Sunday, 19 September 2010

Plotting failure

So, it’s about time I started receiving reject slips; the things reputedly used by poor writers to paper their walls. I’m still raw as a writer, and I suffer from a huge lack of confidence. The only way that I’m going to find out exactly where my work sits in the literary spectrum is to start putting it about, so to speak. One such avenue is competitions.

An opportunity for a novella trilogy publishing deal has dropped into my inbox: the Page Turner Prize from Contact Publishing. The deadline for presenting an outline of the mini-series, a synopsis of the first novella, and two sample chapters is November 1st - eminently doable, and for just £10. All I have to do is find one of my ideas that can be split into three connectable stories, oh, and it has to fit into the ‘suspense’ genre.

Unfortunately, the scientist and the stopwatch were fried before they were
able to time how long the urine sample took to evaporate (
This is the point at which you realise that while you thought you knew what suspense genre was, when you try to put your finger on it, it evaporates like a puddle of piss on the surface of the sun.

My ancient Concise Oxford suggests that suspense is ‘a state of anxious uncertainty or expectation’. Essentially, it's on the edge of your seat, nail-biting stuff, which covers quite a bit of ground. The obvious candidates are fast-paced thrillers (The Bourne Trilogy), and creepy horrors (Halloween) – except horror (and fantasy) are not allowed. But I guess careful plotting will allow suspense to stalk just about any sub-genre.

Sorry Mike, you're not allowed to play (
Whichever form it takes, what is clear about a suspense novel is that the reader has to root for the protagonist; the hero must be the audience’s representative in the narrative such that when bad shit happens to him/her, the audience is worried for them. Also, large doses of dramatic irony need to be poured on, so that audience expectation levels are ramped up to the max.

Six weeks to write 1,500 words of outline, and around 3,000 words of story. I can do it, I will do it, I can do it, I will do it, I can...


  1. Best of luck with the competition. I think you're absolutely spot on in terms of testing the waters by way of rejection slips. I lack confidence at times to, many times in fact, it's a constant state of being for me when it comes to my writing. But it's getting partly because of taking the risk and letting others critique, especially other writers. Trusting them and their words of advice has helped enormously.

  2. It is definitely worthwhile doing something like that. The only one I ever entered resulted in an opportunity to meet with a literary editor which was very helpful and was partly responsible for me joining the course. Good luck - I'm sure you can find something suitably suspenseful.