Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thrillers and Mysteries with Ben Rosenthal

Ben Rosenthal, senior editor at Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins is standing right behind you!! With a knife!!!

Oh, no, he's here at the conference, standing in front of us, and that's just a bottle of water.

Ben provides an awesome take home handout about the seven essentials you need to make kickass mysteries and/or thrillers. I'm only sharing two, because they are so good and dense and meaty (like a dead body):

Suspense and Plot Twists

  • Suspense is about delay, creating the sense that the climax is coming while not allowing the reader to skip ahead to find out what happens.
  • Every element in the lead-in passage should heighten the reader's anticipation while the language itself maintains its grip on the reader. Use careful, vivid description, appealing to the reader's emotions invested in your characters.
  • Plot twist! A good twist is something that not only pulls the rug out from under the reader, but your characters, too.
  • Reverse character character motives: The most organic path to achieving a good plot twist.
Ben provides some excellent writing exercises about how to find or create your plot twist. He recommends writing a first draft of your story and then looking at how you can add in a twisty element. Ben said the nail in the coffin to acquire Code Name Komiko was its plot twist at the end of the book, so check that out.


  • Dialogue tells the truth, so it should sound like the truth. Read dialogue aloud to see if it sounds natural.
  • Resist the urger to explain. Let dialogue speak for itself. If the words in your dialogue are not conveying the correct emotions or ideas, don't explain. Fix the dialogue.
  • Turn the volume up on your dialogue. Make it feel larger than life to match your characters.

Ben asks if we've ever been talking to someone, and hours later, come up with the perfect comeback. Turned up dialogue is the perfect comeback, line after line. He mentions Three Times Lucky as an example of great dialogue.

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