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Mastering Suspense and Tension

Suspense and tension are among the most important elements of compelling, readable stories that grab your reader and compel her to turn the page. These two key craft elements are the engine of story, no matter your genre.

In this detailed exploration into these concepts, learn why a lack of tension and suspense may be what’s keeping you from that publishing contract or bestseller list, or costing you reader investment. We’ll examine how to determine whether you have enough suspense and tension in your story, along with tips for how to develop these elements so that readers are compelled to keep turning pages.

Filled with practical examples from books, movies, and TV, this workshop will let you wield these powerful tools to amp up your story’s impact and effectiveness and keep readers hooked.

Five Steps to Creating an Airtight Plot

What’s keeping you from finishing—or starting—that story you’ve been dying to tell? Why haven’t you completed that novel you’re burning to write, the one that’s been percolating in your head for weeks, months, maybe even years?

If you’re like a lot of writers, you might be stuck on plotting. Wrestling your characters and ideas into a strong, cohesive, propulsive story can get overwhelming, especially when you get “lost in the forest,” so deep in the woods you can’t see daylight—or the way out. Maybe all those ideas swirling in your head get muddled together and you can’t figure out what’s intrinsic to the story, or what goes where. Maybe you just lose steam and are thinking of abandoning the project altogether.

But plotting doesn’t have to be a many-headed Hydra. Whether you’re just beginning your first manuscript or you’re a seasoned writer with many stories under your belt, whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, the five simple steps I lay out in this course will give you a solid, actionable road map for your story—a clear, workable guide to make sure you’re keeping momentum strong as you propel readers steadily through your story to a satisfying, cohesive conclusion. The course includes detailed worksheets and diagrams for each step to guide you through the process as you create a complete working plot and structure for your story.

Get It Edited

When it’s time to hire a professional editor there are more options available than ever before, and it can be hard to sift through the “noise”: What’s the difference between a developmental edit and a line edit and a copyedit? How do you know what you need or when? What should an edit cost—and is it worth it? How do you know when–or whether–you need a professional edit?

I’ll teach you everything you may not have even known you needed to know about hiring an editor. You’ll learn how to determine whether and when you need a professional edit; what to look for in a good editor; specific resources for finding the best in the business and your perfect fit; red flags to watch out for, and much more.

This course will keep you from wasting time and money on the wrong editor, and show you how to find the right one, who will help you develop, fine-tune, and elevate your story.

How to Train Your Editor Brain

Writers read—it’s advice authors are given only slightly less often than “writers write.” But curling up with a good book isn’t the same as reading (or watching) analytically as a writer to understand and learn our craft. Arguably the most important, useful skill an author can learn is how to  study other storytellers and analyze how they elicit reaction and engage their audience.

This course offers plenty of specific techniques for developing and deepening your knowledge of story craft that you can practice every day: how to assess a story’s strengths and weaknesses by observing its effect on you, the reader/viewer, and tracing back how the author elicited it; how to analyze and dissect specific story techniques–like creating suspense, maintaining momentum, developing character–to see what makes them effective (or not); techniques for bringing an objective, assessing eye to your own writing, and more.

Deepen your mastery of story craft and become a stronger, more skilled writer and editor—without ever touching the keyboard (or even getting off the couch!).

How to Find and Fix Middle-of-the-book Sag

Is there anything more thrilling for the creative soul than starting a shiny new story? That sexy little minx seduces you effortlessly, promising you a dazzling future, and in the heady flush of new love it feels as if this perfect communion between you will never end.

And then comes the middle of the book.

When a manuscript loses its momentum, generally the issue is one of several culprits:

  • The plot has lost its cohesion
  • The characters aren’t progressing on their arcs
  • The story stakes have deflated
  • Tension and suspense have lagged

But when things get tough, that doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth fighting for. Figuring out the problem and propping up the sag can often add even more depth and dimension. Let me show you how to diagnose what’s stalling out your story–and give you practical, actionable tools to get it back on the road.

Seamlessly Weaving in Backstory (Without Stalling Out Your Story)

Believable characters and the world they live in don’t just spring to life fully formed at the beginning of your story. Ideally, if you’ve developed them fully, they are “real,” three-dimensional people with complex backstories and experiences living in vividly relatable worlds that have shaped who they are at your story’s “point A,” and inform the journey they take in your manuscript.

Yet how can you fluidly weave all that depth and complexity into your story without stalling pace and story momentum by getting bogged down in info dumps, flashbacks, or just too much exposition?

In detailed, example-filled lessons, this course offers clear, practical guidelines for lacing in backstory to develop and reveal who your characters have been without slowing down the story of where they’re going.

Powerful Prologues: Whether, When, and How to Use This Much-maligned Story Device

Writers are often told that agents and editors hate prologues—but thumb through the opening pages of published books and you’re reasonably likely to see one. How do so many make it past that alleged taboo?

Prologues aren’t anathema to a story—in fact a well-used, well-executed prologue can set up an entire story; whet readers’ appetites; and add impact and resonance to everything that follows.

But an ineffective prologue can stop readers at the starting line, keeping them (and agents and editors) from ever reading past page one.

In this 75-minute workshop you’ll learn how to decide whether a prologue serves your story, and how to write one that feels essential, effective, and enhances the reader’s experience of the story.

Master the Flashback: Weaving the Past Seamlessly into Your Story’s Present

Used skillfully, flashbacks offer a rich and vivid way to weave in essential backstory and add depth and texture to a story. But clumsily executed ones can be an eyeball-stopping intrusion into momentum that yanks readers right out of it.

Learn exactly what flashbacks are—and aren’t—in this in-depth course with career editor Tiffany Yates Martin, and how to incorporate them smoothly and effectively to more richly develop your characters and their arcs; heighten stakes; and deepen readers’ experience of your story.

Using examples from published novels and nonfiction, we’ll look at what makes a flashback essential, and how good ones can add meaning and impact to the main story. You’ll learn the difference between flashback and other types of backstory, and how to assess whether and when flashbacks serve your story best—as well as how to draw readers smoothly and organically into and out of them without the “cheese factor” equivalent of an old-movie dissolve.

Mastering Point of View to Strengthen Your Story

Having strong point of view in your manuscript is about more than whether to write in first person or third. It can change a reader’s entire experience of the story.

Your narrative voice is the first engagement a reader has with your story, an indication of our host and guide for what is to come, and as an author it’s your chance to show us who your characters are and assure us that we are in capable hands.

Take a deep dive into the most popular POVs in modern publishing, and learn how to identify common POV problems that can disorient readers and pull them out of your story, and how to give readers firm footing in your story’s point of view.

With real-world examples from published novels and nonfiction titles, we’ll also analyze how strong, consistent, clear POV can strengthen character, raise stakes, build suspense and tension, create powerful voice, and bring your story fully, vividly to life.

In my publishing career working as a book editor on hundreds of manuscripts—both published and prepublished; for major publishers as well as indies; bestsellers and newer authors—I have more than 25 years of experience in seeing what can keep an author’s story from being as effective as it can be, and what makes it marketable and competitive.

As an editor as well as a teacher leading workshops and seminars in writing and editing across the country, I’ve developed clear, useful, hands-on tools for helping authors learn to spot these areas, along with practical techniques for addressing them, and I share those techniques in my online courses.

Tiffany Yates-Martin Editor