Another Reader Review

I have finished reading 3 WISE MEN. I have to say that, for me, the story was right up there with what David Baldacci and James Patterson write. I enjoyed the whole story and was somewhat disappointed when xxx was killed off and I guess for that matter the same with xxx…I look forward to Jak’s next adventure.” by Les Wills [reply: my next thriller does not feature Jak, but I have plans to use him again. ]

The Flashback?

We all have our pet peeves. Personally, I loathe stories that constantly flashback to earlier events and then jump forward again. It’s too haphazard and too confusing. There is nothing wrong with a brief recall to give background to a character, etc. Here’s an example (pg 279):

Claudine asked, “Why MIT, Ravi?”

He remembered the day as vividly as the question; a warm, fall day with crumpled leaves scattered across the campus lawns, and the institute’s pale dome appearing to be on fire in the New England sunset.

“Why MIT?” she repeated.

“Oh, sorry,” Ravi replied. “My reason was simple and complex,” he answered. Claudine laughed and reached for his arm.

“Oh, that is funny. What do you mean?”

“The simple answer is Jay Forrester.”

“Jay Forrester?” she asked. “I’ve never heard of him.”

“Yes, Mr. Forrester was a smart guy who pioneered work on digital computers here at MIT. He’s famous for his Global Sustainability Model, predicting that civilization would destroy the world in 2040. And what’s remarkable, is his conclusion was the same made by Isaac Newton in 1704. That’s why their ideas intrigue me and they agree with scientists who established the Doomsday Clock over seventy-five years ago.”

“What did they conclude?”

“The clock is now set at one hundred seconds to midnight. Our time is almost up, and Armageddon will be upon us unless we do something radical to change the world.”

Claudine smiled. “That’s why I’m here.”

[More on flashbacks here.] Note: Jay Wright Forrester (July 14, 1918 – November 16, 2016) was a pioneering American computer engineer and systems scientist.

The All Important Catch Line

A catchphrase or by-line is a crucial handle for writers. It provides reader with a grab handle for your story. Mine did not come easily and only late during the editing phase. Here it is:

It’s the largest bank robbery of all time, but it’s not about the money.

That’s a nice summary and may broaden the appeal.


Avoid Clichés; Scare Your Readers

The Power of Words to Resurrect Your Story

The legacy of our earliest ancestors left them with two options when confronted with fear – to stay and fight or to run as fast as they could. Those who were good at predicting the outcomes survived and passed this genetic trait down to us.

Faced with this situation – real or imaginary – the brain mobilizes the body’s resources. It sends a rush of adrenaline and other hormones coursing through the body. Our pupils dilate to see better. Our heart pounds and our breath quickens to rush blood and oxygen to our muscles. We might turn pale as blood is directed away from the skin to power the muscles and fuel the brain. We might tremble or shake as our muscles tense, primed to take action. You might even get goosebumps, as tiny muscles flex in the skin, causing hairs to stand up. All triggered by the brain’s prime directive: survival.

When we realize that the danger isn’t real, we are left with a dopamine rush – the “feel good” hormone released in the process. While I adore a good scare, not everyone enjoys the thrills of a haunted house, a wild roller coaster ride, or a spooky story. Neuroscientists believe that may be because our brains have different sensitivities to the dopamine rush.

At an anniversary screening of Halloween many years ago,  one of our young interns, now a successful manager and producer, sat beside me. She squirmed throughout, grabbing my arm and practically crawling into my seat in the scariest scenes. “Jamie Lee Curtis is alive and well and sitting two rows ahead of us,” I hissed. It didn’t matter. For her, the dopamine rush was too intense.

Strong storytelling engages us, draws us in, pulls us into the world, and straps us into the shoes of the character. We feel what they feel. Instead of merely observing, we are participating. We are in the moment. Caught up in the spell you’ve woven with your words.

Delicious dopamine cannot be activated with the overly familiar. Our brains have come to ignore phrases that once made storytelling awesome, but have been overused:

          Upset the applecart.

Clichés fail to activate our brains. Switching them up with something inventive yet understandable grabs our attention. It delivers more emotional impact and will resonate with your reader.

          Shaken like a snow globe.

To keep that dopamine flowing, the words and the elements of your story must be fresh and distinctive.

Read the full article from

Drafting Reveals a New Story

Alaa Al-Barkawi says, “Growing up Iraqi Muslim American post 9/11 and during the US occupation of Iraq, I was constantly flooded with images of my people as the villains, and it affected my work as a writer…Through many trials, plot changes, and mental breakdowns…not only did I have a newer, shinier draft—but a new story I didn’t know existed in this book!”

Alaa’s comment resonated with me. I had the same experience and wanted to share this too. During extensive editing on my new novel, and from Beta Reader feedback, I discovered that there was another story within the pages; one more powerful and convincing, and one that propelled the plot. My novel moved from pure thriller to crime and grew in meaning and impact (for me, at least). Read more about Alaa’s writing journey here.

I Never Saw That Coming

As students, we loved getting our teacher off on a tangent; away from a boring topic and onto some personal experience that never failed to grab our attention. These “tangents” proved to be the most teachable moments in class.

Even seasoned readers love a tangent—a surprise, whether it is in a character or the plot. Guess what? As writers, we love them too. There is immense satisfaction, during a period of writing, when I take myself off on a tangent that adds mystery or drama to the storyline. The power of the pen (er, keyboard) cannot be understated. The first time this happened to me I was as surprised as my readers. I cannot plan these moments, but make an effort to use them at random points. Key questions that keep tangents close at hand include:

  1. How can this predictable scene be shattered by the dramatic?
  2. Is this time to introduce a character flaw?
  3. I have fallen in love with this character. Therefore, it might be time for a divorce?
  4. Will my tangent take my readers to places they have never been before?
  5. Does the tangent change or enrich lives?

The Massive Varnished Boom

From an earlier post; “Once, I had to duck under a massive varnished boom stretching right across the boardwalk. It’s fun to feel part of the action.”

This post sat without comment for a while. Was this a tease? Probably. Let me explain. Why would I write “…a massive varnished boom stretching right across the boardwalk”? If it stretches all the way across a boardwalk it is, by implication, “massive.” So, of course, in the final draft I left the word “massive” out of the description. Sorry, reader, but I got you on that post? Another problem with “massive” is that it is a relative term. You need to contrast it with something smaller. My description did not do that, so out it goes.

PS: It was important to describe the boom as “varnished” since this fits the wooden boat regatta. And, “It’s fun to feel part of the action” draws the reader into Claudine’s reaction to the event and the boom she needed to duck under. Removing “massive” was an easy task on this edit/review.

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