How Much Tension Can You Create in Just 3 Sentences?


Jillian Green DiGiacomo's photo.
I survived my visit to my high school alma mater last week.  It was a bit of an out of body experience to set foot in the building after so many years. But it was a blast hanging out with the students.  As I mentioned in my last post, I was asked to discuss the best ways to build tension when writing fiction.  I gave a modified version of the balloon theory and then introduced the literary device of a time clock: a deadline, a ticking time bomb, a damsel in distress tied to the railroad tracks are all literary time clocks that help keep a reader riveted. Fiction can be engaging if, for example, two characters may or may not eventually fall in love.  But if one character is to be married within a matter of hours or shipped off to war at daybreak or turned into a werewolf at sunset, that love story is now bursting with intensity.
So, gave each class about 10 minutes to write a 3 sentence time clock: a mini scene with a built in sense of urgency. The students came up with their own brilliant time clocks: they wrote about an avalanche, a basketball game, a child locked in a hot car, and a race for the last brownie at a bake sale to name just a few.

Give it a try. Limit yourself the to 3 sentences and see just how much tension you can create. Then share it here please!!

All Good Fiction is Excruciating


I am heading to my high school alma mater later this week to talk to the students about writing.  The classes are working on writing short mysteries so the teacher asked me to talk about building tension in a scene.  To me, whether I’m writing a love story or a murder mystery, the one thing I aim to do is make my writing excruciating. When I say “Make it excruciating” I don’t mean write something so bad that no one could possibly read it.  Though, believe me, I have  written my fair share of excruciating prose that, for the sake of humanity, will never see the light of day.

By excruciating, I mean, I try to remember to slow down and take the time to build a scene, build the tension and stir up the emotion.  For me, a satisfying scene resembles a balloon that is inflated to full, then inflated some more and then just when that balloon could not possibly hold another ounce of air, and one more puff of air.  Now, the balloon is stretched so far that you cringe and move ever so slowly for fear it will pop.  Then, and only at the moment that the balloon is inflated to its absolute limits, you produce a long, sharp, glistening needle. Ever so slowly, you bring that needle closer and closer to the balloon.

Now that’s excruciating!

Does the needle pierce the balloon with a violent pop? Does the needle pierce the balloon through both sides and the balloon remains in tact?  Or, at the very moment the needle is about to puncture the balloon, do you let it go and watch it sail aimlessly around the room until it hits the floor?  Don’t ask me, it’s your balloon.



Predicting the Future of Publishing

I was recently asked what I thought about the future of the publishing industry.  Here is my response:

Historically, authors needed a publisher because it was the publisher who had access to a printer and the ability to take the financial risk required to outlay the upfront cost of a print run.  In this new age of print on demand and ebooks, authors no longer need a publisher to get our literary works out into the world. That’s great!  But as indie authors know, the challenge comes not only in creating a book but in finding an audience with which to share it.  Today, traditional publishing houses still hold the monopoly on access to the large and powerful media outlets.  The New York Times, for example, will not, by their own rules, review an independently published book.  I’m sure they have this policy to stave off the massive wave of offerings that would flood their review department otherwise.  Moreover, many book stores, large and small, only sell books that they receive from a certain small list of distributers who only sell books from a certain small group of publishing houses.  So, today, the playing field is massively weighted against the indie author.  And even those famously self published books like “The Martian” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” only reached their best-seller status once they were picked up by one of the large publishing houses and given the access and exposure that comes with traditional publishing.

But the playing field is slowly shifting. The indie world is figuring it out. More and more quality works are discovered outside of the closed circle of the traditional publishing world and indie authors everywhere are using social media to gain traction in the market.  Many book bloggers today have only hundreds or maybe a few thousand followers as compared to the Millions of NYT readers.  But every day that those reviewers offer honest and useful critiques and recommendations, their audiences steadily grow which in turn boosts book sales for indie authors.  It is an exciting time to be a self-published author.  And I think the future looks brighter and brighter.

Check out the whole interviewI

Crimespree Magazine – guest post



Write what you know.  That’s what they say.  It’s actually one of the first pieces of advice any new author will receive. Several years ago, I was determined to write a novel, but what did I know?  More importantly, what did I know that anyone else would want to read about?  I had two kids, two dogs, a husband who wore a business suit to work every day and I lived in the suburbs.  Not a lot of drama.  Not a lot of mystery.  On the surface, anyway.  I wanted to write a story about a mom.  A real mom, in the trenches.  That’s something I knew intimately.  I wanted to present a kickass answer to that most infuriating question: “Are you working OR are you home with your kids?” I’m home with the kids AND I’m working!

I wrote about sixty pages of my new novel which turned out to be less high art and more whining about the difficulties and frustrations of life at home with kids. BORING! The novel I was writing was not the one I wanted to write much less one I would ever subject anyone else to read. Instead of forging ahead with the wrong story, I stopped writing altogether.  I put my pen down. It wasn’t writer’s block, it was writer’s fortress.  Months later, I lamented my situation to my sister.  I complained that parents are unsung heroes and the work we do is nothing short of heroic.  So why couldn’t I turn that passion into decent prose?  She looked me straight in the eye and said “What if you write about a mom who really is a superhero?”

Of course!  My main character would be a supermom.  I picked up my pen again. But what did I know about superheroes or muscle bound people in tights flying around the moon to save the world form utter annihilation? I was stuck again.  I had no business whatsoever writing a superhero novel.   I put the pen back down.

Then I thought of the great fiction that I loved and could not figure out how my favorite authors did it. What could Stephen King have known about a car that comes to life before he wrote Christine?  What did JK Rowling really know about snitches and quaffles before Harry Potter ever took to the Quitich pitch? Of course they didn’t “know” these things.  They imagined these things but they embedded their fabrications in worlds and around characters that they did know and understand.

I knew about being a mom and I understood the pressures and pretenses that I experienced in that role.  Placing my heroine, in a crazy reality would give me a fun and unique way of exploring those pressures and pretenses.  It was then my job to create a “super reality”, develop a plot and a cast of characters that were consistent with the reality I would create. Simple, right? I just had to merge life in the suburbs with life in the world of super spies and super villains.  Once my panic attack subsided, I got to work.  The result:  my new novel, CODENAME CUPCAKE, which I like to call an old-fashioned, stay-at-home-mom turned superhero spy novel.

CODENAME CUPCAKE is the story of Molly Peterson, a frazzled suburban mom who takes her first day “off” from full-time parenting to visit New York City. When she witnesses a crime in progress, Molly’s mommy instincts kick in and she instinctively grabs the gun out of the criminal’s hand, just as she would take any dangerous object away from a child. And with that, her life changes forever.

Recorded by a bystander’s iPhone, the “hero mom” video goes viral and Molly becomes an instant, albeit reluctant, celebrity.  But that’s just the beginning.  Molly is soon recruited by a super-secret spy agency that notices her potential on that viral video. At first she is thrilled:  super powers! An “enhanced” mini-van!  Secret tunnels from New Jersey to Manhattan spy headquarters! Life is great!

But then Molly is given her assignment:  she must infiltrate the PTA at her own son’s elementary school. A staunch PTA avoider, she is disappointed to learn that her assignment will require her to not only join the PTA but “become” the PTA.  Midwood Elementary School is cooling at an alarming rate and Molly must spend as much time as possible in the building to determine the cause and help prevent a potential calamity.  She is completely on board for the spying part.  It’s the PTA part that she dreads.

With a back drop of ordinary school functions including a bake sale and a fall concert, CODENAME CUPCAKE offers a silly suburban take on the superhero genre.  It is a send up of motherhood, the PTA, comic books and spy novels.

Before writing CODENAME CUPCAKE, I had never dreamed I’d ever write a spy novel.  But once I created a superhero, I had to give that hero a crime to solve and a villain to defeat.  That meant stretching the bounds of what I knew. And to my surprise, it all came together:  Turning my suburban mom character into a supermom forced me to examine “normal” everyday life in the suburbs and present it in a unique and heightened manner. CODENAME CUPCAKE is a novel loaded with both the outrageous and the ordinary.  There is tension and suspense juxtaposed with recipes and PTA meetings..
Years ago, I sat down to write a novel about a stay-at-home-mom and wound up writing a comic spy novel..  Maybe someday I will write another. But chances are, if I sit down with the hopes of writing a spy novel, I will end up writing a lyrical poem about spiders.  Luckily, I know absolutely nothing about spiders.


The Power of Fresh Eyes


I was recently asked by Goodreads to give my best piece of advice to aspiring writers.  Thought I’d share my answer here:

Fresh Eyes!! You know what you wanted to write. You know what you wanted to convey. But it is only when you share your writing with others that you will truly know if you accomplished what you meant to accomplish. It is extremely stressful and humbling to hold up your work to the scrutiny of others but if you can find a few trusted readers, and you can open your mind to their opinions, suggestions, and questions, your work will only get stronger. I find that my readers are invaluable at showing me where there are cracks or inconsistencies in my work. I don’t always agree with their solutions but their fresh eyes are priceless when it comes to identifying issues big and small within my writing.

visit my Goodreads author page