Thursday, July 28, 2022

Turn up the Heat! by Kathleen Cook

 Now that summer is here and the weather is sizzling, how about turning up the heat in your writing? There are many ways to add more drama, suspense, intrigue, emotion, and danger. I'll list just a few here:

Word Choice:

This is a no brainer. Let's take the sentence, "Ginger faced her son's killer." The temperature of the sentence is tepid. How do we turn up the dial to scorching? How about, "Ginger tingled in both fear and triumph as she spied the monster’s shadow on the brownstone. She'd lured him there, the spot where her brightest lodestone, her lifelong comfort, her paraplegic son, legs useless in fight or flight, watched this man wield a hammer like a whisk and make an omelet out of his brains. He was screaming when he died, the cops said, screams unheard or unheeded. Without effort or detection, she unlatched the safety on the Beretta in her pocket before turning toward that hideous face, with its cavernous scar above the right eye and a constant smirk on its lips." It takes longer to add rich color to your story, but the results add vibrant detail that heat up your novel!


Dropping hints to the reader little by little can add heat and spice to your story. For example, if you tell a reader early on, "Sheri's childhood nightmares always centered on drowning, but courage and time sparked her love for the ocean." Well, if you're writing an ocean saga, your readers will take it to the bank that Sheri's childhood nightmare will resurface at some point in the story. Even if it takes a few chapters, it adds the heat of expectation by throwing in the detail early.

Of course, if you don't intend to create a water mishap, then don't use such a device. You have to be honest with your readers; if you add such a tidbit and then don't deliver the expected danger, readers will throw down your book in disgust and never buy another. 

Pile it on!

Think your character has had too much tragedy for one book? Nope. If she falls in a lake, add some piranhas. If she’s tied to the train tracks with an oncoming train, add a scorpion crawling up her leg as her lover rushes to save her. If she flees a killer in the woods, add a mountain lion blocking the escape route. If you want to add heat, add it. You can always take it out later if there really is too much. Editing out sections of a thrilling first draft is a whole lot easier than shoring up a novel thin on action to begin with. Besides, it gives you material for a later book, one with even more drama, spills and thrills than this one.

Summer is the best time to sit down in your air-conditioned office, spare room, or dining room table, and write that sizzling bestseller. No need to experience the heat outside when you’ve got it right there in front of you! 

Kathleen Cook is a retired editor and the author of more than twenty books. A former copy writer/editor for Demand Studios, she also served as the Fictional Religion Editor for the ODP (Open Directory Project) in the late 90s. She is currently the Arizona Authors Association Editor as well as its website administrator. 

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