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Not Dark Enough for Young Adult Dystopian Thriller?


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#1 Summer

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 03:10 AM

I'll keep this short. My novel is a young adult dystopian thriller. I'm having trouble building up a darker mood in certain scenes. Scenes that should be scary just aren't, at least not enough for me.There isn't any guts and gore, but I do want the book to be suspenseful and the real danger (like soldiers hunting for the main character) to feel scary. But it seems like there's a wall for me. The mood can only reach a certain level of trepidation. How can I plow through this wall and create heart-racing, nail-biting scenes that make the reader worry about the character?


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#2 mammaMia

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 03:20 AM

You need details. Details on the emotions and what the narrator sees.

This is what I do and I'm not an experienced writer, but I hope this helps!

Emotions: Honestly, acting things out work for me. Everything from gory scenes to happy scenes, I act them out. I build up emotions within myself and write them exactly as I feel. It's hard for most people though, so I don't know if it'll work for you.

Visuals: I like to daydream and when I'm writing, I always visualize a scene before writing it. Focus on the small details, if it's too vague, the scene won't be dark enough.

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#3 Josh L

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 04:37 AM

Like mammamia said, it's all about adding details.

 

My standby for making scenes darker or more frightening are to put the visuals or sequence of events on the back-burner and put all my focus on what the character feels (emotionally and physically) as they struggle. In these moments, the plot takes a back seat to my descriptions of hearts threatening to pound through rib cages or throats rubbed sore and bleeding from endless screams.

 

Let me post a little something to describe what I'm talking about.  (context: the main character has been captured and drugged and is currently restrained in a metal chair that sounds like it has a small engine behind it)

 

Spoiler

bzdSmSO.jpg  The Sky Demons are coming...

 


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#4 jess.foster

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 04:48 AM

You can also create the scenes mood by your sentence lengths and your word choices. Also how the character views things. Here's my example (note it'll be a lame example because it's 2:30 am here and this hasn't been my best week) but say your character sees and notices the rain hitting the windows. You know how it looks with the big fat drops sliding down to join with other drops until they reach the bottom of the pane?

Here's two descriptions of that:

 

Version 1:

 

The raindrops slide down the glass like a dance. Jenny trailed her finger, counting each time the drop touched another and grew. The constant pinging reminded her of Josh, his heartbeat against her ear. But then everything reminded her of Josh.

 

Version 2:

 

The raindrops sliced down the glass. Loud. The patter matched Jenny's racing heart. For the fifth time, she swiped her hand across the cool window. It didn't help. The trails of water still crisscrossed her vision. She couldn't see. She couldn't hear. He could be right there--waiting. She shuddered and took a step back.

 

I'm not sure if the examples work, but I hope you get what I mean. :)



#5 Eli Ashpence

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:01 PM

Fear will never be scary unless it becomes 'real'.

 

For example, you never fear being bullied until you see someone else getting the crap kicked out of them.

The fear of guns doesn't hit home until you see it fired and hear the air crack.

The fear of bears is laughable until one is standing before you with sharp claws, dripping teeth, and a roar that shakes your bones.

 

"I hear there's an ax-murderer loose" will never be as scary as "There a creepy guy on the front lawn with an ax."

Perhaps you're not getting close enough to the things/people/events that are supposed to build fear in your story.

 

 

Also, what Jess said about sentence lengths are spot-on.  Shorter sentences create speed in the action.  Think of it like the reader's heartbeat.  If you want their heart to beat out of their chest, then make things happen faster.


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#6 Summer

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:55 PM

Thank you everyone for commenting! I think details are exactly what have been missing mamaMia.Josh L your example was spot-on. I could feel every bit of emotion. jess.foster, if that's how you write at 2:30 am then you should write at 2:30 am every day! Excellent sentence examples. Eli Ashpence, I hadn't even thought of that. I'll definitely have to get the character closer to the danger.


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#7 Midnight Whimsy

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 02:55 PM

I think the advice about details is absolutely spot on -- but not just any details. Use specific, targeted details to create mood/tension. Describing too much will bog down the pace of the scene and ruin the tension. Pick and choose the details. In Josh's example, all the details revolve around the needle torture thing, and that narrows the reader's focus in the same way the terrified narrator is focused on it. Even then, the needle torture thing isn't overly described, because that would take too long and disrupt the building tension.

 

For showing what the character feels, I recommend caution. Readers don't really need inside the character's head too much in a high tension scene -- because the scene should speak for itself. The reader will be tense/fearful, therefore they don't need any explanation that the MC is tense/fearful. Physical responses are better, like "fear rushed through her" is weaker than "Her racing heart slammed into her ribs". Using Josh's example again (sorry Josh, I'm at work and don't have my own examples ;)) "Her heart, stomach and lungs seized up as the wheezing sounds behind her turned into a whirring crescendo." This sentence is great -- a jarring, gritty physical reaction to fear. Wherever possible, let the events speak for themselves -- example, "He was going to punch her!" is weaker than "His arm cocked back, fist aimed for her face."

 

My last suggestion is to really consider diction and word choice. For example, don't say "She ran." If she's attacking, "She charged/lunged/threw herself at the enemy." If she's fleeing, "She bolted/darted/careened/scrambled" etc. Nobody in my action scenes ever fall down. They're flung, slammed, thrown, or blasted, or they crash, crumple, collapse, or drop. Even watch your nouns and adjectives. Soft words like.... I'm going to say "mush" (sorry Josh, just because it jumped out at me), can cancel out stronger words and weaken the sentence.

 

I write a lot of action and the learning curve was steep. I would say the best method of learning, aside from practice, is to read and disect some passages from books that make you as a reader feel scared. :) Learn from the pros!

 

Good luck!

 

M.W



#8 Summer

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 03:02 PM

Great points Midnight Whimsy.

 

I'll make sure to pick and choose which words to emphasize when slowing the mood. The question applies to all types of scenes, both action and suspenseful so thanks for pointing out how to intensify emotions in an action scene.


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#9 MathChick74

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 08:59 PM

This is so great! I was actually going to write the same post, and then Summer beat me to it. Great advice from everyone! I really need to focus also on creating tension. I've written my story, but I feel it's lacking the emotion all around that it needs. Does anyone have a good resource for writing a thriller?

 

Thanks!


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#10 Aaron Bradford Starr

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 09:20 PM

But, like actors do, you need to really feel fear while you're picturing the scene you're writing.  It sounds sort of silly, but you really need to live the feeling you're hoping to convey.

 

For a while, I was writing horror short stories.  As a sort of exercise, to build up my horror muscles, as it were, I would habitually imagine, at random times, the absolute scariest thing I could happening to me at that moment:

 

Driving home from a workout through empty streets...

  the car suddenly dies

  I hit a terrifying shape darting from a house toward the park

  there's a loud thumping from my trunk

  my eyes begin to bleed uncontrollably

 

I fall asleep...

  and wake up duct-taped to a chair in an abandoned factory, no longer alone

  and awaken covered with spiders

  and awaken in a hospital, being reassured that everything is going to be all right

 

I'm taking the elevator at work...

  and as the doors close, something terrible dashes through the gap to join me there

  and the escape hatch is ajar

  and the doors open to row upon row of the rotting dead

 

And after I had kids?  Forget about it!  Parenthood is one terrifying scenario after another, especially if you allow for supernatural frights.

 

You get the idea.  But the trick is to actually picture the scene in your head.  If it isn't a chilling scenario, if you don't actually give yourself at least the creeps, you aren't doing it right.  Everyone has fears.  What are yours?  Picture them happening, and ask why they are scary.  But not to get over them.  To strengthen them, at least on command.  It is the skill of allowing your imagination to do terrible things when needed, and then stopping when that's no longer useful.

 

Dystopian fiction is a favorite of mine, and it meshes well with the idea of fear.  What sort of control would frighten you for a government to have?  What sort of ability to exert that control?  How would you deal with that sort of creeping dread, when there's no escape?  When it's the world that you live in every day?  Is this the sort of power you're dealing with in your book?

 

Remember, emotion is, by definition, a physical sensation.  That's why we say we feel something: we do.  Character's should feel their hearts beating under stress.  Breathing can become shallow.  Vision narrows.  The imagination races, the consciousness focusing on one small detail after another.  You need to make your characters suffer these effects, or they are not all that afraid.  Paranoia and jumpiness aren't unreasonable, as well as the continual monitoring of how everyone else is doing, how they are coping, as a way to feel more normal, more calm.

 

A little of this sort of thing will go a long way toward achieving the effect of extended dread and fear.  There's probably not much need to bludgeon the reader with it.



#11 Summer

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 12:30 AM

Excellent ideas! But would I expect anything less from a horror writer? I've been printing out every suggestion to have it with me when I edit and this is certainly one I'll keep and look over. I'll have to try this excersise with myself and put myself in the character's shoes. Fear...what's the scariest thing that could happen.....? I'll remember this whenever I have to write a creepy scene.

 

And yes, the government certainly does have a lot of power in my book, but I don't think I've emphasized this enough. I'll make a note of that.

 

But, like actors do, you need to really feel fear while you're picturing the scene you're writing.  It sounds sort of silly, but you really need to live the feeling you're hoping to convey.

 

For a while, I was writing horror short stories.  As a sort of exercise, to build up my horror muscles, as it were, I would habitually imagine, at random times, the absolute scariest thing I could happening to me at that moment:

 

Driving home from a workout through empty streets...

  the car suddenly dies

  I hit a terrifying shape darting from a house toward the park

  there's a loud thumping from my trunk

  my eyes begin to bleed uncontrollably

 

I fall asleep...

  and wake up duct-taped to a chair in an abandoned factory, no longer alone

  and awaken covered with spiders

  and awaken in a hospital, being reassured that everything is going to be all right

 

I'm taking the elevator at work...

  and as the doors close, something terrible dashes through the gap to join me there

  and the escape hatch is ajar

  and the doors open to row upon row of the rotting dead

 

And after I had kids?  Forget about it!  Parenthood is one terrifying scenario after another, especially if you allow for supernatural frights.

 

You get the idea.  But the trick is to actually picture the scene in your head.  If it isn't a chilling scenario, if you don't actually give yourself at least the creeps, you aren't doing it right.  Everyone has fears.  What are yours?  Picture them happening, and ask why they are scary.  But not to get over them.  To strengthen them, at least on command.  It is the skill of allowing your imagination to do terrible things when needed, and then stopping when that's no longer useful.

 

Dystopian fiction is a favorite of mine, and it meshes well with the idea of fear.  What sort of control would frighten you for a government to have?  What sort of ability to exert that control?  How would you deal with that sort of creeping dread, when there's no escape?  When it's the world that you live in every day?  Is this the sort of power you're dealing with in your book?

 

Remember, emotion is, by definition, a physical sensation.  That's why we say we feel something: we do.  Character's should feel their hearts beating under stress.  Breathing can become shallow.  Vision narrows.  The imagination races, the consciousness focusing on one small detail after another.  You need to make your characters suffer these effects, or they are not all that afraid.  Paranoia and jumpiness aren't unreasonable, as well as the continual monitoring of how everyone else is doing, how they are coping, as a way to feel more normal, more calm.

 

A little of this sort of thing will go a long way toward achieving the effect of extended dread and fear.  There's probably not much need to bludgeon the reader with it.


Critique my query

Write YA? Need a critique partner?

 

"Good writing is supposed to evoke a sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."

- E. L. Doctorow


#12 Koechophe

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 10:17 AM

For me, darkness is easier to develop in originality. Don't try to mimic other people's work, make the darkness the product of your own mind. Also, let it come naturally. If you write with the dark emotions in your heart, it'll come off onto the page.



#13 Lebkuchen

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 07:24 PM

Think about reflecting the mood in the text. Lines that grow increasingly shorter imply panic, for example, and follow the rhythm of uneven breaths. You don't need a lot of words/a lot of details to stir fear; you need the exact right amount of words and a few exact details. Be brutal with your word choices. Strip it all down. Put important bits on their own lines to create impact and build tension; make sure you end your chapter in the right place, so that the reader has no choice but to turn the page.

 

Fear is physical: think about taste and touch and smell. Think about the awkward, real elements of fear, such as nervous sweat gathering in uncomfortable places and the trembles that grip you when you fear losing your footing in the dark.



#14 Summer

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 08:48 PM

For me, darkness is easier to develop in originality. Don't try to mimic other people's work, make the darkness the product of your own mind. Also, let it come naturally. If you write with the dark emotions in your heart, it'll come off onto the page.

Great words! Thank you for responding.



Think about reflecting the mood in the text. Lines that grow increasingly shorter imply panic, for example, and follow the rhythm of uneven breaths. You don't need a lot of words/a lot of details to stir fear; you need the exact right amount of words and a few exact details. Be brutal with your word choices. Strip it all down. Put important bits on their own lines to create impact and build tension; make sure you end your chapter in the right place, so that the reader has no choice but to turn the page.

 

Fear is physical: think about taste and touch and smell. Think about the awkward, real elements of fear, such as nervous sweat gathering in uncomfortable places and the trembles that grip you when you fear losing your footing in the dark.

I agree completely. Thanks for the advice.


Critique my query

Write YA? Need a critique partner?

 

"Good writing is supposed to evoke a sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."

- E. L. Doctorow





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