Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DFWCON 2012: Thrillers Part 2

If you missed the first part of my notes from James Rollins' lecture on "Putting the Thrill in Your Thriller", fear not, just click here.


Surprise and suspense are the key components to a thriller.  While these elements are interchangeable, they are practically opposites.

The explosion from a car bomb, that ghastly figure that walks in front of the camera, or an ear-splitting shriek that tears the tender fabrics of previous silence.  Each of these, properly timed, have the innate ability to leave the audience leaping out of their skin.

Outside of television and radio, these must be handled more delicately and, in some cases, more sparingly.  Moments of surprise are those clever 'WTF' moments that leave you blinking, then rushing back to the previous line and scanning it back and forth because you're certain you read it wrong.

While surprise comes out of nowhere, suspense if a dragging sensation that, much like an avalanche, increases over time.  When you know the bomb is nearby and ticking, the kids are in the dark woods with no awareness of the killer, or somebody's watching feet pace back and forth in front of their hiding spot while attempting to control their breathing, this is when suspense is running the show.

As James pointed out, both of them are necessary in a thriller.  People need the jump.  People need the nail-biting.  People need the thrill that follows.  The important thing to keep in mind is when and where to use which one.  Tongue twisted?  Good.


There's a reason why roller coasters always move so slowly to the top of the hill.  Sure there's safety precautions in there somewhere, but mostly it's all about the build-up.  Once that top has been crested and the people in front are staring down some ridiculous drop, the cars come to an almost stop, suspending the spectators from the inevitable plummet that awaits them.  This can't go on forever, naturally, and they're soon rewarded with the expectations their adrenaline has been building to.

Establishing suspense and dragging it out for too long is asking for a bored audience.  A fish will only chase a worm for so long, and that literary adrenaline will only flow for so many pages before the reader finds the perfect cozy spot for a bookmark.

This isn't to say that it's all Wam-Bam-ThankYouMrRollins.  A few shock-spots here and there will work wonders, but remember that the audience needs a break.  As James put, having an intense, 20 page boat chase can be pretty thrilling.  By about thirty pages, the reader is bored.  By page 50, they're really hoping somebody will die soon, and they're not choosing sides anymore.  Be sure to establish the breaks and vary the thrill-styles.


Closing up this session from the lecture is James' words on word count.  Aside from the ideas that readers don't like to wait, therefore it's cruel to leave all 'thrills' out for the first 100 pages or so, word choices play a big hand in scene impact.

In these moments, over-explaining a moment will break-up the fast-flow and kill it.  It's like taking the time to explain a joke.  If nobody laughed the first time around, it wasn't funny to begin with.  The best way to make a scene memorable is to use only a few high-impact words to get the point across.

That's it for this week guys.  Apparently I had more notes than I thought.  Stay tuned for the third and final segment of James Rollins' "How to Put Thrill in Your Thriller" next Tuesday night!

Also, the clock's ticking and there's only a little bit more time to snag tickets for DFWCON 2013 at a bargain discount rate!  Go here for details.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Academie: Book Review

Typically, unless offered, I don’t run out and pick up YA books for enjoyment.  I especially don’t pick up anything labeled ‘YA Romance’.  But when I read over the description of Amy Joy’s book, “The Academie”, I couldn’t help myself.  

Allie Thompson is a 19 year old college graduate.  However, due to increased levels of violence tearing through the public school system, the government decides to institute The Academie, a mandatory militaristic facility for all citizens between the ages of 14 and 22.  Taken from her friends, freedom, and newfound love, Allie is placed in a remodeled high school along with all other intakes and forced to submit to the program.  

But the Academie has a much darker secret in store.  The apparent brainwashing of her 16 year old brother and the sudden and mysterious disappearance surrounding a new friend lead Allie to believe that there’s more to the establishment than mortar, stone, and crappy cafeteria food.

Allie Thompson is the quiet girl in class.  I want to say the underdog, but she’s actually quite friendly.  She’s definitely an easy character to like and even to relate to in many ways.  She deals with the heartbreak of being yanked from the university and thrown into a dystopian society as one would expect most teenagers – kicking and screaming.  Once the inevitable sinks in, however, she makes the most of her time outside of the place.

Amy Joy does an excellent job of creating a building as the antagonist.  While certainly intimidating, it holds well to an air of mystery and, as we learn just a short ways into the book, not without a few design flaws.  

Allie Thompson isn’t abused in the Academie.  She comes under no threat of danger outside of her heartache over missing Bryan, the internet boyfriend of her dreams.  That is, until she starts poking around.  The Academie is presented like most forms of government – a good idea in theory, but rarely in practice.  Once flaws become more apparent and things start to fall apart, the tension builds at an exponential rate, leading to a rather late night of uncontrollable page-turning on my part.
-Worth it-

I don’t write romance for one key reason – I think it’s dumb.  That being said, I was very surprised by the breath of fresh air that came from The Acadamie.  Bryan, the internet hacker long-distance relationship/obsession, isn’t some strong-jawed playboy with bad boy appeal and a dark secret.  In all honesty, he’s a computer geek with health-nut parents.  

The interaction between the two is told in flashbacks, as they are separated into different academies.  The break of pacing is well done, allowing the plot to advance between timed instances of memories.
The love affair itself is in no way hot or steamy.  No sex, gratuitous “I’ll show you mine” scenes, just the innocent exhilaration of discovery on an emotional level.

I honestly couldn’t find a better way to describe the romance than ‘wholesome’. (Much like Bryan’s diet)

The secondary characters are interesting.  A LOT of thought went into certain character quirks.  Some of them come into play in the plot later on, others are just interesting, adding another dimension of personality to the people and giving them a greater depth of realism.
The story flows.  Save for one instance where I felt the flashback went on for a couple chapters too long, there’s a definite transition as we watch a whole girl get broken down and slowly piece herself back together.  

The story ends.  There’s no wretched cliff-hanger… no organ grinder slamming out a ‘dun dun DUUUUNNN’ on the final page.  While this may seem like a lousy way to end the first of a series, I’m honestly MORE intrigued for the second because of it.  While some things still linger in the background, you feel fulfilled by the end of the book.  The fact that there’s another coming out only serves to beg the question, “Where is she going to take this?”

This is not the greatest book I’ve ever read.  Probably not even the best I’ve read all year.  But this is an honestly good book that I would feel comfortable recommending to any young audience.  It surpasses a lot of the shallowness with YA female fiction and holds together with a strong plot, strong characters, and deep feeling of satisfaction throughout it.

Still on the fence?  Here’s your opportunity to chime in!  Ms. Joy will be answering interview questions next Friday.  If you have anything you’d like to ask about her work, please chime in with a comment or drop me a line at MattBryantDFW [at] gmail.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

DFWCON 2012: Thrillers Part 1

I recently learned that one of the hardest things to deal with while attending a writer's conference is not, in fact, pitch sessions or networking... but rather deciding which classes to attend.  With over fifty classes spread out across ten time slots, narrowing it down to best maximize your time is a daunting task.  Or at least it was for me.

For this reason, I would like to share some of my DFW Writing Conference class experiences with my fellow writers, especially those who had to miss out on the classes at the convention for one reason or another.

First on the list was a class taught by New York Times Bestselling Author James Rollins, 'Putting the Thrill in Thriller'.  I'll be honest, by the end of this one class, I felt like I got my money's worth for the whole shabang.

James Rollins, best known for his Sygma Force series as well as his young adult Jake Ransom novels, is not only a talented writer of thrillers, but also a genuinely down to earth guy and amazing speaker.  Before I get too deep into thumbing through my notes, let me go ahead and say that if you ever have an opportunity to take a class or weekly seminar with James Rollins, DO IT!  Thank me later.



Seriously it seems like this goes without saying.  Indiana Jones wouldn't have been half as exciting if it starred Ernest.  Not saying Jim Varney wouldn't have made an epic movie... cuz he would've, but for all different reasons.

I've never heard anybody describe what makes an over-the-top character better than James Rollins did: "What makes a person bigger than life is an ordinary man who does or says something that you wouldn't say or do."

The guy who stops when he finds a homeless guy collapsed on the side of the road, or runs up the stairs when he should be running out the back door (It's not just a great way to get killed in a cliche horror movie!)  They're the ones we cheer when they win and suffer with as they experience tragedy.

And why do we sympathize with them?  Because they possess at least one of 7 vital components:

  1. They demonstrate that they're very good at what they do (example: Dr. Gregory House)
  2. They're funny or humorous - which elicits a hormonal response 
  3. They show kindness - Selfless acts of kindness are 'magical' in this day and age
  4. Extension of #3 - they show kindness to kids, elderly or animals
  5. Undeserved misfortune - Stream of bad luck or a Cinderella complex
  6. Have other characters express affection (everybody likes somebody liked)
  7. Under dog... honestly, who DOESN'T love under dogs?  Besides bullies and villains...
While you probably shouldn't use ALL of these... character should be believable after all, at least one of these should be demonstrated within the first five pages of your book. If your audience doesn't find some attachment to your character, they have no reason to tag along on the adventures.


 While sure this actually includes 'exotic locations', what James Rollins was referring to also included beyond the "Employees Only" sign, the roof access of a building or that place where old buses go to die.  You don't have to show them the Sahara Desert or take them to Atlantis or a space station to give them something new, just the thrill of stepping beyond the red tape is enough.

Make it real, take them there.


All thrills start with a need or a want.  Every protagonist needs some goal, something to reach towards, otherwise they're just stumbling blindly and, frankly, come off as powerless characters (major turn-off, dude)

Antagonists are born, not created.  Also, they're not really a challenge unless they're smarter, more resourceful, and have a wider influence than the protagonist.  Winning should seem impossible save for that one EUREKA moment that pulls some hero ass from the fire just as the seat of his pants begin to smolder and ash.  As for the personality of the antagonist: they're real people (or creatures) with real emotions, real goals, and rationalization.  Nobody's evil for the sake of being evil - they need intention... motive... skewed or otherwise...  The best writers in the world will have the reader almost as attached to the antagonist as the protagonist.  To quote James Rollins - "If during the antagonists death scene you make your reader cry, you've written a great book."

So what keeps readers from rooting for the bad guys?  ANTI-SYMPATHETIC QUALITIES.  

Honestly, I'd list them out, but they're the same as I listed before, just backwards.

And this is where I'm going to end part 1.  Mostly because this is getting too long.  Tune in NEXT TUESDAY at 9pm Central for the next part.

And just so you know, tickets for the NEXT DFW Writer's Conference are on sale at the bargain price of $225 a ticket up through May 31st!  Get yours now!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mommy, I Wanna be a Starfighter Pilot

Just about every child of the 80s at one point in time dreamed of being an astronaut.  But every child of the 80s who saw Star Wars or The Last Starfighter dreamed of flying through space and blasting enemy craft to tiny astral bits.

I got a bit closer as great games like Tie-Fighter vs X-Wing and Wing Commander came out.  Not to mention the coffee house just off campus in good ol' Denton, TX (Karma Cafe for you locals) had an old-school Star Wars video game.  The one where you blow up the death star in 3D line goodness!

But the highlight of my visions of star-fighter goodness were realized when I picked up a copy of Freelancer out of the bargain bin of a local electronics store.  Suddenly I was emersed in an abundance of excellence never before witnessed in a space-fighter game: in-depth story, different factions, mining and trading.  From jumpgates to various planet ports and space stations, this game has held the pinnacle of ideal gaming for over a decade.  Even with worn graphics, I still have a copy installed on my latest PC (which I've had for about 4 months now)

But now comes the next move in intergalactic space-fighting goodness!  Thanks to Garry Gaber, formerly of LucasArts, and my unstoppable obsession with Kickstarter, Starlight Inception may be coming to a PC near you!  Well.. depending on your vicinity to me... cuz it'll be on mine (Suckas!)

With just over 24 hours to go, they still need a good push to get funded, but what a bargain!  For just $15, about what I spent on Freelancer 12 years ago, you can ensure that this game gets funded, and get a copy for yourself!

So what do you have to look forward to with Starlight Inception?  Let's have a look -

-  Dramatic and realistic storyline: Players will experience an enveloping space saga with a deep and involving story that spans the solar system.
-  Richly detailed: Rich detail will show from the capital ships, environments, space fighters, transports to explosions.
-  Space action: Action in space and over the surface of planets and moons. Fly over a planet’s atmosphere then swoop down over surface vehicles and troops for a visceral experience both at high and low altitudes.
-  Camera perspective: Switchable 1st and 3rd person cameras let the player tailor the game experience to their own liking.
-  Lots of stuff to do: Blow up stuff with the most advanced fighters known to man, salvage destroyed vessels for cool stuff, defend your ship against incoming marauders, locate and destroy ground targets, blow up more stuff...

And some of the best I've saved for last... On-Demand Management of Energy Resources - Stellar (pun very intended) Soundtrack by David Arkenstone - Triple Grammy Nominated composer

For those of you wondering, no I haven't given up on the wonderful world of literature in favor of marketing kickstarter projects, but I always root for the underdogs with vision.  And between you and me, Space Fighters will never go out of style. 

But the clock is ticking!  Spread the word that Starlight Inception and Republique (read my blogs on Republique here and here) both need YOU and everybody you ever know, have met, or accidentally spilled coffee on while walking down the street to a matinee that you're already late to and are counting on 15 minutes of trailers that weren't worth viewing.