Thursday, June 21, 2018

Learn and Learn Again

I welcome mystery writer Kathleen Kaska as my guest blogger today. Kathleen is not a newcomer to Make Mine Mystery. She was the 5th Saturday blogger for two years. After taking a position as the marketing director for Cave Art Press, Kathleen was left with less time to write, so she bowed out in order to complete several works in progress. A Two Horse Town, the second book in her Kate Caraway animal-rights mystery series will be released by Black Opal Books later this year. Let’s hear what Kathleen has to say today on a return visit to her old stomping grounds, Make Mine Mystery blogspot. Linda Thorne

By Kathleen Kaska

A few weeks ago, I attended the Chanticleer Authors Conference. My latest mystery, Run Dog Run, had made the “Mystery and Mayhem” short list. I attended hoping my book would win, but knowing the competition was fierce. I didn’t come home with the grand prize, but at least I came home with helpful writing tools.

On the last day of the conference, I attended Jessica Page Morrell’s all-day class, “Writing Craft Sessions that Will Take Your Work to the Next Level.” It was the best six hours of the entire three days and it was just what I needed. The morning session focused on the details of plotting, and the afternoon dealt with the necessity of learning from great writers. The information was so useful, I bought her book, Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. Chapter three, “Cliffhangers and Thrusters,” caused me to take a closer look at my WIP, a hardboiled detective novel set in the 1940s.

Morrell describes thrusters as structural devices, usually at the beginning of a chapter or scene that push the story ahead and keeps readers turning the pages. Cliffhangers, of which I’m sure you are familiar, are actually thrusters that occur at the end of a chapter or scene, or even a book if you’re writing a series. This technique was not new to me, but it was something I needed to revisit.

After reading this chapter, I noted that my cliffhangers weren’t too bad. Here are three examples:

“The only thing he accomplished since taking this case was screwing his client’s wife.”

“The next time Kendrick laid eyes on Roman, he promised himself he’d slit the guy’s throat.”

“The snarl on her lip had disappeared, but the look of disdain had hardened.”

My thrusters need work, however. Here are three examples:
“Kendrick took a taxi back to the hotel.”

“It was just past nine when Kendrick called Damien Carver at his office.”

“New York City was a great place to live.” (This one made me cringe.)

Now, take a look at three cliffhangers and three thrusters from New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben’s The Stranger:


“Did you fake your pregnancy?”

“It was two in the morning when Adam remembered something—or, to be more precise, someone.”

“She attached the image to the e-mail and typed two words before hitting send: HE KNOWS.”


“The stranger didn’t shatter Adam’s world all at once.” (This is the opening line of the book!)

“The stranger hated to do this one.”

“It was amazing how many things could happen in a single moment.”

The message: no matter how much you absorb, no matter how much you write, no matter how many books you’ve gotten published, the learning process never stops.

That terrible thruster, “New York City was a great place to live,” now reads: “It was ten in the morning. Kendrick didn’t care. He ordered an ice-cold draft and toasted the Big Apple.”



Zari Reede said...

Awesome reminder Kathleen! It's the reason I go to meetings and conferences. I usually know everything that is said. I read the articles each month in the RWA magazine, visit the sites online, review the MWA literature, but there is always something I've forgotten. This is one of them. I don't know what my cliff hangers are, but you can be sure I will check them out...

I just picked up ,Blinked, off my nightstand. The back blurb of the book ends,
"The last time ORBs roamed the Earth unchecked, a great war ensued, and Mindy knows things are about to get ugly..."

I went to bed with my husband and woke up with a monster. (First sentence of the book.)
So those are okay, but I bet it's not every time. Thanks so much for the reminder by sharing. You are always an inspiration. Love Run Dog Run.

Saralyn said...

Great examples of cliffhangers and thrusters, and I love your new and improved thruster. Thanks for sharing what you learned at the conference. You are a beacon.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Thanks, Zari and Saralyn, for your comments. As I continue reading Jessica's book, I hope to share more of what I learned!

Linda Thorne said...

You've convinced me to add Jessica's book to my collection of self-help books if I can get some time in to read it. I loved what you did with the reference to New York City being a great place to live. It turned flat into extraordinary.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us. Ending chapters with thrusters or cliffhangers is very important and especially for mystery fiction. We all need reminders.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Going through my two WIPs and looking for ways to improve them is more fun than the initial writing. For me writing the draft is the difficult part and polishing it is like adding the icing on a cake. Jessica's book helped with this part.