Friday, June 28, 2013

Ten Story Gaffes to Avoid

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker
Here's an article of mine that appeared on The Bookshelf Muse blog this week and has received a lot of comments over there.

10 Things You Don't Want In Your Novel
Crafting a story is a bit like juggling--so many elements must come into play at the right moment to put on an amazing show. There's the strong, compelling hero, damaged in some way that the reader identifies with, up against impossible odds. There's a vivid setting brimming with symbols and foreshadowing. And we can't forget witty dialogue, great pacing, conflict, tension, sensory description and a one-of-a-kind voice.  So while we're keeping all these things in the front of our brain as we write, what are the biggest mistakes we want to avoid? Editor Jodie Renner is here to answer that question!  


Today’s fiction readers are more discerning and busier than ever. They want to be swept away by a captivating story with a charismatic main character. They don’t want to be talked at. Don’t wrench them out of the fictive dream by addressing them as the author to explain things or otherwise taking them out of the character’s immediate world.

Avoid these storytelling gaffes in your novel or short story: 

1. Too much description 

 Avoid writing paragraphs of description of the scenery, weather, and other surroundings. Write only the most compelling details, and from the main character’s point of view – how is the weather affecting her? Are details in his physical environment hindering his goals? And don’t get into too much detailed information on exactly what each character looks like and everything they’re wearing, especially for minor characters. Paint in large brushstrokes, mentioning only the most salient details, those that contribute to characterization.

2. An unlikeable protagonist 

Make sure your main character is someone readers will want to bond with, root for, and follow for the whole story. Don’t make him or her cold, arrogant, difficult, demanding, unfeeling, insensitive, dismissive, timid, whiny, or wimpy. Go for sympathetic and likeable, but vulnerable, with inner conflict and some baggage.

 3. A cardboard lead 

Make sure your hero or heroine is multidimensional, with lots of personality and attitude, and plenty of drive and charisma. They need strengths but also inner conflict and secrets. Nobody wants to follow a bland, wishy-washy, overly ordinary lead character.

4. La-la land – Characters getting along too well 
For the rest of this blog post, CLICK HERE.

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for her third book, Immerse the Readers in Your Story World, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blogs, Resources for Writers and The Kill Zone, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Write a Killer Thriller Opening

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker
Here's the beginning of a blog post of mine that's up today on D.P. Lyle's blog, The Writer's Forensics Blog. For the rest of the article, click on the link below.

Write a Killer Thriller Opening
Your thriller is coming along really well. You’ve written a first draft or are well into it, and you’re starting to think of actually letting others read it. Way to go! Now it’s time to go back and revise your opening pages to make them as riveting and intriguing as they can be.

I can’t emphasize enough how critical your first pages are. They can literally make or break your sales for that book – and maybe future ones. Why? Because after glancing at the front and back cover, potential readers, agents, publishers, and buyers will read your opening page or two to decide whether or not to buy your book. Readers are less and less patient, and with all the excellent books out there, if they’re not intrigued by the first few pages, they’ll reject yours and go on to another.

As James N. Frey says, “A gripping opening is not simply a good thing for your story. It’s absolutely essential.”

So what are the essential ingredients of a gripping opening?
Your first page – in fact, your first paragraph – needs to immerse your readers in the story right away, engage them emotionally, and hook them in so they not only want to but need to continue.
For that to happen, several factors come into play.

~ Tell us whose story it is. First, readers want to know right away who’s the protagonist, the one they’ll be rooting for. Put is in the head of the main character in the first sentence, certainly the first paragraphs. Readers expect that the first person they meet is the one they’ll identify with and bond with, so start right out in the point of view of your lead character.

~ Situate us right away. And readers want to know immediately where and when that first scene is taking place, and what’s going on. So be sure you’ve answered the four W’s within the first few paragraphs: who, what, where, and when – and in an engaging way. Don’t confuse or annoy your readers right off the bat by making them wonder who’s the main person in the story, what’s going on at that moment, and where and when it’s happening.

~ But not in a happy scene. Introduce some tension and conflict right away. Your lead character wants or needs something and it’s not happening. She’s starting to get stressed because…

For the rest of the article, click on this link:

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback.

For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

To subscribe to Jodie’s Resources for Writers newsletter (published about 4-10 times a year), please click on this link and fill out the form. Your privacy is completely assured, you won’t receive any spam, ever, and you can unsubscribe at any time.


Monday, June 17, 2013

WRITING A KILLER THRILLER on sale & in paperback

The updated and expanded second edition of my e-book, Writing a Killer Thriller - An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, is on sale for only one more day at $1.99, so grab it while it's still at half price! And it's now available in trade paperback, on sale for $8.54.

Here's the beginning of a new article of mine that's up on Crime Fiction Collective blog today:

Big-Picture Problems to Look for in Your Novel
New edition e-book, and in print today.
by Jodie Renner, editor & author

Has anyone told you your almost-done story is too long, confusing, or just doesn't grab them? Here are some typical “big-picture” weaknesses to watch out for in your novel and correct before publishing it or pitching it to an agent. These types of glaring gaffes in writing, pacing, plot, or structure will bog down your story and could sink your reputation as a novelist. Fortunately, they can all be remedied at the revision and self-editing stages.

~ Overwriting. Not enough self-editing.
Today’s bestselling thrillers are mostly between 70,000 and 90,000 words long. Unless you’re an absolutely brilliant writer, and experts in the business have told you so, if your manuscript is over 95,000 words long, it definitely needs tightening up.

~ Meandering writing – the main story question / problem is fuzzy or buried.
What’s the protagonist’s main goal and fear, and his main problem? This should be obvious early on and be the overriding driving force behind your whole story. Don’t let it get lost in meandering writing, too much backstory, frequent info dumps, too many characters, too many subplots, and unrelated plot details.

~ One unrelated thing after another happens.
Don’t get caught up in “and then, and then, and then,” with a bunch of sub-stories or episodes that aren’t related to each other and don’t directly tie in with the main plot problem and story question. Your events and scenes need to be connected by cause and effect. Each scene should impact the following scenes and complicate future events.

~ Dog’s breakfast
A common problem is too many characters crowding the scenes with no elbow room, and readers getting confused and frustrated trying to remember who’s who. Or maybe you have too many subplots that veer off in different directions and confuse the issue. Or a convoluted story where many issues or subplots don’t tie in with the main character and their overarching problem. ....
For the rest of this article, click HERE

Monday, June 10, 2013

WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, 2nd Edition, now out

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

I'm pleased to announce that my revised and expanded 2nd edition of Writing a Killer Thriller - An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction is now available on Kindle and in trade paperback for $8.54.

This new edition, which is four times as long as the original, popular e-booklet, with lots more great tips on increasing the tension, suspense, and intrigue of your fiction, is on sale for $1.99 until Tues. a.m., June 18 only, as a special deal for people who bought the first edition. Then this new one will go up to $3.95, then to $4.95. So get it while it's half price! (It won't be offered it for free.)

Also, I'll send a free PDF of the new edition to anyone who wrote a positive review for the first edition.

Please send any feedback to me via my website:

Here are some advance reviews of this expanded second edition:

“Finally, someone who understands the thriller! More than ever an author must also be his own best editor and Jodie Renner is there to help. Writing a Killer Thriller should be on every thriller writer’s desk. It breaks down the thriller into its must-have component parts to write a scintillating, edge of the seat novel that will get readers buzzing and sales flowing.”

~ Robert Dugoni, New York Times bestselling author of The Jury Master and Murder One

“Writing a Killer Thriller by Jodie Renner is an in-depth journey through each component of the thriller. Renner breaks down the process into key elements, each essential to keeping the reader turning those pages. From character development to building suspense, Writing a Killer Thriller should be on the desk of every thriller author out there. A staple for the beginner, a refresher for the pro.” 

~ Joe Moore, #1 Amazon and international bestselling co-author of The Blade and The Phoenix Apostles

“Writing is hard, editing harder, and self-editing almost impossible. Writing a Killer Thriller demystifies each of these steps on the road to a published manuscript. Read this book. It will help you now and for many years to come.”

~ DP Lyle, Macavity Award winning and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Benjamin Franklin, Scribe, and USA Best Books nominated author of the Dub Walker thriller series

“A killer of a thriller guide! Jodie Renner lays out, in clear, easy steps and lists, how the best writers craft their works of art – and shows how you can do it, too. A terrific how-to in avoiding the pitfalls and burnishing the gotta-haves of writing a bestselling thriller novel, by an editor who knows her way around action, drama and creating characters so fresh and real you’ll swear they were your friends.”

~ Shane Gericke, national bestselling and No. 1 Kindle bestselling author of Torn Apart

“Jodie Renner is a terrific fiction editor who is constantly updating her craft. She’s edited several novels for me, and I highly recommend her services and books. Even if you don’t write thrillers, her advice is applicable to writing a compelling story in almost any genre.”

~ L.J. Sellers, bestselling author of provocative mysteries and thrillers

“In Writing a Killer Thriller, Jodie Renner propels your writing to the competitive level that’s critical to delivering a thriller ace. She outlines easy-to-apply techniques on how to ‘hook ’em’ from the beginning, pump tension into every scene, fix those plot holes, and create compelling characters that will drive readers to keep reading until the very last page. ...From drafting your novel utilizing the basic elements of a thriller to creating your riveting final revision that packs a high-intrigue punch, Jodie shows you how to deliver a break out thriller—again and again.” 

~ Donna Galanti, 2012 International Thriller Writers Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A Human Element and the short story collection The Dark Inside.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. For more info on Jodie’s editing services and her books, please visit her website. Jodie has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing and Killer Thriller and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Those Critical First Five Pages

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

Congratulations! You’ve finished the first draft of your novel! Now it’s time to go back and polish up your first few pages. Then later you can do a third—or tenth—rewrite of that all-important first few paragraphs to create the most enticing hook possible. For today, we’ll talk about the essential ingredients of the first five pages (or the first page or two of a short story), as most agents and acquiring editors—and readers—will stop reading by the fifth page, or sooner, if the story and characters don’t grab them by then. 

In February 2011, I attended a workshop by literary agent Kristin Nelson at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, in which she had attendees anonymously submit the first two pages of their novel. She started reading the submissions and stopped at the spot where she lost interest. In many instances it was after the first or second paragraph! Sometimes she made it almost to the end of the first page, and in one case, even halfway through the second page. Then she told us why that manuscript, as written, would be rejected. (Not a single one of those made it.)  

In a follow-up article in Writer’s Digest (Oct. 2011), Kristen gives four examples of submissions and where and why she stopped reading three of them (all on the first page): “too much dialogue,” “overuse of description,” and “lack of tension.” In her workshop, “lack of clear protagonist,” “unsympathetic protagonist,” “boring” and “confusing” were other reasons given.  

After Ms. Nelson's workshop, I heard a lot of “If she’d only read a little further, she would have seen that…” or “That wasn’t fair. She didn’t give me a chance. How can she judge a manuscript by only reading one page?” Unfortunately, agents get tens of thousands of submissions a year, and if you don’t grab them within the first page or two, the sad reality is that your book will probably be rejected. And of course, as readers, most of us will read the back cover and maybe the first page, then decide based on that whether to buy the book or not. And even when I’ve paid money for a book, if it doesn’t grab me by about page ten, I’ll discard it. 

One of the main reasons agents, acquiring editors and readers will reject a book after reading the first few pages is that they’re confused. They need to get a picture right away about whose story it is, why we should care about that person, and roughly where and when the story is taking place. Once readers have a handle on the main character and the setting, they can relax and settle into the story world. Of course, you also have to spark their interest with a problem early on—put your protagonist in some hot water with an inciting incident, so the reader can sympathize with them and start rooting for them. 

Whose story is it? 

It’s important to start out the novel in the viewpoint of your protagonist, as the first person the readers read about is the person they start identifying with, and they’ll feel cheated if suddenly, after they’ve invested some time and effort into getting to know this person and bonding a bit with him, he suddenly turns out to be not someone they should be rooting for at all, but in fact the antagonist, whom they’re supposed to be hating, or worse yet, a minor character or someone who gets killed off a little while later. 

As Steve Berry, bestselling author and sought-after writing workshop leader, told a packed room of eager aspiring writers at Craftfest, part of Thrillerfest 2011 in New York, “Always start your book in the point of view of your protagonist.” I think this is excellent advice, as the readers—not to mention agents and acquiring editors—want to know right away whose story it is, who to start bonding with and cheering for. 

Here are the first questions your readers will be asking: 

Why should I care about this character, anyway?

Readers aren’t going to invest time reading a story about a character they don’t like or can’t identify with, so make sure your protagonist is likeable and sympathetic, to draw the readers in to identify with him or her. And make them well-rounded and complex, with hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and inner conflict. And of course have them confronted with a problem—an inciting incident—within the first few pages, as conflict is what drives fiction forward. A perfect character with an ideal life is both annoying and boring—not a formula for compelling fiction! 

Where and when is the action taking place?

Without drowning us in long descriptive passages right at the beginning, give the readers a few hints very early on—definitely on the first page—of the setting of your story: Contemporary? Past? Future? Country/Culture? Urban/rural/wilderness? Which city or town? And so on. Don’t confuse and frustrate your readers by making them wonder where on earth all this is happening, and whether it’s in the present or some other time. 

Why should I read this story?

Show your stuff in your first five pages or so. Draw the reader (or agent or editor) in with a great first scene, well-written, with interesting, complex characters, some intriguing action, and compelling, natural-sounding dialogue. Include your inciting incident and initial conflict, and hint at greater problems to come. Introduce or hint at a worthy adversary—a cunning villain or attractive but maddening/annoying possible love interest. And write your first pages in the same tone, style and voice you’ll be using for your novel, so the readers will have a good idea of what they’ll be getting into. And of course, continue in this same tone (suspenseful, humorous, serious, romantic, etc.) for the rest of the novel, so the reader won’t feel cheated or misled. 

But don’t get bogged down trying to perfect your opening pages in the early stages – wait until you’ve got all or most of your first draft written. By then, you’ll be “in the groove” and you’ll know your character and his/her problems a lot better, as well as the resolution, so this part will flow so much more easily.

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for her third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blogs, The Kill Zone, Resources for Writers, and Crime Fiction Collective, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.