Add Suspense – in Chapter 1

 Today, Stephanie Pritchard talks about creating suspense in apritchard. novel.  I just finished reading her book Stranded: A Novel.  She’s knows about suspense. So take a look at what she has to say about it here.  And leave a comment for a chance to get a free copy of her book – and see how she does suspense. 

Stephanie — I recently read a popular novel that had no conflict in it. Not until Chapter 17 anyway.

The novel was my book club’s selection of the month, and I was curious to hear if any members agreed with me. I’m the only author among them, so their perspectives as “readers only” are often enlightening.

Most of the members concurred with me. “I kept waiting for something bad to happen to the main character,” one gal said. “Instead, things kept getting better and better for him. At last I just relaxed and figured I didn’t need to worry about him.”

So, what kept us reading? Answers included (1) the writing was good, (2) it was pleasant to read a book that ambled instead of bucking us off at every chapter, (3) secrets piqued our curiosity, (4) surely some kind of conflict would eventually emerge.

We agreed that the conflict at Chapter 17 got us to (finally) sit on the edge of our seats. The story definitely got exciting there—helped by the contrast of having been so dull … er, serene, up until that point.

A few members insisted conflict existed in the story from beginning to end. The protagonist encountered problems, they insisted—it was just that he overcame them with ease and always ended up with some kind of advantage.

That led to a discussion of what is “conflict”? We agreed it was an obstruction to a goal, but that the goal’s intensity—or lack of it—placed the conflict on a spectrum. In this particular novel, the intensity was mild. Why? Because the protagonist’s overarching goal (recovery from a wound) was not fought for but simply hoped for. Basically, he acquiesced to the expectation of death. Therefore, minimum effort on his part equaled minimum intensity in anything that happened.

Here’s some of the takeaway I gleaned as a suspense novelist:

  • Doubt as to the outcome of a conflict increases tension. With our book club’s protagonist overcoming obstacles so easily, we readers felt no tension until Chapter 17. As a suspense writer, I need to create doubt by making obstacles tough to overcome—postponing solutions for some of them and making sure the protagonist’s progress becomes increasingly difficult.
  • A character’s drive affects conflict. The protagonist in our book club novel was resigned to defeat from the very beginning. Circumstances rather than motivation led to his eventual victory. As a suspense writer, I don’t want a passive hero. I need to make his grit move the story along. External circumstances should obstruct him, not make him the lucky winner of the lottery.
  • The adversary affects the degree of conflict. Our book club hero didn’t face an adversary until Chapter 17. Instead of using an antagonist, the author used secrets to entice the reader to keep reading. While employing secrets is an effective tool, as a suspense writer I need a strong adversary at war with my protagonist to keep my readers biting their nails. My hero can’t win easily or all the time or without cost.
  • pritchard-coverThe story question should ricochet off the conflict. The story question in our book club novel is “Will the protagonist’s wound heal?” In my novel, Stranded, the story question is “Will the castaways get off the island?” Admittedly, both questions sound lame (as story questions are wont to do). Conflict is what gives life to the lame—what feeds it, sustains it, makes it burst at the seams. Or not.The nature of the conflict in our book club novel made the story, well, trickle pleasantly along. In contrast, if you look at the reviews of Stranded: A Novel  on Amazon, you will see the readers found the book hard to put down.Okay, curious as to what the novel is that I referred to throughout this article? It’s Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter. It’s a worthy classic. Full of optimism. A sweet read. If you’re looking for that kind of fulfillment in reading, you won’t be disappointed by this book.But if you want action and suspense, try Stranded: A Novel   Uh-huh, lick your fingers and get ready to turn those pages fast!
  • JIM:   Good advice Stephanie. And readers, leave even a short comment and we’ll put your name into the drawing for a free copy of Stephanie’s book, and see how she throws in the suspense.  It’s a good read.

You can find out more about her book on Amazon at:




Yangtze: Beauty and economic value join forces

The Yangtze River

The three Gorges Project on China’s Yangtze River is the largest hydro-electric project in the world, in terms of installed capacity.  Appropriate for the country with the largest population in the world.

 Fully operational in 2009, fourteen years20141022_195210 after start-up, the dam now backs up as much as 32 million acre feet of water.  But to create such a reservoir, it was necessary to relocate over 1.3 million people.  When filled, it flooded about 244 square miles.

 To kimberly-7 copynegotiate the 360 feet difference between the downstream river and the upstream river, a system of five gigantic locks were built for each direction.  These allow for multiple ships to move upriver at the same time multiple ships are moving downriver.  Each ship will require approximately four hours to pass through kimberly-5a copyall five locks.


 To help speed things up, a ship lift has been built which will cut the time to traverse between the two levels to about thirty-seven minutes.  However, the elevator will handle only ships with gross weights between one thousand tons and three thousand tons. Of course, the elevator also has to haul the water necessary to float a three thousand ton vessel.  Impressive.  At the time we were there, the elevator was complete but had not been put into operation. 

 20141024_044827aNow, five years after completion of the Three Gorges Project, several million Chinese live on the banks of this fourth longest river in the world. In some area, hundreds of twenty-five to thirty-five story apartment and condo buildings line the banks.  Huge bridges tower over the waterway with amazing frequency. Unfortunately, even on the Yangtze, pollution is a serious problem.

 The scenery through these gorges is spectacular. Sheer kimberly-3cliffs cascade to the water, sometimes allowing a narrow road to pass; sometimes not. As you float along, ancient pagodas high on the mountains are highlighted against the sky. And while modern architecture can be seen from almost any point on the river, the influence of ancient China is evident everywhere.

 pagoda on YangtzeOur four days on the Yangtze River were a constant exposure to nature’s grandeur and beauty. As visitors, we could ignore the tremendous economic value of this section of river.  But the striking beauty and the closeness to ancient China made this yet another highlight of our visit to China.

Please leave me a comment on China and the Yangtze, and “like” or “share” this post.  Thank you.

Jim Callan




The Writer’s Excuse


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Today’s guest is Martha Rogers, a former English and Home Economics teacher who lives in Houston.  Martha was named Writer of the Year at the Texas Christian Writers Conference in 2009.  She has written two series and several novellas.  She’ll … Continue reading

Research As a Brainstorming Tool


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Today Misty Beller is giving us some good tips on research, and how it can help contemporary writers as well as historical writers.  Misty writes Christian historical romance.  She was raised on a farm in South Carolina. She lives with … Continue reading

The Wonders of China

I don’t want to make this blog a travel log.  But a number of you have asked about the trip and China.  So I will do a few posts on China, maybe on an every other week basis.  And I’ll try to keep them brief.

 First the overall look.  We spent three weeks visiting Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Yichang, the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges project, Chongqing, Guilin, and Hong Kong.  We flew between most stops, cutting down travel time. Between Hangzhou and Shanghai, we took a 180 mph, very smooth train.bldg -ibm

 Let’s start with Beijing.  A city of 21 million, it is modern, clean, with a lot of beautiful landscaping and amazing architecture.  We saw more imaginative architecture in Beijing that in all of the U.S.. 

 Tian’an Men Square, the largest such square in the world, is a vast open concrete area flanked by Mao’s mausoleum, the China National Museum and jim in tian'an men sqflower basketvarious government buildings.  Here are two pictures we took in the square.

 Close by is the Forbidden City, the exclusive domain of the imperial court of China for 24 emperors over a period of 500 years. Completed in 1420, it provides a wealth of magnificent  imperial architecture. great wall crowded

 And of course, The Great WallConstruction on this phenomenal structure started roughly 700 years before Christ and continued for nearly two thousand years, although it’s generally dated back to 200 B.C.  Most of what survives today was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D.).  During the Cultural Revolution (late  1960s), the Chinese were encouraged to take bricks from the wall to build their houses.

 great wall - topIt is generally considered to be about 4,000 miles long. It is roughly 25 feet high and varies in width from 15 feet to 30 feet.  As many as 63 million people visit the wall in a year.  We walked part of the wall.

 One of the things that impressed us was the sense of history here. The people think of how things fit into the dynasties.  They talk about things that happened 3,000 years ago.  All in all, an impressive country, whether you like its manufacturing, its politics, or its current activities. 

 More in two weeks.  Please ask questions if you’d like, and let me know if you want more on China or if I should just stop.  Thanks.  

Jim Callan                         



An Author Needs a Teachable Spirit


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This week, I am privileged to have the multi-award winning author Lena Nelson Dooley.  Lena had sold over 800,000 of her books, spoken to groups in six states, and co-hosts a blogtalk radio show.  She and her husband live in … Continue reading

How the Book Developed


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Today, Cyndi Lord is providing a guest post on how her Amish book came about.  Before devoting full-time to writing, Cyndi had a career as an investigator and research paralegal. Cyndi lives in northeast Texas on a ranch with her … Continue reading

Murder in the First …


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Today’s guest blogger is Marja McGraw and she’s talking about mysteries. She should know, since she has worked in both criminal and civil law enforcement.  She writes two mystery series. And having read some, I’ll add my endorsement.  She’s lived … Continue reading

The Thing Writers Need


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Today, I have a guest post from Jennifer Slattery who writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers.  Her debut novel is Beyond I Do.  She tells writers about one thing important to success. This one thing has the capacity to set … Continue reading

The Secret to a Happy Marriage


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Today, we have an important post for those not well-published.  It comes from Kimberly and Duke Pennell, the driving force behind Pen-L Publishing.  They’ll give us some advice to use before we say “I do.”   The Secret to a … Continue reading