post by best-selling author Audrey Braun whose new thriller, Fortune’s Deadly
Descent released on September 18, 2012.
If readers don’t know what draws fire inside a protagonist’s heart
right from the get-go, they won’t be able to feel the full weight of what’s at
stake, and if they don’t feel what’s at stake beyond the obvious life or death ultimatum
of a thriller, then the burning urge to turn the page will wane. All the
stalking, explosions, and secret reveals will fall short of the intended wallop;
in fact those bursts of action meant to propel the story forward could instead
become a distraction if the reader doesn’t first care on a visceral level about
the protagonist as a living, breathing human being.
Ideally, the writer needs to balance an emotional core inside a
breakneck pace. Veering too far off into the heart and mind takes a turn toward
literary fiction where most often the transformation going on inside the
protagonist takes precedence in the story. This is not to say that a powerful plot
doesn’t exist in literary fiction and character driven storylines don’t exist
in thrillers. They do. They must. What I’m talking about is what to give the most
weight to and why. It isn’t enough to write “her heart pounded” for the reader
to experience fear.
When Celia Hagen’s son Benny goes missing in Fortune’s Deadly
Descent, she physically reacts to the terror: “Goosebumps flurry across” her “sweaty skin”
and “Panic squeezes” her throat. Hopefully the same goes for the reader. But it
is when Celia’s emotional center pops up that I believe the reader becomes most
invested in turning the page. A missing child is scary stuff. But a child we
feel an emotional connection to through his mother seals the deal.
In Celia’s panic, she cannot recall what Benny was wearing, an
important fact in finding him. After struggling to remember, she finally
blurts, “chocolate.” Not exactly a spine-tingling word. But the reader already knows
Benny’s hands were covered in chocolate when Celia left him alone to find
napkins. Chocolate had her joking with him, tousling his hair, had her noticing
that the muck on his cheeks made his eyes look bigger and whiter right before
she walked away. Chocolate represents the love between Celia and Benny. It is
also the very reason she left him alone. Her emotional state, her fear is now tied
to chocolate, an odd detail, but also one connected to the senses, which is
important. Sensual details on the page trigger the reader’s own senses into
play, and ultimately pull him closer to the story. When we can smell, taste,
and feel, in this case chocolate, on our own skin, we are bound to the story
through yet other layer, making it a little more difficult to stop reading,
especially when these familiar senses are linked to the ever-powerful fear.
Overall, genuinely flawed characters are the ones we love to root
for and will follow through every crisis they rake us through. Clearly defined
vulnerabilities, faults, unmet desires, and regrets, resonate deeply with
readers, and when they appear during times of heightened danger, they pull the
reader further into the story, shoring up confidence in the writer and the
story itself, far more effectively than mere facts of adrenaline rushes,
gunshots, and kidnappings ever could. Ultimately characters and moments like these
are what I love to create.
Find out for yourself how the characters develop in Fortune's Deadly Descent, now available on Kindle and paperback.