How To Write Nailbiter Scenes.

 

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Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

NAILBITERS

I want you to read today’s chapter before we talk about it so I don’t give too much away. (The discussion and analysis will follow at the bottom.)

BTW, I use the phrase “FINAL Chapter” just to distinguish between the Original Chapter and this one. It will still go to beta readers and an editor, so it’s technically not final.


Chapter 22 “FINAL” (you did not miss chapter 21, it was absorbed into another chapter)

Mallory heaved the steering wheel to the right and bounced over the curb into the grocery store parking lot. Sophie’s toys flew up, plopping down around her.

“Wheee!”

Screeching to a stop, Mallory forced herself to take several deep breaths before taking her trembling hands off the steering wheel.

She closed her eyes again, kneading her fingers, trying to ignore the panic gripping her belly.

Relax. Relax! We’re just doing some shopping. Quit being afraid of the boogeyman. 

She wiped her eyes and got out, rushing around to the passenger’s door to help Sophie out of the back seat. Mallory’s convertible was easy to get their daughter in and out of when the roof was down—the child seat harness was easier to reach that way—but today was not a top down day.

And the feeling of ensuing panic wouldn’t leave her.

Throwing the passenger seat forward and leaning in past her daughter, Mallory tugged at the buckles and clips. Sophie could do them by herself when she got in and out—albeit very slowly. She had the enthusiasm but not the manual dexterity to do it quickly.

“I can do it.” Sophie reached for the clasp. “It’s one, two, seat belt undo.”

Usually that was part of the learning process, to make a game of things and to let the child figure things out.

Mallory nodded. “Okay, you do it. But hurry, baby.”

The hairs stood up on the back of Mallory’s neck, as if an icy breeze had found only her. She shivered, raising her shoulders and flinching.

A man in ratty clothing and dark, sunken eyes emerged from the hedges on the far side of the lot. He stared at her.

She glanced inside the car, watching her daughter work the clips. When she looked up again, the man was still staring at her, his face an unwavering scowl.

Mallory’s pulse quickened.

Some sort of derelict from the drug houses. Part of the messaging of the low-priced grocery chain was their no-frills approach. Here, it had resulted in a location near a run-down neighborhood frequented with homeless drug addicts and alcoholics. Most were harmless, but some could be intimidating, saying and doing scary things while strung out. That wasn’t an encounter she wished to have with her daughter present.

“Let’s go, baby.” She glanced at the man again as she bent over to help her daughter. “Come on.”

Sophie pressed the seat belt button. “It’s stuck.”

“Okay.” Mallory slid her hands past her daughter’s, jerking on the seat belt. It jammed.

She twisted to look over her shoulder for the hollow eyed stranger. He stood near the hedges, glaring at her.

“Watch out.” A big push freed the jammed fastener and the seat belt unclipped. Mallory hoisted Sophie out of the seat, snatching the purse from the passenger seat and shutting the door with her hip.

“Hold my hand, honey.” Mallory tried to keep her strained voice from frightening her daughter, but she felt vulnerable outside now. She grasped Sophie’s hand, moving in short, fast strides. “Let’s hurry.”

Sophie trotted alongside her mother to run to keep up.

As she weaved her way between the parked cars, Mallory peered over her shoulder at the man. He kept staring right back at her like a zombie.

She walked faster, her heart pounding.

Why is he watching me?

Images of the tragedies rushed forward again. She ran a hand across her forehead.

Is this the next one? Does a demon take over a panhandler and stab us with a broken bottle?

“Mommy!”

“Hurry sweetie.” Mallory tugged her daughter’s hand as she rushed across the parking lot. “Let’s hurry.”

Mallory felt his eyes on her. Tears welled in her eyes.

“Mommy, I can’t walk this fast!”

“Sophie, hurry!”

Her heart racing, she stepped out from between the parked cars and into the driving lane in front of the store.

Sophie screamed. A car screeched to a stop next to them. Mallory flinched, yanking her daughter’s arm and jumping back.

The driver yelled through the window at them as he passed. Gasping, Mallory waved absently and hurried into the store.

She grabbed a shopping cart. The bright lights of the store and the other customers calmed her. Her tried to get her breathing to return to normal. Then they began to make the rounds.

“Peanut butter!” Sophie pointed at the shelves. Mallory picked up a jar and lowered it into the cart, unable to focus. At the end of the aisle, they turned. The store’s big windows allowed her to see the sky dimming with the sunset. The jitters returned, her stomach tightening.

How will we get back to my car with that guy out there?

She swallowed hard. She’d given him time to get to her car now. He’d seen it, knew which one was hers. Now he could be waiting, hiding behind another car to grab her—or Sophie.

Mallory’s hand trembled.

It was a mistake to come in.

“Grapes!” Sophie stood on the frame of the cart, holding on with one hand and plucking the bag up with the other. Leaning over into the basket as far as she could, she dropped the grapes in.

Mallory took no barely notice, pushing along. As they neared the front of the aisle, she peered past her reflection in the store window and observed the parking lot.

Her stomach was a knot. She scanned the cars for the man. Nothing.

Glancing at her white knuckles, she realized she’d been gripping the cart handle. She opened her hands and gazed at the deep row of red crescents her fingernails had dug into her palms.

Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something move in the parking lot. A shadow disappeared behind a white van. Her heart raised to her throat. Was it him? Was he hiding, waiting for her to come out of the store to attack?

As she watched, an elderly man emerged from the side of the van. Inside, his wife pulled her seat belt as he stacked their groceries into the back seat.

Mallory exhaled, wiping her forehead with her hand.

“Mommy, can we get some of these?” Sophie held up potato chips.

She nodded. Her eyes stayed on the parking lot. The crackle of cellophane reached her ears as the bag hit the bottom of the cart.

The white van drove off. The parking lot appeared normal.

Mallory eased the cart down the next aisle. Sophie grabbed miscellaneous items as they passed. Tomato paste, toothpaste—it didn’t matter, any colorful box or bag would do. The package merely needed to look pretty to Sophie. Mallory didn’t care. She robotically took each item her daughter offered to her, dropping them into the cart while doing her best to keep her eyes fixed on the windows at the front of the store.

Outside, the parking lot slowly descended into darkness.

“We need to go.” Mallory pushed the cart toward the checkout lanes. With one hand on the cart, she raised the other to her lips and bit her nails.

The cashier said something to her.

“Hmm?” Mallory tried to refocus on the lady.

“I just asked if you were cold.” The cashier nodded at Mallory’s hands. “Your hands are shaking.”

Mallory looked down at her quivering hands. She opened and closed them a few times, to relax. It didn’t help.

As she handed the money to the cashier, their fingers brushed.

“Ooh! Like ice.” The lady smiled. “You need to warm up!”

Thanking her, Mallory pushed the cart over to the doorway and stared out through the glass into the dark lot. Overhead, the parking lot lights flickered to life in a dim, yellow-white glow.

A few customers walked between the rows of cars. No sign of the man who had been watching her.

She wrapped her arms around herself and clutched her purse as Sophie jumped on and off the side of the cart. The store had no clerks to help take groceries to customers’ vehicles. That was also part of their no frills, low prices image.

We’ll wait. We’ll wait, keys out, ready to run to our car as soon as somebody else leaves. We’ll just walk out with them. He won’t try anything with other people around. Will he?

Pretending to look for her keys, Mallory rummaged in her purse until another customer finished checking out. Then she pushed her cart through the exit doors right behind them, following them onto the sidewalk and toward the lot.

Sophie squeezed her mother’s hand. “Look both ways!”

Her heart pounding, Mallory was doing a lot more than looking both ways. She looked every way.

They strode across the driving lane to the cars. She could see no sign of the crazy man. It didn’t matter. The lot had fewer cars than when they arrived, but there were still plenty of cars for someone to hide behind.

Ahead, her convertible stood under the light. The cars on both sides had left, as had the one in front of her. With no other vehicles around hers, the convertible now looked eerily alone and vulnerable.

She swallowed hard.

Just get in as fast as you can

Juggling the cart, they car keys, and her daughter’s hand, Mallory approached the convertible’s trunk. “Stand by the door, sweetie.” Mallory looked in all directions. Sophie obeyed.

Across the lot, something caught her eye as it moved. Then a hard gust of wind blew, shutting her eyes against the dust it threw at them.

She looked again. There was nothing there.

“Okay, let’s go.” Mallory opened the passenger door. “Get up into your car seat and buckle yourself in. Mommy will come check in a minute.”

She looked up over the car roof to check the lot again.

Sophie playfully crawled into her seat. Mallory took a deep breath, gripping and regripping the keys. “Honey, let’s move quickly.”

Pressing the trunk release on the key fob, she stepped to the rear of the convertible and shoved aside a blanket and folding stroller to make room for the groceries. “How are we doing, baby?”

“Fine.”

Mallory loaded the bags and slammed the trunk lid.

There he was.

She jumped backward, gasping. The man was about five rows away, but his cold, hollow eyes pierced Mallory’s insides. He stared right at her, unflinching.

Mallory rushed to the driver door and threw it open, jumping in.

Keys. Where are my keys?

“Mommy, aren’t you going to buckle me in?” Sophie held up the unfastened seat belt. The passenger side door was wide open.

The man came toward them.

Stretching between the seats, Mallory fumbling for the child restraint straps.

Sophie grabbed the buckles. “I can do it!”

“Let me do it!” Mallory yanked the straps form her daughter’s hands. Twisting around to see, Mallory peered over her shoulder as the man moved closer. A wave of fear jolted through her. She shook her head. “No, no, no!”

A delivery van drove between them, momentarily blocking the man’s way. As soon as the big vehicle passed, he stepped towards Mallory’s convertible, increasing his speed with every stride.

She jerked away from the windshield with an audible groan, slapping at her pockets for the car keys. Shoving a hand into her jeans, she grabbed the keys and hauled them out, flipping through them to find the ignition key.

They slipped through her fingers onto the dark floor.

“Mommy!” Sophie held up the dangling buckles.

The man was almost to them.

She grabbed the keys and jammed them into the ignition, stomping the gas pedal. The engine roared to life. Slamming the transmission into drive, Mallory mashed then accelerator, lurching the car forward and causing the doors to slam shut.

She slapped the steering wheel, hand over hand, squealing the tires as the car raced through the lot. Without slowing, she swung the car sharply into the street.

“Mommy!” Sophie’s toys flew everywhere.

The convertible bounded into the traffic with a bang, slamming the undercarriage onto the crowned pavement of the street. Car horns blared as other drivers swerved to miss them. She pressed the gas pedal again to leap ahead of the oncoming cars, missing a sedan by inches. Then she immediately hit the brakes.

Red light.

She swung her head around as the smoke from her tires drifted past the windows. The store lot appeared vacant of any people. The man was gone.

Mallory reached back and buckled her crying daughter, then turned and gripped the steering wheel. Her eyes stared straight at the red light, her shoulders heaved with every rapid breath.

Cars pulled up next to them—regular traffic. Regular day.

She collapsed forward onto her hands, fighting back tears.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?”

She didn’t look. She couldn’t.

A car horn honked behind her, snapping her from her breakdown. Back to reality. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath, then slowly drove off.

It was all she could do to keep the car in her own lane and move with the flow of traffic. She shook her head in silence. She wouldn’t be telling Doug about any of this.

They took the long way home. The very long way.

Mallory drove by the mall and Target, the Polo store—all without going in. Sophie eventually drifted off to sleep.

Even with wind gusts batting her car, she could not bring herself to go into any of the shops. She pulled into the parking lots, eyed the stores, and drove on.

Too dark. Too many trees. Too many other cars.

Not enough other cars.

After more than an hour of driving around, she gave up. Nothing could dispel the fear and paranoia gripping her insides.

It just wouldn’t go.


Original Chapter 22, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

She parked looked down at her hands. They were shaking.

She forced herself to take a deep breath.

Relax. Relax! We’re just doing some shopping. Quit being afraid of the boogeyman. 

Normally, this would be a happy, meandering journey for the two of them. They typically went off after Savvy’s dance class, visiting an endless parade of shops and other places that each had some specific item that needed acquiring. When I shopped, I would make a list and knock my errands out in 45 minutes. I could probably time myself and be under 45 minutes, depending on the store. Michele had a general idea of where she wanted to go, and what she wanted to do, but would allow the trip to unfold itself before her, adding places as she went. It allowed her to relax and spend time with our daughter without the pressure of an actual agenda. The after-dance class trips might go two hours, or four hours or even all day. Then they would come home and share the day’s adventure, presenting a dizzying array of purchases and stories.

Normally, that’s how things went. But things were no longer normal.

Michele was beginning to wonder about some of the things that had been happening. The recurring nightmares, the accidents; she was concerned that things seemed to be ramping up, getting bigger and more dangerous. How was she supposed to protect herself and her family from things that she couldn’t see or predict? How was she supposed to protect her baby? Where would the next attack come from, and from who? A random stranger? How can you tell? What can you do about it?

It was all bothering her more and more as she thought about it – so she tried not to think about it. Letting one dark thought in opened the door for all of them. Maybe some shopping would help.

The first stop was Alton, a small grocery store. Alton carried unique things that not every store carried, and Michele liked their low prices. It was part of a reputable nation chain, but this location was not in a great part of town. That’s Florida: a half mile north were some of the richest homes in all of the Tampa Bay area; a half mile south was one of the poorest. Alton’s was right in between. If you went there at 6pm or 7pm, it was filled with rich yuppies and family matrons, stopping in after work or after their workout. Other times of day, it was full of regular folks.

Michele might have liked the store’s unique approach and low prices, but I didn’t like going there at all. For me, the clientele and prices weren’t the problem. The parking lot was.

It was clean and bright enough, but it was just a little too close to the run-down houses that drug dealers and prostitutes frequented. And that clientele had no issue walking up to the Alton customers and begging for cash or a handout. Or worse. It wasn’t safe, and I told Michele that.

Today was the first day she felt like I was right. Even though it was still afternoon, there was an eeriness in the air. The sky didn’t seem to know if it wanted to rain or not, and the wind came in strong, unpredictable gusts.

Things just felt a little… off balance. Maybe it was the bad night’s sleep, or the constant headache she was fighting as these crazy ideas kept bobbing to the surface. It was hard to not feel intimidated and on the defensive.

She got out and went around to the passenger’s door to let Savvy out of the back seat. Michele’s convertible was easy to get their daughter in and out of when the roof was down; the child seat harness was easier to reach that way. But today was not a top down day. Too much wind and not enough certainty of sunshine – all day long, it kept looking like it would rain at any minute. So Michele leaned in and tugged at the buckles and clips. Savvy was just getting old enough to fasten them by herself when she got into the car – albeit very slowly. The enthusiasm was there, just not the manual dexterity. Not quick dexterity, anyway. And she couldn’t unbuckle them at all yet.

But that was part of the learning process, to make a game of things and to let the child figure things out, so that she could eventually do them herself.

She glanced around, sensing that someone was looking at her. Someone was. A man in ratty clothing stood over in the hedges on the far side of the lot. Her heart caught in her throat as she saw him.

Some sort of derelict from the drug houses, she thought. But scary. Dangerous. Matted hair and torn, dirty clothes. Haunting eyes. That’s not an encounter she wished to have with her daughter present.

“Hold my hand, honey.” Michele helped Savvy out of the car. She tried to keep her tension from frightening her daughter, but she felt vulnerable outside now. “Come on, let’s hurry.” She grasped Savvy’s hand. They walked quickly, her daughter nearly running at the pace.

Michele looked over her shoulder at the man. He stared right back at her like a zombie.

She walked faster. Her heart was pounding.

Do I have to fear that now? Why is he staring at me? Do I have to worry that a panhandler is overtaken by a damned demon and stabs me with a broken bottle? Is that next?

“Mommy!” Savvy shouted.

“Hurry sweetie,” Michele instructed. “Let’s hurry.” She blinked back tears.

They strode quickly across the parking lot. Michele was feeling his eyes on her. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She looked back at him.

What the fuck does he want?

“Mommy I can’t walk this fast!”

“Hurry, honey!”

Her heart raced. She rushed out to the driving lane in front of the store.

“Mommy!”

A car suddenly screeched to a stop. It barely missed them. Michele gasped.

Then she absently waved at the driver and hurried into the store with her daughter, out of breath.

They grabbed a shopping cart. From the sanctuary of the store and the other customers, she took a few deep breaths, to relax a little. Then they began to make the rounds.

She couldn’t shake the jitters. Nothing felt safe.

“Peanut butter!” Savvy pointed at the shelves. Michele took it and dropped it into the cart, distracted. She wheeled over to the produce.

How would they get back to the car without that guy getting us.

It was a mistake to come in.

“Grapes!” Savvy reached over and placed them in the cart. Michele barely noticed, pushing along. As they neared the front of the next aisle, she could see the parking lot from the store windows.

Her stomach was a knot. She looked over the cars in the lot for the man. Nothing.

She looked down at her knuckles and realized that they were gripping the cart. She forced herself to open her hands in an attempt to relax a little. Then she looked out the window again.

Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw him again, disappearing behind a white van. Was he stalking her? Waiting for her to come out from the store to attack?

As she watched, an elderly man emerged from the side of the van. He had helped his wife get in, and was now stacking groceries into the back seat.

Michele wiped her forehead with her hand and took another deep breath.

“Mommy, can we get some of these?” Savvy asked, holding up potato chips.

“Of course, baby.” Her eyes were on the parking lot. The white van drove off. The lot appeared normal.

Michele turned again to walk down another aisle. Savvy grabbed miscellaneous items as they passed. Tomato paste, toothpaste; it didn’t matter. The package looked pretty to Savvy and Michele didn’t care. She robotically helped Savvy put them all into the cart as she wondered if the man would be waiting outside.

Coming up the next aisle, she could see out the window again. It was beginning to get dark outside. “We need to go,” she said to her daughter. She pushed the cart up to the cashier, her eyes on the parking lot.

The cashier said something to her.

“Hmm?” Michele tried to refocus on the lady.

“I just asked if you were cold.” The cashier nodded at Michele’s hands. “Your hands are shaking.”

Michele looked down. Her hands were quivering. She opened and closed them a few times, to relax. It didn’t help.

As she handed the money to the cashier, their hands brushed.

“Ooh! Like ice,” the lady said, smiling. “You need to warm up!”

Michele quickly thanked her and pushed the cart over to the doorway, looking out. She saw a few customers and no sign of the man who had been watching her.

Still, it bothered her to walk out to her car by herself. The store had no clerks to help. That was part of their no frills, low prices image.

She pretended to look through her purse for her keys until another customer finished checking out. Then she pushed her cart through the exit doors right behind them, following them out into the lot.

“Look both ways!” Savvy knew the rules. They strode across the driving lane to the parking spaces. Michele was doing a lot more than that. She could see no sign of the man.

The lot had fewer cars now, but still enough to hide behind. She moved to her car quickly.

Juggling the cart, they keys, and her daughter’s hand, she moved to the trunk.

“Stand by the door, sweeties.” Michele quickly looked around in all directions. Savvy obeyed.

Across the lot, something caught her eye as it moved. Then a hard gust of wind blew and she blinked, shutting her eyes against the dust it threw at them.

She looked again. There was nothing there.

“Okay, let’s go.” Michele opened the passenger door. “Get up into your car seat and buckle yourself in.” She looked at Savvy. “Mommy will come check in a minute.”

She looked up over the car roof to check the lot again.

Savvy playfully crawled into her seat. Michele took a deep breath. “Okay, honey. Let’s move quickly.”

She moved back to the trunk and opened it, placing the grocery bags inside. She pushed at a blanket and a folding stroller to make room.

She called to Savvy. “How are we doing, baby?”

“Fine.”

Michele slammed the trunk lid.

There he was.

She jumped, startled, and caught her breath. He was about five rows away, but his zombie eyes focused right on her.

Michele ran to the driver door, and jumped in.

Keys. Where are my keys? She grabbed at her pockets. 

“Mommy, aren’t you going to buckle me in?” Savvy was still unbuckled. The passenger side door was wide open.

The man started toward them. Michele quickly reached back and started clicking the buckles closed on the child seat.

Savvy protested. “I can do it!”

“Let me do it!” Michele grappled with the buckle. Savvy began to fuss.

Michele looked over her shoulder to see where the man was. A deliver van drove in front of him, momentarily blocking his way. Then he started walking toward them again, staring right at her.

She felt the keys in her pocket, and grabbed at them to start the car. They slipped through her fingers onto the floor.

“Mommy!” Savvy shouted. He was almost to them.

She grabbed the keys and slammed them into the ignition. The engine started with a roar. In a near leap, Michele reached back one last time for the child seat and snapped the three-way harness shut.

Then she dropped the transmission into drive and stomped the gas pedal. The car doors slammed shut as the car lunged forward. The wheels squealed and her car flew like an insane rocket across the parking lot.

Without slowing, she swung the car sharply into the street. “Mommy!” Savvy shouted again, her toys falling everywhere.

The convertible bounded into the traffic with a bang, slamming the undercarriage onto the crowned pavement of the street. She stomped the gas pedal again to leap ahead of the oncoming cars, missing a sedan by inches. Then she immediately slammed on the brakes.

Red light.

She looked around in a panic as the smoke from her tires drifted past the windows.

Nothing.

Her head fell forward onto her hands as they still gripped the steering wheel. She began to sob.

She cried without restraint, relieved that she had escaped, and embarrassed at her outburst of emotion. It was all too much.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?”

She didn’t look. She couldn’t.

A car horn honked behind her, snapping her from her breakdown. Back to reality. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath, then slowly drove off.

She shook her head, to clear her thoughts. She wouldn’t be telling her husband about any of this.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

She took the long way home. The very long way. She drove by the mall and Target, all without going in. Savvy eventually drifted off to sleep; staying awake in the car had always been a challenge for her.

Even with wind gusts tugging at her car, the road felt safer to Michele than any of the stores. Or their parking lots. Each time she would pull in, she would find some reason not to get out of the car. Too dark. Too many trees. Too many other cars. After more than an hour, she decided to give up. Nothing was going to get rid of the fear and paranoia that had built up.

Time to go home.

 

 


ANALYSIS

How did we do? Was there some tension?

(We cut a LOT out of the original version. Sometimes you have to do that. If you can say it in fewer words, say it in fewer words.)

Layering: making sure each character has enough to do in each scene. (That’s the real title of this chapter but who’d read a blog post called that? Yawn.)

 

When you write certain types of scenes, it’s very important to let them rest and then go back and look at them again. It’s always good to let any story or chapter rest so you can view it with fresh eyes and see you the obvious mistakes, but certain scenes require a bit more.

 

Action scenes are that way in particular.

 

So are scenes where you are trying to build a lot of suspense or tension, because it usually has to happen over a short period of time.

 

 

We obviously have an overall building of tension with what’s going on with Mallory.

 

However, there’s a lot of action in this scene. Not car chases and shootouts, but moving around and looking over shoulders and what not.

 

As always, the first thing you have to do is write your scene. Get it out of your head and into the computer or onto the page. Let it sit and then come back to it.

Then you were going to use three different kinds of strainers or three different kinds of highlighters, and sift through it to make sure each person is doing enough stuff.

 

First, you go through and you only look for Mallory’s scenes. Where she saying something or doing something. Her lines.

 

Then you go through and make sure the bad guys doing what he’s supposed to do. He starts out slightly menacing and ominous but he needs to end up really scary, so we’re going to look at his actions but then we’re going to come back and paint him in with creepier and creepier words because that’s how Mallory is perceiving him.

 

  • You might have a list of words that describe him, being sure to make each entry uglier than the last. For example:
    • Strange looking man with dark eyes
    • hollow eyes
    • dead, piercing eyes
    • haunting eyes
    • empty, insane eyes

 

I don’t know that we’ll need to refer to his eyes that much but you get the idea.

 

You might get to the point where you have the scary looking guy doing weird or gross like drooling or something.

 

Did We Account For Everyone?

We need to make sure the third person in the scene is it forgotten – that’s easy to do. Sophie is there and we need to know that she’s there. And we also need the contrast of what adults say versus what little kids say. So I added a little unbuckled the seatbelt song. (There isn’t one, but I’ll be honest my kid comes home from school with songs about brushing your teeth and tying your shoes, so who knows. There just might be one.) Anyway, you don’t necessarily want to have the kid being scared right off the bat when the mom is. The kid may be oblivious to mom’s current concern. When Mallory drives over the curb into the parking lot, the child my might say something like “Wheeee!”

 

The happiness of the child will really help contrast the scaredness of the mom. But the scaredness of the mom builds through the scene.

 

 

Let It Be

Let it rest for one or two days, then go through on day three and make sure each character is doing enough. Go through looking only at Malory’s emotional state getting antsier. Then go through Sophie and make sure her attitude is consistent – happy to concerned, maybe. She might ask what’s wrong or say she’s scared.

 

The scary guy needs to slowly gets scarier.

 

The cashier needs to be happy and friendly.

 

You need to bring the proper mindset to each character and their part in the scene.

  • What are the happy words I can use for the cashier?
  • What are the playful words I can use for the child?
  • What are the increasingly scary words I can use for the scary guy and
  • What are the scared words I can use for Mallory?

 

Then it goes to your critique partners – and you add their input, then it goes to your beta readers – and you add your input, then it goes to your editor – and you add her input.

 

By the time everybody is done with it, ask them if each character in that scene appropriately raise the tension level.

 

Don’t poison the well by asking them ahead of time, let them finish and make sure they’re not just telling you what you want to hear. At the end of the day, you want the story to have some punch and we want people to buy it and recommended to their friends and talk about it at the water cooler and things like that.

 

There’s a difference between saying

  • “she looked in her hands” and saying
  • “she looked at her trembling hands” and
  • “she stared down at her trembling hands as they gripped the steering wheel, leaving read crescents in the palms of her hands.”

 

Think about that. You could probably even get white knuckles in there somewhere.

 

The last thing to comment on here is maybe the most important.

 

This is a scene about being scared.

 

When you write a scary scene, try to think of a time you were scared, whether it was a child or an adult. How did it feel? Put that in there.

 

When you’re scared, what happens to you? My stomach gets a funny feeling, so that’s what my character tend to experience. For you it might be something else. But try to dive into the well of emotions inside you and think about what those things are. When you get your brain in that mindset, you will choose different words than you would otherwise. And it tends to carry the feeling. Not 100%, but maybe some essence of it seeps into the page because of the mindset of the writer, waiting like a trap for the reader. An extra lever. A different layer.

Readers tend to notice the difference.

At least I think they do.

Now:

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Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

 

13 thoughts on “How To Write Nailbiter Scenes.

  1. Mallory needs some essential oil of lavender… I kept waiting to see why she was so twisted up but having read the previous chapter, I understood that she hadn’t let go of the dream’s energy. Still it made me wonder if she was imagining the man near the bushes, or if he was real… Remains to be seen, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lavender! We’re adding senses. Good!

      The man in the bushes was real, all right, but he was just a homeless guy or drugged out person. She later admits to Doug she totally overreacted. But it was a fun diversion to show how what’s happening is affecting everyone.

      (I don’t mind telling you this because you’ll see that tomorrow anyway. But don’t tell anyone else!)

      Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, I wasn’t trying to put myself down, rather admitting that I am learning something from what you are presenting. There is so much to the art of storytelling and much like other arts, we are either able to pick it up by looking at the finished product or we require lessons. I require lessons. You are providing lessons. And after so many rejections of what I believed to be pretty good short stories, I can now see what I could be doing better. Now, will I be brave enough to try again? I believe I will. I see each of your chapters as a short story, unto itself. Strung together, they create a book of related stories. Placement within said book, makes that happen. Those who can blend information and entertainment successfully shall be called wizards! You is a whiz of a whiz whoever a whiz there was.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I seem to be doing this backward reading. Never mind. wow, what a brilliant scene and I was scared reading it, Thank you for the advice of remembering how scared you were with something as a child and get those feelings down. Brilliant, thanks Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

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