The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Blind Date with Freddie Krueger and the Art of Thrill Writing with Chris Patchell

Welcome!

Grab a cup of something warm and let's settle in for a chat with my fellow Kindle Scout winning author, Chris Patchell.

Chris, please tell us about your background and how that brought you to writing novels.

Chris - 
I was a shy kid who didn't make friends easily. We lived way out in the country, so there were no kids nearby. I would escape into my own head for hours at a time, making up stories. Imagining I was somewhere else -- a flight attendant up in the blue sky flying to exotic places. I'd imagine shapes in the clouds. I'd act out scenes with my barbies. In the third grade, I was given my first creative writing assignment and discovered the magic of writing--of creating a new world, all of your own making.

It was awesome.

Better than friends.

I wrote on and off through high school and my early twenties and then quit. I got busy building a career in tech, and a family. 


I hit a point in my career where I was feeling burned out. My girls were little, and I remember thinking that there was no part of my life that was mine anymore. I needed a little piece of myself back. I thought about what I used to like to do, and I remembered that I used to love to write. But being type A, I didn't just sit down and open up a word processor. I researched some writing courses I could take. Found one through the University of Washington. Went to the information session. Loved what I heard and STILL, it took me a year to sign up.

My husband says to me, "did you ever sign up for that course?" Um... No...

"Why not?"

"I'd never have time to write. You know, with the job, the kids..."

He fixed me with this hard stare. "Stop making excuses. Just do it."

So I did. That was 10 years ago, and I've been writing ever since.

My analytical mind has served me well working in the tech industry. I set my first book in a tech company, and used some of my experience as a woman working in tech in building the book's main character, Jill. Little bits of tech make it into my plots.

I've managed a lot of projects from small mobile apps, to large scale, complex deployments. This experience--the ability to organize and deploy multiple projects simultaneously translates well into devising complex plots. I love weaving multiple story lines together into big bang endings.

I can remember a lot of detailed dependencies off the top of my head, which means when I make plot changes, I can go back and change all of the places in previous scenes where the info becomes relevant. It's handy.

I like the high-stakes and fast paced plot lines in suspense novels where characters struggle against external obstacles to get what they want. I also like creating their internal obstacles--the emotional baggage they carry with them that limit their actions. Fear. Anger. Rage.

The minute I started writing my first thriller, I was hooked.

I also like creating strong female characters. Jill Shannon, the anti-hero in my first book is a great example. She's smart, fierce, and a little ruthless. Not what you'd expect lurking underneath her pretty face.

Ha!

Fiona - 
What do you think makes a good thriller - what components do you try to include? What are you consciously aware of as you're putting your plot together?

Chris -
It has to be high stakes. Typically life and death, or loss of freedom. Both figure prominently into my plot lines. There also has to be a personal stake in the story. What motivates your hero to conquer the obstacles in the story and risk it all? Single mother, Marissa Rooney, will stop at nothing to find her missing daughter. Then there is the element of time (pacing). Everyone knows that the first 48 hours are critical in a missing person's case, but beyond that, what provides a ticking clock--the tension that moves your characters (and your readers) through the story? The kidnapped girl in In the Dark is a type 1 diabetic. She's got her insulin pen with her, but it's not ideal (she needs 2 types of insulin and only has one) and her supply is limited. When it runs out, she dies.

AMAZON LINK
It's a compelling ticking clock. It's selection wasn't random. My husband is a type 1 diabetic, so I know a little bit about what happens (high blood sugars, low blood sugars, etc.).

If your hero has a good reason to care, your readers will too.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about that pacing. I find books that are written with the gas pedal being pushed down the whole time wears me out. I appreciate a few scenes with introspection or a little more quiet so there are highs and lows. Is that something you include in your pacing or is it go go go?

Chris - 
Like you said, it can't be go go go all the time. It gets boring. It's like the never-ending car chase scene.

There are moments when your characters are alone and they're struggling with their inner demons. The action isn't high, but the emotional tension is. I also like to inject a little humor where I can into the story.

That was probably more true of my first book than my second.

You also need to let your hero win every once in a while to keep people invested. There was this t.v. show years ago, about an Irish family. Modern. T
he Black Donnelys. But everything went wrong for this family. It went from bad to worse. I watched 2 - 3 episodes then quit. It was too depressing. They took it off the air before the season finished.

Fiona- 
Another way that you can hold the reader's attention is with complex plotting. Beyond the pantser v plotter question, how do you develop the ideas for your plots and how do you refine so it's the Three Little Bears not too twisty not too straight?

Chris - 
Yes, I'm a big fan of complex plotting. I'm definitely a plotter. I start with the seed of a story. An idea. I spend some time nodding on the idea, growing it, to see if it's big enough to support a plot. Then I write a summary 3-Act Plot. This is maybe 5 - 10 pages long. Then I start breaking it into scenes--more of a formal outline. I usually start writing. Evolve the outline as I go. Major plot twists are built into the idea of the story. Part of how do you make it interesting or surprising. For instance, In the Dark has a big reveal in the prologue. Sometimes though, you delay a reveal to build tension, or a new idea comes to you during the writing phase that makes a reveal or twist better.

Good twists are part of my original story design. They're what makes the story interesting. So, while I do outline, I use my outline as a guideline and not a blueprint, so if my characters take me in different directions (deviate off the path), I go with it. If it works, I keep it, if it doesn't, I dump it and move on.

Each of my characters have their own story lines, even the secondary characters. While they play a role in the major plot, their stories weave into the whole making it richer.

Fiona - 
Go back to the original three parts. What does that breakdown look like?

Chris - 

The first act sketches out the main character. Who are they? Why are they here? The inciting incident that puts the characters on the path. My first act usually ends with the characters gaining momentum, they reach the point of no return on their journey, which propels them deeper into the story.

The second act is the bulk of the story. The obstacles they face, setbacks in the plot. Pushing against the obstacles to learn more about the case, battle with their own demons. You know. At the end of the second act, they acquire knowledge that moves them into the third act. In In the Dark, the investigator learns the identity of the kidnapper. The climax of the story. The showdown. Do they find the missing girl? Can they save her? Slay the demon? In a romance it's usually about whether the relationship survives the crisis and how.

The end of Act 3 is the resolution. I usually tie the ends of my acts with a big reveal or twist; a moment in the action that propels you into the next phase. You up the stakes.

Fiona - 
Do you apply special choices of words or sentence structures to encourage people to read in a section in a particular way? For example how would you change between the physical action high stakes pages v. the emotion angst introspection pages to change the rhythm?

Chris - 
Sentence structure is obvious. Shorter, choppier sentences for action scenes. Longer, more complex sentences for more introspective parts. Atmosphere plays a role too; setting the scene. Because I set stories in the Northwest, I use a lot of physical scene setting (barriers like mountains and mudslides, raining, flooding, typical things we experience in Northwest winters). Word choices are important--how you describe something reflects the mood of the character. Marissa Rooney has made a lot of mistakes with men. When she thinks about these mistakes, her inner critic calls her a loser. The voice of her inner critic is probably her mother's, and she struggles against her poor self-esteem the whole book. Only at the end does she accept her mistakes and move past them. Get stronger. Those emotional moments where she's waging her own inner battle use words that reflect what her inner critic (and by extension herself) believes.

The emotional stuff is harder for me to write.

Takes longer. I have to dig pretty deep to get it out.

Fiona -
For me sex is hardest to write -- I can write emotion all day long.

Chris - 
I hear ya!

When I'm writing a sex scene, I have to block out the idea that anyone else will ever read it. If I didn't, I would never be able to write one.

Fiona - 
Amen to that one -- especially the idea of one of my kids reading it! Ha!

Chris - 
I'm in denial about my kids reading my stuff. I started to write again about the time my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. That's when I instituted the rule, you never read mommy's stuff. Eventually though, they will. Luckily we're still years away from that.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about staying motivated.

Chris -
I think the hardest thing for me is finding ways to stay motivated during the edit cycle. It always feels endless to me. Ripping a scene apart. Rewriting it, until you get it right, or as close to right as you can while not over-obsessing to the point you can never let it go. So, one of the things that helps motivate me is getting feedback from my writing group, or other sources that I trust. When I'm struggling with a scene and I think it's a piece of crap, getting feedback helps identify what's working, what's not, and provides an opportunity to brainstorm how to fix what's there. Writing is solitary. Building a community of support will help motivate you when the going gets tough.

Tracking what you do also keeps you motivated. Tracking word count in the initial draft, watching your manuscript grow. And then keeping track of where you are in the edit cycle. While it may feel like slow going, just being able to see progress helps. Remembering that there is an end in sight. I know there's a point during the edit cycle where I want to burn the manuscript, or kill myself. Or both.

Having finished several books, I know that this is part of my process. I need to keep pushing to get past it. Eventually I will and the book will be finished and I can write something else.

The promise of writing something new is the carrot at the end of the string fore me.

Fiona - 
It's time! We want a good scar story, please.

Chris - 
My favorite scar story...

Well, I've got a three-inch scar at the base of my throat. One of my coworkers asked me how I got it and this is what I said...

I was working in Vancouver, BC, in an area of the city called Yaletown. It was late. Winter. Raining. I was meeting some of my friends downtown and stopped at a bank machine to pick up some funds. Vancouver is an interesting city--parts of it are upscale, pretty. Safe. But step one or two blocks out of the "zone" and it can get a little sketchy. So there I was at the bank machine, paying no attention to what was going on around me when a man approached from behind. I felt the cold chill of metal against my throat and..."

"Whoa," he says. "Is that what really happened?"

"Uh, no. But it makes a better story."

The real truth was that I had surgery to remove a cyst. Apparently the surgeon was either drunk, or used popsicle sticks. Maybe both. 

Afterwards, I had a drainage tube and a long row of staples closing the wound. I looked like I'd gone on a blind date with Freddie Krueger. I should have been horrified when I looked in the mirror. Instead, I burst out laughing. That was 20 years ago.

Fiona - 
Ha! You got me -- I totally thought you were a crime victim. Thanks so much for coming and hanging out!


Readers, you can stay in touch with Chris:
Website - http://www.chrispatchell.com
Facebook
Twitter - @chris_patchell


I hope this was helpful. As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


Chat Conversation End

1 comment:

  1. Late to the party, as usual, but I enjoyed the chat and appreciate the lessons imparted. Expressing emotions credibly is the bane of my writing. I've long-since given up on writing intimate scenes. It's simply not my schtick. Thanks, again, on the tip-side.

    ReplyDelete