Thursday 12 January 2017

CJ Carver on the practice behind creating a page-turner that keeps the reader up all night

TITLE: Tell Me A Lie

PUBLICATION DATE: January 12, 2017

Amazon - Goodreads

How do you protect your family when you can't remember who's hunting them?

A family in England is massacred, the father left holding the shotgun.

PC Lucy Davies is convinced he's innocent

A sleeper agent in Moscow requests an urgent meeting with Dan Forrester, referencing their shared past.

His amnesia means he has no idea who he can trust.

An aging oligarch in Siberia gathers his henchmen to discuss an English accountant.

It's Dan's wife

Compelling. Compulsive. Enthralling. Unputdownable. The practice behind creating a page-turner that keeps the reader up all night.
by CJ Carver

Let’s assume we already have our story, that we’ve created a vivid, realistic location, layered with noises, smells and sensations. Our characters are fully realised, with a clear goal or life-affecting desire they are working towards. The reader is fully engaged in the world you’ve created.

Now comes the craft of suspense.

First, you have to withhold information. You can’t give your reader what they want to know straight away. In a murder mystery, the killer will be revealed right at the end of the story, but meanwhile there should be plenty of other – smaller - questions that need answering. For example, the first opening lines in Chapter One of Tell Me A Lie read:

‘Russia?’ Dan Forrester stared at Bernard. ‘You want me to go to Russia?’

‘It’s not on the moon.’ Bernard looked amused. ‘A four-hour flight, that’s all.’

I set this up specifically to hook the reader into reading on to find out why Dan is being asked to go to Russia. The next page sets up his tricky relationship with his wife and when Dan agrees to go to Moscow at the end of the chapter, we’re on tenterhooks to find out what on earth his wife is going to say about it. I reward the reader for turning the page to Chapter Two by having his wife standing right in front of Dan, eyes crackling with fury.

However, at the end of Chapter Two, I create a really juicy twist between them that is going to massively change their lives. This launches a longer-term question about their relationship which I don’t answer until Chapter twenty-two.

The Dan Forrester series is multi viewpoint, which I love because it means the hero doesn’t know when the helicopter is launched to gun him down. However, the reader has their heart in their mouth because they saw it taking off in a previous chapter and are now watching with bated breath to see what happens next.

Cutting away is a great technique I use a lot. As soon as I introduce a new element to the plot, or send my character’s life spiraling in a new direction, I stop that storyline and cut straight to something else. This is much easier to do when you have multi-viewpoints because you can switch between characters. For example in Tell Me A Lie, my character Milena, a beautiful delicate Russian woman, has just been punched straight in the face. I cut immediately to the next chapter, to follow someone on the run. The reader has to wait until the following chapter until they find out what happened to Milena.

William Goldman said, ‘Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em cry. But most of all – make ‘em wait.’

My point exactly.

© CJ Carver 2017

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