Blog Entries
Category: Writing
Tags: suspense thrillers plot device


There is nothing more motivating than a deadline. To me at least. It concentrates my mind in ways that having all the time in the world never will. For instance, right now I need to write a blog post about a writing theme, yet my brain, despite the deadline, and contrary to the above statement, will have none of it.

            So, I am trying that ol’ trick of just writing what comes into my head to get the juices flowing – another writerly strategy! The clock on the wall in front of me is ticking, ever louder, it would seem, counting out the hours, minutes and seconds until this piece needs to be published.

            Come to think of it, a deadline is also a great plot device. Just think of all those thrillers with ticking clocks. The hero – James Bond in every possible incarnation, Bruce Willis in Die Hard, and dozens of others – have to beat the clock to save the world, usually, from nuclear obliteration or, at least, from some very bad hombres. Nothing like sitting on the edge of your seat watching or reading those kinds of stories.

            Of course, we can probably think up some less explosive plots with deadlines that are every bit as gripping. Like a lover trying to prevent his ex-girlfriend from marrying the wrong guy. Or a divorced woman tracking down her evil-ex who has kidnapped her child before he can escape with said child who is desperately in need his asthma medications. How about a murderer who must be caught before he reaches his next victim? Mustn’t leave out the doctor stories where the clock is running to save someone’s life, maybe from a rare disease that they don’t know how to treat. Or a gun-shot wound that is killing a child, then cardiac arrest!   Tick-toc, tick-toc!

            The unrelenting march of time elevates suspense to almost unbearable levels. Just like yesterday’s Germany-Sweden football game, where the suspense lasted down to the closing seconds. Me? I couldn’t watch it. The stakes were too high for me to invest my nerves in. I left the room so Germany could win without me going into cardiac arrest.

            Hmm, I guess there is also a lot to be said for stories that, well, take their time, develop the characters, portray their inner conflicts and let the reader invest her emotions in the fate of these new friends. When that decision has been made, it’s high time to pull the battery on that #*! clock.



To be, or not to be, prolific...
Category: Writing

Like everyone subscribing to writing sites or blogs, I get emails galore advising on ways to improve my writing, get my novel planned, started, edited, completed, and so much more.  I look at a title tempting me to believe the article holds the path to productivity.  However, my mind becomes boggled quite easily once I start to read the myriad words that fill the screen. Woe betides if I succumb to opening another missive, which I do of course, before digesting the content of the first. The promise of the titles is endless - How to…/Ridiculously Easy Steps/Make a Good Story Great - the list is endless.

Now I'm not saying there is not good advice in many of the topics but I find searching out the bits that are relative to my needs, a bit of a minefield. So much so I tend to abandon the articles, unable to see the wood for the trees.

Am I alone in this?

Having gone through a sparse writing period, I have printed out a few 'help' topics. My thinking is that if I can read paper copies at my leisure, I may absorb more of the content. In addition, physically marking areas that I feel may help me give my writing a boost and create a structure with which I'm happy, will cement the ideas.

Well, that's the plan!

The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer (Cambridge University Press, 2015) sounds fascinating and the snippets I have read make a lot of sense. Is it worth me purchasing? Will I be able to practise any of what it preaches? Or will I react to the extensive content with the same trepidation as those articles that multiply daily?

Somewhere in the pages, I may find the answer to that last question. It might explain why I can't focus my mind, establish my own path, and move forward from my current stalemate.

Are you a poet and you didn't know it? Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers poetry

Some members of Writers Abroad write poetry. Some of us don’t. If I’m honest, I am always slightly uncomfortable critiquing a poem, since I don’t feel qualified in the technical aspects. I often read the winning poems in Writing Magazine competitions, but I skip over the accompanying critique.

The leader of our writing group suggested recently that we look at using poetry to sharpen our prose.

“Let’s all try writing a Haiku for homework,” she said.

I wondered if I could plead a prior engagement for our next meeting. I’ve heard of Haikus (Japanese poem of 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 non-rhyming syllables), but this will be my first attempt at writing poetry since I was a child. And that was pretty turgid stuff.

When I read the material she circulated about using poetic techniques in writing prose, my interest was pricked. Poets use words to present an image or an idea, often in a very economical way. I learned that the first line of a poem is crucial in challenging or surprising the reader and setting up the idea. The last line is equally important in rounding off the theme. The two provide a unity that the lines in between develop. Try applying this to one of your favourite poems.

I tried this with John Donne, one of my poets of choice.

1st line: No man is an island entire of itself

Last line: And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

In between: development of the theme of our common humanity.

Sounds familiar? You can apply this to the first and last lines of a short story or a novel. Is the theme clear from the start? Have you taken the reader on a journey from a problem or a challenge to a destination? Does what happens in between develop that journey?

The use of individual words or phrases is also significant. To keep the reader’s interest, poets have to find new ways of presenting emotions or describing images without falling back into cliché. The novelist Helen Dunmore was a poet. The language in her novels shines. She sometimes used words that made you sit up, but when you thought about it, you knew they were exactly right.

Have a look at one of your works in progress, identify any clichéd language or emotion and try to come up with more original turns of phrase. Focus particularly on the first paragraph or two.

Now I am off to tackle the biggest writing challenge of the year so far: composing a Haiku.


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