From Reader to Writer: Tips from a Master of Suspense

In my constant and nearly obsessive pursuit to understand the craft of creative writing, I’ve given the Masterclass platform a try. I’ve had mixed feelings on the classes, finding that the advice tends to be more vague and open-ended rather than hard concepts and techniques. I started out with James Patterson’s lessons then meandered between both Judy Blume’s and Neil Gaiman’s lectures before finally connecting with a class from suspense master, Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code.

I’ll admit to you right now that I’m not aiming to be the next Agatha Christie. When it comes to novels, I don’t write suspense, thrillers, or mysteries (I’ll save that kind of writing for our interactive mystery night events at the library). But in terms of both resonating and applicable advice, Dan Brown threw out some real gems.

Here are a few tips that might help you in your creative process without having to shell out the subscription fees.

Be Tough on Process, Gentle on Output

By this Dan Brown talked about how the process and practicality of writing is more important than the actual writing itself. With any kind of creative endeavor, it’s so easy to be tough on oneself about the quality, the content, or the tiny details, but Dan says to focus that tough-coach energy on getting to your desk every day and being firm about the practical goals of when and how often you will work. Gentleness and forgiveness with oneself needs to be applied to what happens when you’re actually there. If you got to your laptop or notebook today to work, you’ve done your job. What actually happened on the page isn’t nearly as important.

Give Crazy Ideas a Chance

In other words, write the wrong thing in order to write the right thing. This is definitely where I’m at with my work. Writing requires a lot of decision-making. Everything from how a character develops to how the story unfolds is entirely up to the writer. I tend to get stuck on what the “right” decision is for the story, but Dan Brown recommends giving crazy ideas a chance, especially in the early stages of a project. Writing the weirdest or wackiest ideas first without worry of someone’s judgement is the best way to get to those answers that feel the most beneficial for your story.

“Write like no one is watching…because no one is watching ”

Dan Brown

Set the Table for Breakfast

Whether you plan to be creative in the morning, afternoon, or evening, Dan recommends “setting the table” for the next session’s work. This means if you’re wrapping your day’s work by finishing a chapter, go ahead and start the paragraph of the next chapter. Give yourself something to pick up from when you sit down the next day so you aren’t just staring at a blank page or need to go back and re-read everything to remember where you left off. Give yourself as much of an upper hand for tomorrow’s work, and even if the work you added ends up in the trash bin, you’ve at least provided a spring board to start for the next day.

The subjectivity of writing can be both a gift and a curse. Unlike dancing or singing which has a defined and regimented technique, writing can be interpreted in so many ways, and the techniques that work for one writer don’t always work for another. However, I’ve found that the best way to figure out what methods or advice work for you is to listen and try them. Go forth, creator, and be both tough and gentle, crazy with new ideas, and prepared for the work that’s waiting for you.

From Reader to Writer: Character Misbelief

One of the great joys of writing stories is creating characters. It’s so much fun to envision what someone might look like, sound like, and be like in the world of your story. Any writer familiar with pre-planning stages will be familiar with those lengthy character bios and protagonist worksheets that make you answer every question about your character from their favorite subject in school to their worst fears. But as I’ve been researching more into writing techniques, I’ve stumbled upon a fundamental question that writers don’t often ask of their characters; what does my character believe to be true despite that truth actually being a lie? In essence, what is this character’s misbelief?

The whole point of telling a story at the point which you tell it is because it’s literally the most important moment in your character’s life. This story, this sequence of events, will essentially alter their entire world. How can someone’s life be completely transformed? When they realize that something they so intensely believed is actually the furthest thing from the truth.

Think about one of your favorite stories. How does the character change from the beginning to the end? Most likely, it’s because something that they believed in heatedly is actually not what is true at all, and usually that truth is a central theme in the story.

For example, a character could start the story believing that they are unworthy, perhaps because somewhere in their backstory, an incident occurred that made them think this. Then the story launches into full form, dragging the character through experiences that alter their sense of self and towards an a-ha moment where that truth is revealed as a lie and their sense of worthiness develops. Viewing things like plot and character development in this way versus simply seeing a story as a sequence of events has really helped me dig deeper into my own writing.

If you’re interested in exploring character misbelief, I recommend reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron or checking out young adult author Abbie Emmons’ YouTube Channel. Both are great resources for writers!