Saturday, February 9, 2013

Writing for the Thrill

by D. L. Wilson

A thriller novel must be exciting, a real page turner, a book that readers just can’t put down. A successful thriller must start with a bang, build excitement, create tension, and finish with a bigger bang.

After writing a university textbook and a cookbook to learn about the publishing world, which was a lot more complex than I had ever dreamed, I decided to try my hand at fiction writing. During my day job as a fashion executive I had traveled to 32 countries and spent countless hours on airplanes reading . . . reading . . . reading. I had become infatuated with suspense/thrillers so I decided to try my hand in the genre I had been enraptured by for many years.

I found a real challenge in writing thrillers. My goal was to create fiction with content. I wanted my readers to become engrossed with my characters, scenes, and plot and after reading my novels, come away with a newer and better understanding of important factors in our complex world. Many things in life are not black or white, true or false, right or wrong. Much of what we accept as fact is based upon theories, claims, beliefs, and the level of science and technology at the time. One misquote, misinterpretation, or misread can confuse fact and fiction. What is accepted as fact today doesn’t always stand the test of time. A good example is the Shroud of Turin.

My first novel, UNHOLY GRAIL, is based upon broad research into the facts, legends, myths, and even conspiracy theories relating to Christianity and Judaism. A trip to Vienna, Austria and the South of France presented great insight into Fr. Berringer Saunier who had somehow amassed great wealth and built a beautiful church and villa in the small village of Rennes-le-Château high in the Pyrénées. Through reading over 60 books on the various theories and philosophies, I learned that a lot of the historical “facts” that were presented in many documents and books were passed on through “oral tradition.” If you’ve ever played whisper down the line, remember what bizarre results came out of the mouth of the tenth person in line.

To keep the thrill alive in UNHOLY GRAIL, I created a Fordham University theology professor, Fr. Joseph Romano, who receives an anonymous call offering him a secret Gospel written by James, the brother of Jesus. When he arrives at Grand Central Station to meet the mysterious caller, a shot rings out, bedlam erupts, and Fr. Romano is thrust into a centuries-old conspiracy that threatens the very sanctity of the church.

My second novel, SIROCCO, is a bioterrorism thriller. As usual, I did way too much research. I visited bio-research labs and met with experts in biotechnology, pharmacology, and medicine to provide valuable insight into the potential dangers of bioterrorism. I researched government agencies and again read many books relating to the potential dangers of bioterrorism. I studied Islam and interviewed Muslim businessmen from small, medium and large cities in the Middle East to try to understand how a religion could be used as a foundation for terrorism. Like with most religions, I found it was based upon how the Koran was interpreted and presented to the followers. The words from any pulpit can be distorted to meet the speaker’s objectives.

To keep the thrill alive, I had to start with a bang. Brett Reynolds, an attorney representing the pharmaceutical lobby, is summoned to Washington for an urgent meeting by Homeland Security to investigate a threat by a Middle Eastern terrorist group, Sirocco, to unleash a bioweapon at the heart of the United States. With a bioterror looming that could devastate the U.S., Brett learns of his brother’s death in a bizarre murder/suicide. As the plot unfolds he discovers connections between his brother and the terrorist threat. His investigation leads him on a harrowing chase that ends in a deadly confrontation with Sirocco and a chilling climax in the Oval Office.

I write for the thrill. What in a novel gives you the thrill of reading?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It’s All In The Name

There are books, songs, and games relating to the “name.” The names of characters in novels are very important to keeping readers enthralled, turning the pages to find out what will happen next to Mr. X or Ms. Y. A great novel must have a powerful story line, excellent writing, fascinating scenes, but it must also have incredible characters. Characters who readers can relate to, have a passion for, that come alive with the words an author uses to describe them. An important element in developing a passion for a character surprisingly can be the character’s name. As they say, “it’s all in the name.” Well, maybe not all, but it really helps if a character’s name captivates readers. 

If a name resonates with readers, if it becomes embedded in their memory they will be more likely to buy the next Cotton Malone or Alex Cross , or Oliver Stone, or Lucas Davenport novel. Steve Berry, James Patterson, David Baldacci, and John Sanford created these memorable characters. The name game plays a role in keeping fans attached to a series, waiting in excitement for the next opportunity to relate to their favorite character.

A great character doesn’t need a macho name. Cotton, Alex, Oliver, and Lucas don’t create visual images of big macho men like wrestlers Hurricane, Hacksaw, Primo, or Undertaker. But they are names readers can relate to and fit the complex, interesting characters the authors have developed. How many readers can relate to Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s character in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST? A character name must be memorable, captivating, and make an impression on readers.

D. L. Wilson is on the board of the International Thriller Writers and the author of UNHOLY GRAIL, a national bestselling thriller translated into 8 languages. His latest bio-terrorism thriller, SIROCCO, is getting rave reviews. Visit his website at

Image courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Don’t Give Up Your Day Job

The life of an author is a complex world. Getting through the publishing door required a lot more time, commitment, and dedication than I could ever have anticipated. I was fortunate to have spent a number of years learning the basics before giving up my day job. Well, actually I didn’t give up my day job to dedicate myself to the writing life. I waited until I retired from my regular career as a fashion executive and university professor to become a full-time dedicated writer.
During the years of learning about the writing life, I attended many conferences and workshops and joined writing associations, which gave me access to successful authors. When I got to know a few of them to the point where they were comfortable sharing the inside scoop as to how they got to be full-time authors, they provide similar advice. Don’t give up your day job until you have a very successful, established brand in the publishing world. One of the best thriller authors, Steve Berry, shares on his web site that his “road to publishing was long and arduous, spanning 12 years and 85 rejections over 5 separate manuscripts.” He waited until he had published 10 bestselling novels before he gave up his day job as an attorney.
If you want to write, do it because you enjoy writing. A writer must gain satisfaction by engaging hours upon hours in a thought provoking process, living in your own dream world, and having the finished product of the words on the page provide a sense of accomplishment. If you are fortunate to become published, the rewards are having others enjoy reading your book, compliments from readers, and if you are lucky, you might receive some financial gain. But don’t forget that books are works of art and art is in the eye of the beholder. Write because writing is your passion.
Image courtesy of RAWKU5

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Top Five Tips for Writing a Bestselling Novel

All writers dream of creating that bestselling novel. Very few reach that dream since it’s a difficult journey that involves many twists and turns. Producing a novel is a complicated task that requires the author to master both the Art and the Craft of writing. The following is a list of 5 key ingredients for creating a great novel and each one of these requires practice, practice, and more practice.

1. Powerful Storyline. In today’s fast-paced society authors must captivate their readers so they continue turning the pages. The beginning of a novel sets the stage and introduces the characters and basis of the plot. The body of the novel builds the plot up to the climax and resolution of the storyline. All genres of writing require some form of tension or conflict to grab and hold the reader’s attention. Some writers outline their books and some rely on their creative muse to guide them through the writing process. James Patterson creates very intricate scene-by-scene road-maps for his novels. Michael Palmer spends 4 to 5 months developing a detailed outline before he starts the actual writing process of putting the words on the page.

 2.   Fascinating Characters. A good read requires compelling characters. The key to maintaining an intimate relationship between readers and the characters of a novel is to “show, don’t tell.” Show a character’s actions and thoughts rather than tell through the narrator’s description. Let the reader become the character or be in the scene with the character viewing the action. Bring the reader into each scene through powerful, intimate relationships with the key characters. Make your characters three-dimensional. Give them weaknesses and flaws and show them evolve with a sense of realism.

3.   Captivating Scenes. Vivid descriptions of the scenes in a novel are the key to creating the suspension of disbelief. Bestselling authors transform readers into people who are mentally experiencing their story. The readers visualize being present as the story unfolds. Photographs and videos are a godsend to allow writers to describe scenes in realistic detail. Stimulate the reader’s senses with sounds, odors, tastes, and tactile experiences. Bring your readers into the real world.

4.   Thrillride to a Gripping Climax. Keep the pace moving and readers turning the pages eager to see the next twist and turn in your story. Readers want an emotional impact with tension, high stakes, and powerful conflicts. They want to live the thrillwith your characters. End each scene with a hook that will grab your readers by the throat and make them turn the page. Make sure your plot threads grow throughout the story and weave together to end with a powerful realism that readers will appreciate and accept with a sense of awe and satisfaction.

5.   E-promotion and Marketing. In today’s Internet driven society, a new author must dive headlong into promoting the result of months, or years, of mastering the art and craft of writing. The publishing industry is evolving into a new enterprise with the advent of e-books, social networking, and e-promotion. More and more books are being sold through the Internet and directly through e-readers. New authors must promote themselves and their books through this rapidly expanding world of technology.

Image courtesy of Lukáš Patkaň.