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4 Ways to Add Caffeine to Your Story



By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Lately I've been reading a book by an author whose voice and story is slower and more flowing than I'm used to, Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea. The prose is beautiful and I find myself relishing her exquisite setting details and how they perfectly reflect the character's mood and the plot. It's the kind of story you savor and read languidly much the same way you sip a rich creamy mug of hot cocoa.

Most of the time, however, I find myself gravitating toward books that are more pulse-pounding. I like books that contain depth and beauty and passion but at the same time keep me turning the pages fast.

After hearing from readers over the years, I've learned that my books have more of the pulse-pounding, page-turning quality. Instead of a cup of creamy hot cocoa, my books are like an iced coffee that you guzzle on a hot summer day.

For example, Rachel Rittenhouse read my newest release, Captured by Love and said: "At no time in the book could I guess how this book would end...it definitely is not predictable! I loved the excitement and it was refreshing to read a book that surprised me at each turn."

A recent review in Romantic Times said: “With well-drawn, realistically flawed and sympathetic characters, tight and thrillingly unpredictable plotlines, fascinating historical details and moving faith journeys, Hedlund’s novels never disappoint and Captured by Love is no exception.”

As I thought about how Rachel, Romantic Times, and others have described my books, I’ve realized, that although I never set out intentionally to be a page-turning (iced-coffee guzzling) type of author, I have evolved into that.

Not every writer will want or need to have an iced-coffee story. But for those who are interested in a fast-moving, higher-caffeinated story, here are some of the ingredients I use in mine:

1. Continuous, yet purposeful action.

As I write scenes, I look for ways to keep them from being static. In other words, I want to have my characters DOING things that relate to the plot as much as possible, rather than just sitting around and talking or contemplating.

2. Plenty of new and interesting adventure.

During my research phase (before I start my first draft), I keep a running list of all the weird, crazy, or interesting events/situations that I could use in my story. Then as I’m writing, I try to weave in as much adventure as I can.

3. Tightening the noose of the danger and dilemmas.

As the story progresses, I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, “How can I continue to make things worse for my hero and heroine? And how can I make the danger more threatening?” I want to keep tightening the noose around their necks so that the situation looks utterly hopeless. Sometimes I get my characters into so much trouble, even I begin to wonder how they’ll ever get out!

4. Make every scene count.

Granted not every scene will be a knife-fight, dangerous river-crossing, or attack by a mountain lion. But even those scenes that are less action-oriented can be loaded with emotional or relational tension and conflict. If there’s nothing tense in the scene, then we need to ask if it’s really needed. Perhaps we can skip it and just jump to the next conflict-laden scene.

Those are just a few of my techniques for keeping my stories moving.

What about you? Which do you prefer reading—a hot cocoa book or an iced coffee? And if you’re a writer, which do you prefer writing? 
(This is a revised version of a post I wrote in 2011)

16 comments:

  1. LOL... that photo! I burst out laughing when I clicked on your blog post this morning.

    When it comes to reading, I like a mixture of both. I find that after too many iced coffee books, I need to slow it down a bit, and that's when I seek out the classics, with a dash of poetry thrown in for good measure.

    Looking forward to your upcoming release, Jody! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just like the seasons dictate which type of drink I'll enjoy, my mood often dictates the type of story I gravitate toward. After I had my twins, I read an Amish series by Beverly Lewis (Abram's Daughters), which was like a warm cup of cocoa. I needed the slower, smoother pace because my life was so hectic at the time. On the other hand, when I read your last novel, Rebellious Heart, it was a dark and stormy night and I devoured that awesome story like I would guzzle iced coffee! It was the perfect book for that evening and my mood.

    Thanks for the tips! And congratulations on being a Carol Award finalist! I'm looking forward to meeting you at ACFW. I just registered yesterday and I signed up for the class you and Karen Witemeyer will be teaching!! It's the class I'm most looking forward to.

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  3. Jody, guess what I started reading yesterday? Yep, Captured by Love! I started reading it while at a football camp at UCLA. I'm loving it.

    I like both kinds of stories. I recently finished a quieter book, and I loved that one too. As long as there is believable conflict and a character I love, I'm hooked.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like both! Though it does kinda depend on the genre. I often like dystopian or sic-fi to be fast paced and active. Same goes for a love story--I enjoy a love story that keeps me on the edge of my seat! But I also enjoy epic stories that sprawl out over a few hundred pages and keep me interested, but don't wear me out with tension.

    As a writer, I tend to write stories that move quickly, but maybe that would be different if I wrote for adults rather than kids.

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  5. I learned during the editing of my first book that if something isn't adding to the story, no matter if it's the smallest line of dialogue or the longest chapter, it should be cut. You've got to keep things moving. I look to movies for my guidelines in this. The goal is to make every moment of the experience cause the reader to want more.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I read The Winter Sea this spring and really loved it, though you're right in that it's slower than most novels I read. Still, it has a languid kind of beauty to it. The more I write and read other writers, the more I feel that most writers can make an action scene good, but the really great writers are the ones that can take a kitchen table scene and make it just as good as the dangerous river crossing.

    For the novel I'm working on now, I just wrote a shipwreck rescue scene. Easy stuff once you've researched enough about ships during the 1880s. The scenes that are harder and take me more time are the family scenes. How to infuse tension between the characters over the death of their father while showing how each character handles that death differently and yet still keeping the characters likable? How to have a character that's been gone for two years walk into his house and display the emotional connection and nostalgia while still moving the story forward? Too little emotion, and the reader wont' care about the character's internal/relational conflict. Too much and the story gets boring or slow. Those are the parts of books that I find hardest to write.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ack! I also should have said I read Captured by Love in one day and loved it. However, I'm more than a little biased toward the setting, so I'm probably not a very objective reader. Still, I loved it. It's one of my favorite historical novels so far this year.

    ReplyDelete
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  10. I certainly prefer reading your style of writing! :) Books that are too slow make me bored.

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