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The Prologue To My Woodward Dream Cruise Detroit Thriller


A Motor City Thriller

Prologue      Coffin In the Sky

Saturday, August 20 – 12:00 Noon

WE WERE a mile high over the Dream Cruise when the engine died.

Instantly we began plummeting toward the vast crowd below. Three horrified men, trapped inside a shrapnel-riddled helicopter. A three-quarter-ton metal-and-fiberglass coffin that would soon go smashing into the massive horde of cars and people beneath us like a giant hunk of streaking lead.

The copter’s passenger doors were still open and the wind immediately began ripping through them like the shriek of a hundred crazed banshees as we hurtled earthward. Up in the cockpit the pilot, Goolsby, was frantically flipping switches, but to no effect. Strapped into the seat beside me La Borgia, the mafia porn king, was spewing out a violent stream of Italian curses, his sheet-white face contorted with panic. He was gesticulating wildly, waving his Glock around and looking as if he might at any moment begin pulling the trigger out of sheer, raging terror.

Heart hammering, my stomach in my throat, I glanced out the window beside me. Thousands of colorful cars and hundreds of thousands of milling spectators were rushing up at us with scrotum-tightening speed. The sea of humanity alongside the broad boulevard began parting as people ran for their lives. YES! I wanted to howl down at them. RUN! GET AWAY WHILE YOU CAN!

As we plunged toward what seemed like certain death, I became conscious of the Springfield .45 clenched in my own quivering hand. For an instant I considered putting it to my temple in order to escape the deathcrash.

But then a rush of images began flashing in front of my terrorstruck eyes. As if I were looking at them through some kind of crazy, high-speed kaleidoscope, the events of the past twelve days swirled before me. I saw a series of powerful explosions and their horrific aftermaths. I saw rows and rows of body bags containing the corpses of innocent men, women, and children. I saw the stunned faces of shell-shocked survivors. I saw the shredded bodies of fellow FBI agents. I saw the world’s ugliest cat. I saw the ghostly features of my long-dead sister.

When the image of the woman I loved rushed toward me, I did my best to hang onto it. An excruciating pang of regret lanced through me at the realization I’d never see or hold the beautiful doctor again. Never have the chance to finally win her and feel our two bodies consummate our love.

Then her gorgeous face was swept away by the onrush of more split-second images. I saw passenger-filled cars exploding, one after another. I saw mangled and mutilated SWAT cops, shrieking in misery. I saw a downtown intersection turned into a hellish inferno.

I was flashing back all the way to the very beginning now. To when the gut-wrenching terror that had hung over the Motor City for the past dozen days first came creeping out of the shadows. To the night when those two unsuspecting hot rodders came face-to-face with a deranged, murderous fiend.

To that muggy summer night on Woodward Avenue when the parade of horrors began…


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Oops – How I Broke Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

The Dean of Detroit Fiction Writers Lays Down the Law

Detroit author Elmore Leonard

Most serious fiction writers are familiar with Detroit author Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.  Here’s the nutshell version:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

When I recently went back and reviewed the list, I realized I’d followed some of the rules in the course of writing my Motor City thriller, Scream Cruise, but broke others. Here’s how I fared.

Rules of Writing I Did or Didn’t Break

1. Never open a book with weather.

Okay on that one. Only a few mentions of weather throughout the book. I did use a line – “Outside of the bar’s A/C, the humid night air wraps itself around them like warm, sticky cellophane” – that I rather like. I mean, it’s August in Detroit, right?

2. Avoid prologues.

Uh-oh. Broke that one. Added a prologue to the final revision. But you know what? I’m perfectly comfortable with it, because it isn’t just arbitrary. It sets up a bunch of questions and expectations, all of which are answered or fulfilled later. It also foreshadows some of the manic action that later ensues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Broke that one a few times, using “shrieked,” “cried,” “answered,” etc. I think a little variation from “said” is okay. It just felt right at times. When you’ve only got two characters speaking, you can simply drop some of the speaker identifiers. When you’ve got three or more in the conversation, however, you need to keep specifying who the speaker is, and the continuously repeated “saids” gives the reading a monotonous feel. Hence the variations.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

I was pretty good about not breaking that rule, overall. Lots of writing books are absolutely fanatical about avoiding adverbs completely. And perhaps just to be kind of contrarian, I included a fair number of them. In the cases where I did, however, I know that I looked at how it read with and without the adverb. If it read better and if what was being said didn’t communicate what the adverbial modifier did, it stayed.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

Hmm. When someone is in mortal danger, are they more likely to say “oh shit,” or “oh shit!” ? I used plenty of exclamation points (sometimes with all caps) in characters’ dialogue when they were in extreme situations (which occurred fairly often in the story). And also with the “sound effects” that depicted explosions. For sure there were zero exclamation points when I was writing in my omniscient narrator’s voice. It’s an element that Tom Wolfe uses that keeps me from being much of a Tom Wolfe fan.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

Broke that rule once or twice with a “suddenly” or “all at once” this or that. I do remember being conscious of the rule when I broke it. Once again, I looked carefully at the passage with and without the word. In the instance or two when I used it, it made what was going on clearer and would’ve sounded flat and robotic without it.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Pretty much followed this one, I think. I tried to give McCoy a speech patterns that would reflect a contemporary, educated, Midwestern black man, but with a bit of southern rural black heritage. In other words, speech patterns he might have picked up from his parents – for instance, when he uses the terms “dad-blamed” and “what in tarnation.” I very definitely avoided trying to use ghetto slang and argot. You may have noticed that McCoy often drops opening pronouns, both when he speaks aloud and when he’s telling the Scream Cruise story. The truncation may bother some people, but that’s how I hear his speech in my head.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Followed this rule pretty well. There were a few instances where I wanted the reader to get a specific picture of some of the secondary characters, but for the most part I let them fill that in on their own.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Overall I think I did well on this one. I know that I have a tendency to over-describe physical details, but I did my best to keep it in check. When revising, I also did a fair amount of detail-cutting, so that the action and dialogue would continue flowing.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Leonard means by this. Long chunks of exposition, perhaps? If so, I certainly avoided that. The vast majority of the paragraphs in Scream Cruise are no more than three sentences. In several cases I broke down longer paragraph blocks into shorter ones.

The “If it sounds like writing’ Rule

Along with then ten rules, there’s another that’s is supposedly the most important and ostensibly sums up the other 10: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” He goes on to talk about what he calls “hooptedoodle” – writing that is self-consciously “writerly.”

For the most part, I quite consciously avoided writerly writing. It wouldn’t have fit the story and, besides, I’m not very good at that kind of thing. I probably didn’t use more than a half dozen similes (where something is like something else) and the only metaphors I can recall were used in some character’s speech – and were promptly made fun of by some other character. I did try to choose “power” words that evoked vivid images and that carried higher levels of emotional weight.

detroit author elmore leonard

Detroit author Elmore Leonard


So Is Elmore Leonard Going to Have Me Whacked?

I don’t think so. Even though I broke a few of the rules at times, I did so consciously. Without having the rules as a general set of guideposts, though, I might have gone overboard using his no-nos, which could have seriously subverted the story.So thanks, Mr. Leonard. You’re an inspiration to all Detroit authors – not to mention writers everywhere.And may you live to be 120…


Detroit author Jim DeLorey 

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Writing Scenes For Your Novel

how to write novel scenesThe modern-day popular novel is composed of scenes – the depiction of imaginary characters doing, thinking and feeling things at some particular time and place.

When you’re writing a novel, it’s likely that a few of your scenes will “write themselves.” In other words, the action, dialogue and setting will all seem flow out your imagination and onto the page, with little or no effort on your part.

More often than not, however, what you’ll actually have is simply a general idea about what needs to happen in a scene in order to logically move the story forward. But you’ll have only the foggiest notion of how to create a scene that keeps the reader engaged and which sustains – and, ideally, heightens – the story’s momentum.

When I was drafting Scream Cruise: A Motor City Thriller, I developed the following scene-writing template, which I used to keep my mind focused on the component elements that would make the scene work. After each heading, I would briefly fill in what I could put into the scene that would fulfill that element.

My Scene-Writing Template

  • Scene Function:
  • Scene Setting:
  • What happens:
  • Emotional Drivers:
  • Tension Elements:
  • Character Interactions:
  • Key Images:
  • Opening Hook:
  • Ending Hook:

Now let’s look at the elements of the scene-writing template more closely.

Scene Function

What is the primary function of this particular scene? Is it to arouse curiosity? Is it to depict action? Is it to create suspense? Is it to create or heighten the reader’s empathy or antipathy toward the focal (POV) character? Is it exposition (i.e., information dump)? Although a scene can conceivably have multiple functions, it’s likely to work best if only one predominates. You should be clear about which one that is.

Scene Setting

A good way to heighten the effect of a scene is to place it in an interesting setting. One way to create compelling settings is to place your characters in locations that are at least a bit out of the ordinary, and are perhaps even unusual or extraordinary. Put the reader inside places that suit the action of the scene, but that are interesting in themselves as well. Examples: An expensive, speeding limousine. A billionaire’s luxurious bedroom. The boardroom of an multinational corporation. The hushed quiet of a museum. A private jet descending toward a white-beached Caribbean island. Note that the out-of-the-ordinary setting can be downscale as well as upscale. The passenger seat of a garbage truck. An old, abandoned warehouse full of rusting machinery and moldering trash. A ramshackle convenience store on a country highway. The out-of-the-ordinary setting helps keep the reader’s attention and, when chosen well, can also contribute to the emotional impact of the scene.

What Happens

Chances are, something needs to happen in the scene in order to simply move the story forward logically. This can be physical action or dialogue or a combination of both. (In popular fiction, most “action” actually consists of dialogue betwen characters.) But besides the necessary component, what else could happen in the course of depicting the story-forwarding events? And what could you incorporate that would make what happens more compelling? Could there be some small or even a major surprise that occurs as well? Could your focal character or one or more of the other characters say or do something that’s unexpected? Could the setting they’re in also play a role in what’s said or done? In sum: how can you make the “what happens?” in this scene as interesting and impactful as possible?

Emotional Drivers

People tend to like or dislike fictional stories – whether on film, television, or in books – because of the emotional experience the story arouses in them. If they’ve sufficently identified with the primary hero/heroine character, they vicariously experience the same feelings the character experiences. Laughter, love, erotic desire, affection, jealousy, anger, resentment, regret, guilt, suspicion, curiosity, outrage, suspense, fear, dread, danger: there’s a broad palate of feelings you can attempt to induce in the reader. Over the course of a novel, you may well seek to arouse a variety of feelings in them. But for a single scene, chances are you will generally want one key emotion to predominate. You should be clear about the particular feeling-experience you’re aiming to induce in the reader as you imagine and write the scene.

Tension Elements

Many books on fiction-writing make the claim that a good story must be driven by conflict between opposing forces. Conflict can be external (the traditional ”good guy versus bad guy” story); or it can also be an internal conflict in the mind of the protagonist (should Peggy Sue choose the devoted millionaire or the wild, rebel pauper?). It’s my belief that conflict is overrated as a story driver. I think that what drives stories can best be characterized as narrative tension. In other words, situations that engage the reader both emotionally and cognitively.

For sure, narrative tension can be created by the conflict of opposing forces. But it can also be derived from situations such as romantic or erotic attraction, personal quandaries (how will she or he solve this?), personality judgments (is this person friend or foe, lover or betrayer?) and plain old curiosity (What’s going on here? Why is this happening?). In the course of writing a scene, characters may indeed be in direct (or even indirect) conflict with one another. But a scene in which the protagonist discovers they have a resourceful and empathetic ally can be just as powerful.

So if there are no directly opposing forces in the scene, ask yourself: what tensions is your focal character experiencing or undergoing in the scene? Who or what is causing them? How do they respond to the tensions? What do they do to resolve them? And perhaps most important of all: how can you heighten the tension for the focal character – and hence for the reader as well?

Character Interactions

Although it’s possible to depict a focal character interacting only with their physical environment for whole scenes (consider, for instance, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, surveilling the lair of some enemy he’ll later on annihilate), in most cases there’ll be interactions with other characters. Who will your focal character be interacting with in this scene? What will each be trying to get from the other? Do they have hidden as well as overt agendas? In what ways could their differing personalities skew the interaction? How will their differing views of the world or their immediate situation affect how they interact? What will be the end result of their interaction?

Key Images

Although most popular fiction attempts to depict believeable characters in a naturalistic setting, it is possible to heighten the dramatic effect of the scene by choosing and highlighting certain images that occur in the scene. Images from nature (a withering-hot sun; a gyring hawk or eagle; a dark, looming mountain; a crystal-clear, fast-running creek , a scuttling rodent) have an innate power, but images from human culture (a thundering locomotive, a softly-humming computer, a telephone that’s anxiously burbling) can also be invested with emotional resonance. Any image that resonates with emotional nuance can be a powerful reinforcement for the fraught interactions between your characters, or for a dramatic event that occurs for your focal character.

Opening Hook

A hook is anything that grabs the reader’s attention right at the outset. There are any number of ways to create hooks: a seemingly paradoxical statement; a statement that leaves out some important element, and thus creates curiosity; a person saying something dramatic or strange; a dramatic event, depicted at its outset or perhaps even in mid-action.

You may have noticed that, although I’m talking about hooks that open scenes, I’ve listed this as one of the latter elements. That’s because, in my experience, it’s easier to find an opening hook once you already know what the primary content of the scene is going to be. If you try to write the scene beginning with the hook, it may set you on a narrative path that doesn’t truly fit the main function of the scene. Once you’ve got the scene down, it’s easier to create an opening hook that suits the material that follows.

Ending Hook

Finally we come to the last element: the ending hook. As with openings, there are many ways to devise ending hooks. They can, for instance, be: a character asking themselves or someone else a leading question; the sudden appearance of a new character or new information; a statement that withholds some portion of information that makes it understandable. The possibilities are almost endless. The requirement is simply that it should portend something that’s going to happen. Possibly as soon as the next page is turned, or possibly down the line. Curiosity may have killed the cat – but it is catnip to virtually all readers.

How To Use The Scene-Writing Template

If, like me, you’re a planner and outliner, as opposed to a seat-of-the-pantser, you can add the template to your outline. I like to paste the list shown at the outset of this article (with the colons) underneath the scene summary I’ve sketched out for my outline. I then go through the elements one by one, and brainstorm my answers. I then go to my draft and write the scene, referring back to the template whenever I start losing track of where the scene is going. In some cases, I’ll paste the template into the draft document so that it stays right in front of me. That way, even my monkey mind can’t avoid it. If you’re a “pantser,” this might be a good way to make the template work for you.

And that’s it. The template is no be-all or end-all, and will by no means provide every answer to the problems you’ll encounter in your scene-writing. But it works for me, and hopefully will make the job at least a little bit easier for you as well.

Happy writing!

Detroit author Jim DeLorey

PS: if you want to check out my Detroit thriller, Scream Cruise, just click on any of the links you see on the sides of this page.

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Scream Cruise Now Available For Several eReaders

Just wanted to post a quick update to let folks know that – in addition to the Amazon versions shown on the right side of the web page - you can now get the ebook version of Scream Cruise on several e-reader platforms. You can now preview and buy the book through the Apple iBookstore and read it on your iPad, iPod or even your iPhone. Here’s a link to Scream Cruise at the Apple store:

You can also purchase Scream Cruise online at Barnes & Noble – either in the print or Nook ebook version. Just click on the logo graphic for the version you prefer.

 Scream Cruise Print Version 

 Scream Cruise Nook eBook Version

If you have a Kobo ebook reader, you can get the book at the Kobo bookstore, at:

The book is also available at Smashwords.com in multiple electronic formats. Here’s a link to Scream Cruise on Smashwords:

It can be downloaded as an .html, .epub, .mobi or .PDF file. With .html, you can read it right in your browser. The .epub can be read on a number of different readers. .mobi files can be read on your Kindle (although if you are planning on reading it on a Kindle, I’d recommend getting it from Amazon over Smashwords). .PDF files can be read by the Adobe Reader program.

So there it is, folks: Scream Cruise in whatever format you prefer. Enjoy!

Scream Cruise eBook 99 Cent Sale

scream cruise - amazon sales page graphicScream Cruise eBook On Sale – Note: Sale Is Over!

Update: the 99 cent sale is over and the ebook price of Scream Cruise is back to $2.99. (Still a bargain in my opinion – just not an insane bargain!)

Thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy, at whatever price you paid. And if you enjoyed the book and want to support Detroit writers, please post a review on whatever store you bought from. Thanks!


For a limited time, I’ve made the ebook version of Scream Cruise available for just 99 cents. You can get it at this special price for Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad or iPod, Sony’s eReader or on Smashwords in multiple formats. The easiest way to find it is to just Google on “scream cruise” and add the name of the bookseller you prefer.

Did You Know Your PC is a Kindle Reader?

I’m discovering that an awful lot of folks are unaware that Amazon gives away a free Kindle application that allows you to read any Kindle ebook on your computer, whether it’s an Apple or IBM-compatible PC.

Since there’s no printing cost associated with ebooks, most of the time they’re more inexpensive than print book. There are a ton of excellent books available for only $2.99 (my normal price for Scream Cruise) or even 99 cents, when authors like myself are trying to build readership for their books.

Did You Know You Can Preview eBooks?

I’ve also found out from talking to people that very often they don’t know you can preview eBooks before buying them. All the big ebook sellers allow you to read at least the opening pages of the ebook, so you can get a feel for whether it’s for you.  So go ahead and check out the previews for Scream Cruise.


Scream Cruise Print Book Published on Amazon

Scream Cruise - A Motor City Thriller

Am happy to say I’ve reached another milestone in the publication process. The print version of Scream Cruise is now available on Amazon.

The process has been challenging, to say the least. I’ve made hundreds of small changes, corrections and improvements since ”finishing” the original Kindle ebook.

I’ve got 20 copies on order from CreateSpace. These will be used primarily for marketing purposes. My intention is to provide local reviewers with copies, and also to show them to a couple of local retail outlets where I think they’ll be interested in the title, due to it being a Detroit-centered fiction.


Scream Cruise eBook Published on Amazon

scream cruise - amazon sales page graphicUpdate: Scream Cruise now available on all major ebook stores.

Thanks to Mark Coker’s excellent Smashwords.com site, Scream Cruise – A Motor City Thriller is now available for download to your Nook, iPad or iPod, or Sony e-reader as well as to your Amazon Kindle (or PC with the Kindle app installed).

 Milestone: Scream Cruise Published on Amazon.

Yesterday was something of a landmark day for me. I finally published my first fiction ebook on Amazon. I have to admit it feels great!

I wrote the initial draft of my Detroit thriller, Scream Cruise in about 3 months in 2011. I could tell there many good elements in the book. But there were also several problems with it, and at the time I just didn’t know how to go about fixing them.

After I retired last November, I decided to devote myself to writing fiction full-time. But instead of just diving in and trying to wing it and learn as I went, I also decided to start seeing myself as an apprentice at the craft of writing popular fiction. I started reading a LOT of bestsellers. I read in a lot of different genres – young adult fantasy, action thrillers, romantic thrillers, mystery and more.  But I didn’t just read the books and put them aside. I’d read them once just for the story, and then I’d go back through them, scene-by-scene and chapter-by-chapter, and analyze what the author had done to make the scene work the way it did.

Anyways, I know I learned a lot from that process.  Because when I took a look again at Scream Cruise back in June of 2012, I realized I now knew what I had to do to make the story work well for readers.

So for the past two months I’ve worked diligently to finish the book. Cutting, adding, shifting things around, and just generally using every technique I’d learned to make Scream Cruise as entertaining a book as possible.

One thing I also did was heighten the amount of local Detroit content. I realized I was taking a certain risk there, since people who aren’t from or familiar with the area might be kind of put off by the place references.  But my desire to produce something that people from Greater Detroit would get a kick out of won out in the end.  In a weird way, Scream Cruise is kind of an affectionate love letter to my home town, the Motor City.

In any case, getting the ebook of Scream Cruise up on Amazon is just the beginning. I’m already working on getting a paperback version prepared to release and also to get the book out in other electronic formats besides Kindle.

No rest for the wicked!

P.S. In case you’re wondering what authors I’ve been studying, they include James Patterson, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, Lisa Gardner, Dean Koontz, Harlan Coben, Alex Kava, J. A. Konrath, Blake Crouch, Tess Gerritsen, Thomas Harris, William Peter Blatty, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Stieg Larsson, Carl Hiassen, Janet Evanovitch – and more besides.


Lisa Gardner Writing Tips

This is an excellent piece by romantic suspense writer Lisa Gardner.  (I’ve read four of her books thus far and think very highly of them.)  This and several other very cogent articles on the the craft of writing suspense fiction are available as free PDF downloads on the Writer’s Toolbox area of her website, lisagardner.com.

Seven Secrets of Romantic Suspense

By Lisa Gardner

Writing romantic suspense is tough. You have characters, you have plot. You have beautiful romance elements, you have nail-biting suspense. In short, you have a lot of ingredients and few instructions for preparation. While there is no one winning recipe, here are seven tips to help guide your efforts:

1. Start in the library 2. Establish a setting that will add tone and tension 3. Create compelling protagonists and worthy opponents 4. Reveal your twisting plot slowly, with the stakes high and the end always in doubt 5. Exacerbate conflicts and character development with sexual tension 6. Tantalize your reader with hints of hope 7. Satisfy your reader with a solid ending and sense of closure

1. Start in the library The experts weren’t lying when they said write what you know and know what you write. In research, there are three levels of exposure: • Secondary sources: True crime novels, textbooks, periodicals, articles, etc. • Primary sources: Interviewing doctors, lawyers, agents, cops, etc. • Hands-on exposure: Gun classes, volunteering at a hospital, morgue, etc. Every writer must decide for herself how far she wants to take it, but details matter. Patricia Cornwell, Thomas Harris, and Stephen Hunter are just three examples of authors who have rocketed to the top due to the thoroughness of their research. By becoming masters of their subjects, they plunge the reader into a richly textured world, with authentic investigative procedure and clever plot twists. This creates a “big book,” worthy of their seven-digit contracts. Also, the public has a growing interest in police and forensics details as evidenced by the popularity of such shows as Law & Order, CSI, NYPD Blue, etc. Any new research tidbit you can bring to the table will help garner an editor’s interest as well.

2. Establish a setting that will add tone and tension From the chilling Minnesotan winter used by Tami Hoag in Night Sins to the sultry Louisianan summer of Sandra Brown’s Slow Heat in Heaven, setting makes a book come alive. Plummeting temperatures give a sense of urgency, just as nightfall can evoke fear. A dark English castle may be brooding, while open Montana skies provide opportunity and fresh starts. Also, changing from one location to another can give your book a sense of movement. The bottom line is, whatever setting you ultimately choose, get to know it intimately and make it real.

3. Create compelling protagonists and worthy opponents If there is one element that can make or break a book, character development is it. Romantic suspense is about impending danger and blossoming romance—and none of it is meaningful if we don’t care about the characters. Moreover, many beginning writers make the mistake of inventing intelligent, clever protagonists, but then pit them against slow, stupid villains. The match of wits should be even, or your conflict and tension will be contrived. The best suspense books break new ground with their villains. Think Lex Luthor, Hannibal Lector, Cruella de Ville, etc.

Obviously, a whole article could be written on character development. Since we don’t have that kind of length, here are a few quick pointers: • Every character (including the villain) should have a goal and something personal at stake in the emerging conflict. Keep this goal in mind at all times for consistent motivation. • Every character should have a few key strengths that mold and form them, e.g., the genius, the athlete, the military man. Don’t give them too many strengths or they will be unbelievable. • Every character should have some vulnerability. This will take your characters from cardboard cut outs to being real human beings. In Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, one of the most riveting scenes is the killer falling in love with a truly wonderful, generous woman. Likewise, the hero’s battle with alcohol throughout the book makes him approachable and sympathetic. People are flawed and those flaws make them genuine. • Every character should have their own moral code, the things they will and will not do. Your heroine will do anything to catch a murderer, but put her child in jeopardy. Your killer suffers from a homicidal rage, but refuses to stoop to theft. Everyone has boundaries and these boundaries should shape your characters in the emerging battle. • Everyone must evolve. Conflict and love are like fire, breaking down your characters and forging better, stronger people in their place. Cynics learn to love, loners to trust. The heroine and hero impact each other, bend each other, and reshape each other permanently. By the end of the book, they could not go their separate way and still feel complete. When that happens, you know you’ve done your job well.

4. Reveal your twisting plot slowly, with the stakes high and the end always in doubt As the saying goes, the world was made round so we could never see too far ahead. Syd Field’s book on screenwriting techniques is still the best plotting advice I know. Basically, start with a bang, build tension, offer a few resting moments, then throw in complication after complication until it appears all is lost. At that moment, your protagonists will refuse to give in, launch their final bold attack, and since this is popular fiction, emerge triumphant. Creating this kind of high-tension plot is definitely easier said than done. For me, it takes three or four iterations to get a suspense plot right. I outline my first attempt at plot, see all the holes, rewrite the outline, realize the whole thing is trite, throw it out, and start over. Generally after a few cycles of thinking and trashing, I have something I can tolerate. I know other authors who write down seven possible resolutions to the conflict, throw them all out, then go with the eighth—figuring the first seven were the predictable answers so the eighth idea will be the one that truly surprises the reader. Generally, a twisting suspense plot will require you to back fill foreshadowing and relevant details. Remember, if you can see what’s going to happen next, so can the reader.

5. Exacerbate conflicts and character development with sexual tension The Gothics do it best. The brooding man, the mysterious woman. The burning attraction that might finally illuminate their lives or plunge them once and for all into darkness. Sexual tension adds so much to suspense. It contributes to mystery: Is this person friend or foe? It ratchets up the tension, keeping the reader flipping pages until the late hours of the night. It complicates the plot—there’s nothing simple about love or lust. Finally, it exposes your characters. Sex makes people vulnerable and in suspense novels, your characters generally can’t afford to be vulnerable. They want, they fear, they need. This is potent stuff. Personally, I like sexual tension to closely track the suspense plot. As danger mounts, so does desire. As the future becomes more and more uncertain, the need for personal connection becomes even more paramount. Ultimately, the characters come together in a tumultuous mix of passion, vulnerability, and hope. This release of physical tension makes a great “breather” for the reader right before the plot suffers a final, dramatic twist.

6. Tantalize your reader with hints of hope We need to have doubt, we need to have fear. But what keeps conflict high and a reader interested is that distant glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. By definition, a romantic suspense novel is still targeting the romance market. Remember why romance readers read—for escape, for entertainment, and for happily-ever-after. If your book becomes too hopeless or too negative, you risk losing your reader. As a result, you must seek to modulate tension. Plot twists, escalating tension and harsh setbacks should be followed by fresh ideas and new plans for attack. Your protagonists can feel cornered, afraid, and overwhelmed, but they should never, ever be hopeless.

7. Satisfy your reader with a solid ending and sense of closure Once again, romance readers require a happy ending and sense of resolution. You have plunged your readers into a fast-paced, muscle-bunching, eye-straining marathon. Now, you need to give them a victory party. First, end with a bang. Nothing is worse than a book that runs out of steam. Think big, bigger, and biggest. Second, closure matters. You’ve created a tightly-woven suspense masterpiece, don’t let it unravel at the finish line. This may require having a second party read your book to find the holes and question motivation. Finally, pillow talk is important. Your plot is wrapped up, the twists explained, the bad guy defeated. Now give your hero and heroine some time alone. Let them be together, laughing, crying, or loving. Tell the reader how they will continue their lives together, stronger, healthier, and happier. This will provide the final warm glow so that your reader can lean back against the headboard and feel satisfied.

Detroit author Jim DeLorey’s Current Novel Projects


Detroit author Jim DeLorey’s novel projects


I’m currently working on three different novel projects.

One is a young adult fantasy.  One is an action thriller, set in Detroit, that climaxes at the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise. And the third is a revision of a novel I wrote a dozen years or so back, an updating of the Grimms’ fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel,” set in the 1950s American midwest.

For better or worse, right now I’m rotating between them.  Working on one until I run into mental roadblocks that halt my momentum, then switching over to another.  The advantage is that it keeps my writing forward-momentum going.  The disadvantage is that it MAY prolong the completion time for them.

When I run into problem areas, I have a tendency to zero in too closely and try to fix things by getting exactly the right wordings - when the real problem tends to be more on the level of plain, old, simple story-telling.

That’s why moving from one piece to another seems to be working for me.  I get some distance from them in the interim periods, and am better able to see them from the altitude I need to be able to fix them.

Note: writing well (or at least effectively) has a lot to do with “zooming” in and out.  More on that next time.  Or at some point…





Pieces of the Puzzle: Vicarious Experience

vi·car·i·ous / Adjective:

Experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person: “vicarious pleasure”. 

Felt or undergone as if one were taking part in the experience or feelings of another.

The essential ingredient of all successful stories is to create a series of intense, vivid vicarious experiences that culminate in a satisfying conclusion for the reader/audience.

Consider the almost insane popularity of professional sports, worldwide.  It is due to the fact that the spectator has the vicarious experience of competing in, excelling at, and winning the game - and especially the big game.

Do the efforts of the athletes on the playing field (outstanding as they may be) have any real and intrinsic relationship to the actual lives of the fans watching them?  To whether they’re winning or losing at life?  Objectively, the answer is no – none whatsoever.  The importance, the high-stakes drama, the frenzy even, are entirely a subjective inner projection by the emotionally-engaged audience.

Our job  as writers of popular fiction is to mentally transport people into word-spun realms where they can have powerful vicarious experiences of love and hate, good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice, war and peace,  and – yes – winning and losing.

Do this job effectively – give people the illusion they are living a high-stakes drama, while they are in fact sitting somewhere reading and turning pages of text – and you are (or will be) a successful professional writer…