Creating Drama


People often ask how I go about plotting my novels. How does one write a great thriller? Is there some trick to it? Well, as any mystery/thriller writer will tell you there is no trick. Creating a book that is exciting and page-turning can be a long and arduous process. So many things need to be considered. The pacing, the plotting, the introduction of new conflicts or even twists in conflicts already introduced.

The first thing I do before sitting down to write a new novel is dwell on an idea. I’ll be honest, I get ideas all the time, but the good ones are the ones that stay with me. If an idea captivates me then hopefully it will have the same effect on the reader. Next I must have some idea where I want this story to go. What am I trying to say? How will the story end? Admittedly, I don’t always have the ending rock solid in my brain when I begin the novel. I find endings to be one of those fluid things that often get resolved as the book nears completion. Making tough decisions about how much information to pass on to the reader and how much to hold back or cut altogether are often the hardest part of structuring a suspenseful tale. Where should I cut my scenes? Where do I begin or even end my chapters? A good rule of thumb in thriller writing is: come in late, get out early. Nobody wants to be dragged through a long introduction before getting into the action. So give the reader what they want. Pick ‘em up and drop them right into the fray.

It is my humble opinion that you can never have enough conflict. Conflict by its very nature needs to be resolved. Likewise, the reader will want conflict resolved. The more conflict you introduce into your novel, the longer the reader will have to keep turning pages to find out what happens. Every dilemma you throw at your protagonist will be just one more thing your readers will want to follow through to see how they get out of it.

When I begin writing a novel, I know that there are things that need to happen. There must be a murder, or murders, obviously, the genre demands it. The crime may have already happened, or perhaps is about to happen and the reader will bear witness. Next I need to introduce the characters who will make up the cast of the book. Be sure to include the killer or killers as soon as possible. Following that I begin to think about what things I want to add to the story to give it its flavor. Will there be distractions keeping my protagonist occupied with things other than solving the murder and catching the killer? Will there be antagonists looking to thwart the forward progress of our hero? Or several?

All of this is conflict and the sooner you start weaving it into your story the better. It’s like watching a juggler. If we put a juggler up on stage with only two tennis balls and watch them juggle it would be pretty lame right? Adding a ball only adds slightly to the entertainment factor. Adding another could add a bit more. Yawn. But what if we up the drama by introducing a couple of eggs or something else that’s breakable, like a plate, or a piece of grandma’s antique Waterford crystal. Still haven’t got you on the edge of your seat? Let’s say we add a butcher knife, or a straight razor, or maybe a buzzing chainsaw. How about we bring the juggler to the front of the stage so that the objects she’s juggling are directly above the people in the front row? Now let’s blindfold her and strap on roller skates. That should get the heart rate cranking, especially those tickers in the front row. Can you see how all of this would add to the tension felt by your readers?

When writing my novels I keep this little analogy in mind. If the story is flowing along just a little too easily or predictably I can always add in another chainsaw for John Byron to juggle.

Until next time. Write on!

About Bruce Robert Coffin

Bruce is a retired detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine's largest city. Bruce also spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, where he earned the Director's Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive. He is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mystery Series from HarperCollins. His short stories appear in a number of anthologies including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016. Bruce lives and writes in Maine.
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5 Responses to Creating Drama

  1. Elaine Schmidt says:

    OMG your juggler story is so funny. But it was a great way to explain adding nail-biting tension to your novel.

  2. Liz Milliron says:

    The juggler analogy is great. I often find myself writing in reverse. I know the ending – I just have to figure out how I got there!

  3. Kate Flora says:

    Last night, Bruce, who is reading the draft of my next Joe Burgess said he had to stop before he found out what Burgess and his team found in the basement. Today, I am wondering what he thought when he read on. Sometimes, it is just the casual remark, out of the blue, that can create tension.

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