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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Interview with Veronica Heley

With over fifty books published, I suppose I must get this suspense thing right now and again. I spend hours agonising about it, I copy tricks of the trade used by other writers, and I obey my editor when she says Do It This Way! (Well, sometimes she’s right).

First, I’ve learned that you must have a cracklingly good blurb. Don’t leave this to your editor; struggle with it until you get it right.

Your first sentence should raise questions in the reader’s mind. ‘She was being watched.’ That’s the start of the first book in the Eden Hall series. Yes, the reader soon discovers who was watching the heroine, but the why isn’t revealed until the end of the book.

‘It was a bad decision.’ That’s another teaser, which starts off book three The Secret of the Hall. The reader assumes it was a bad decision, which makes her fearful for the heroine…but doesn’t find out till the end whether she is right or not.

Many suspense books concern a conflict of some sort - perhaps between good and evil, perhaps over moral choices - so to keep up the suspense the protagonists should be evenly matched, and the outcome in doubt right to the end.

The police procedural works differently, because here the reader is joining in a hunt for the wrong-doer. And a hunt – however much we try to pretend we are too civilised for such pastimes – is exciting. Two steps forward and one back is usually how these work.

How can you generate suspense if your story starts quietly? One way is to take a section from the end of the book where the hero or heroine is in danger of losing everything, and pop it in as a preface. That way the reader knows that the protagonist is going to be in trouble, even if the book starts with the heroine worrying about housework. I use this trick in the Ellie Quicke series, because my heroine is a middle-aged woman who is as concerned about baby-sitting her grandson as she is about solving crimes in the community.

Make your protagonist sympathetic, so that the reader will want to find out what happens to him or her. In Murder of Identity I introduce Ellie Quicke, heroine of eight crime stories like this: ‘Ellie Quicke, a fiftyish widow with a comfortable figure, did not consider herself to be a brave woman. She’d never learned to drive, and her efforts to fend off a bullying daughter had met with only partial success. On the other hand, she had managed to bring various wrongdoers to justice without having to spend time in hospital. Until, that is, she undertook an errand for a neighbour…’

Get the reader to identify with the protagonist, start with a bang and ensure that the dilemma he or she faces is a very real one.

Set up the problem on page one, and solve it on the last page.

VERONICA HELEY has had 55 titles published so far, including crime and historical for adults, and many books with a Christian background for children of all ages.

She is currently writing the Ellie Quicke Mysteries for HarperCollins and Severn House - most of this series is in large print and audiobooks - and at the same time she is working on the romance/suspense EDEN HALL series for Zondervan.

Married to a probation officer, she lives in London, England.


Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Good advice. I probably struggle more with that opening line than the plot!

4:09 PM  

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