichever chapter you need to work on next.

And those colors? I designated a color for each POV character. An overall look at the storyboard showed me who was being neglected. Speaking of characters, I can go to character tabs I’ve created to add personality traits, important dates, relationships and more. The program generates a character graph with relationships, like this:

Write It Now 4 also has global find/replace, a thesaurus, a character name generator, writing prompts, a timeline feature, and tabbed sections for settings, ideas, and notes among its features.

It’s not so much a program for writing, as a program for inspiring, organizing and expanding upon ideas.

Writing programs like this won’t work nor appeal to every writer, but I do recommend it to thriller writers and others with way too many balls in the air (hmm, maybe that is every writer).

And to those out there who use other writing software, like Scrivener, I’d love to hear from you and share your thoughts in the comments, below.

The War of Art – One Key Element to Success in Writing

Cover of "The War of Art: Break Through t...

Cover via Amazon

UPDATED April 25, 2012 – Are you afraid of writing? In response to a writer’s request for advice on what to do about being afraid of using your gift of writing, I tracked down the following post I wrote for my other (neglected) blog, www.womenthrillerwriters.com. I realized that I had originally written this post on October 21, 2011. On November 7, 2011, I published my thriller novel as an e-book. Today, The Seventh Stone is on three Amazon top 100 bestseller lists. Sales continue to grow. So to those of you who are afraid to pursue your passion, I understand completely, but know that you have to take that risk, because it could be the start of one of the most amazing adventures of your life. To help overcome that anxiety, check out the following book:

Original post from October 21, 2011:

Several speakers at writers’ conferences recommended Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art before I broke through my resistance against touchy-feely self-help books and bought it. Pressfield talks a lot about Resistance, portraying it as a powerful entity that stops us from realizing our dreams. I had always blamed time, mainly lack of it.

I was thankful that The War of Art was a compact book, broken up into short pieces that I could read while waiting to pick up my kids from band, etc. I soon realized it was much more than that.

I’ll be sharing some of Pressfield’s ideas in future posts, but one that particularly caught my attention today was his one-page insight that Resistance is Most Powerful at the Finish Line. He used the story of Odysseus, so close to home after overcoming dreadful obstacles. His weary men could see the fires of their beloved families on the beach. Odysseus, thinking he was safe at last, lay down for a nap.

His men tore open an ox-hide sack they thought contained gold and treasure. But the sack held the Winds, given to Odysseus by King Aeolus. The Winds blew Odysseus’s ship far away. Odysseus had to endure many more trials, losing all of his men, finally returning home years later.

Pressfield cautions that since Resistance makes us afraid of success, the danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. My goal is to e-publish my thriller in November. Even now, I can hear “Resistance” telling me that I’m stealing too much time away from my other obligations to write, that The Seventh Stone can’t possibly compete with so many other thrillers, that people who know me will think I’m delusional if I think I can tell a good story. I could go on, but that would give Resistance the power of the Winds.

So don’t let Resistance stop you from pushing through to that finish line and crossing it. Or you will never know what waits on the other side.

Making Mr. Right – Love Will Find a Way in Fiction

I recently and, I admit, somewhat reluctantly, attended a workshop led by Mindy Starns Clark. Her bio cast her as a romance writer, a Christian romance writer. I’m a thriller writer, so I wondered if what she had to say would be relevant. Then again, she had mentioned on another conference panel that one of her books sold 75,000 copies, and she was a former stand-up comedian. I decided to give it a try. As it turns out, her talk was both entertaining and enlightening. Here’s what I learned. As you review each one, think about how you can use these elements to enhance your novel.

Writers make Three Common Mistakes in writing the love interest:

1. Creating a perfect guy for you and not your character.

2. Using classic romance novel clichés, like the feisty redhead butts heads with but ultimately falls in love with the tough guy.

3. Using common idioms to describe relationships. “I love him with all my heart” vs. “He carved off the crust of the peanut butter sandwich before giving it to her.” Love is very specific.

So how should you define Mr. Right?

First, define the heroine’s arc, her journey, her growth and change. She may start out stifled, repressed, bored, but in the end she breaks free and is happy (think Beauty and the Beast). Defining her arc defines Mr. Right.

To build the heroine’s arc:

1. Sometimes it’s easier to start at the end of the arc, then decide on the beginning, like working backwards on a tricky maze.

2. If love is part of her journey, Mr. Right is the one who gives her what she needs when she needs it. He will get her to the end of her arc.

3. Make him  the right choice for her, then lead her to see why he is the right choice for her. Where she is weak, he is strong. Where she is strong, he is weak. Together, they complete the puzzle.

As I listened, I realized that these principles can enhance any thriller. The key to a compelling story is to bond the reader with the lead character and, as I mentioned in another post, one key element drives us all, the desire to be loved. It is a part of all that we do, and every story we read.

Gallery

Top Seven Reasons to Self Publish and Three Reasons not to Self Publish

This gallery contains 1 photo.

It’s my anniversary! One year ago, I did not have a blog, nor a twitter account. I did not know what a widget was or how to manipulate a jpeg. But I did have a thriller novel that I had worked hard … Continue reading

What Van Gogh Can Teach Us About Writing

During my recent visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a crowd gathered around one painting. We were drawn to it, as if in a dream. It was Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Most people recognize it as a famous painting, worth millions. Perhaps they know that this painting inspired the song by Don McLean that immortalized Van Gogh’s troubled but brilliant perspective on life.

But what compels us to spend time before The Starry Night?

The Starry Night is more than a painting. It tells a story that opens our eyes and minds to what may exist beyond life on Earth.

Van Gogh told his story using the medium of paint, but he teaches a valuable lesson to writers. Our stories need to reach beyond the sleepy, peaceful villages of our everyday life. We know, at our core, that something more exists out there, something wonderful, something magical, something spiritual.

We want to believe.

During his time, Van Gogh was little known, but his work endures and compels because he expressed what he believed in. He honed his craft, followed his passion and put down on paper a story that compels us to look at the starry sky of our soul and wonder.

This is what we should strive for as writers.