Amber Morn
Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her 19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Visit her blog at Forensics and Faith, and her website at Brandilyn to read the first chapters of all her books.


The key is to focus on the emotion of the scene...

Last month we talked about designing a resolution for a novel that is character-driven, not fact-driven. A scene that gives the readers a satisfying look at the character’s life after all the action is over. I noted that in this type of resolution it’s very hard to weave in all the facts that still need to be explained in a natural way. So how to do that?

On the personal side, I try to bring as many characters into the scene as possible. Either they are physically present, or there’s a phone call, or the main character is thinking of a recent conversation with that person, or all of the above. A lot of the characters will have personal details hanging that I will want to address in some way. I may resolve the issue, or if it’s a series I may even insert a new question (say, a romantic one) that will carry the reader into the next book.

The harder issue for me is weaving all the necessary explanations of what really happened in the crimes that the whole book is based upon. Because I’ve spent 98% of the book laying false assumptions for my readers in order that the story can include twists, in the resolution I have to untangle all of those. I have to show—without connecting every dot—what really happened. I also have to tie up the loose ends, letting the reader know what has happened between the climax and the resolution scene. The key is to focus on the emotion of the scene, figuring out how to slip information in as the characters deal with their issues. The dozens of pieces of information can be inserted in these ways:

1. Action. The main character can be confronting someone, returning home, dealing emotionally with the fallout of the trauma, receiving a package, reading a newspaper, talking on the phone, convalescing in the hospital, attending a final court hearing—the choices are endless. I ask myself: What action will provide the best framework in which to insert the necessary information?

2. Conversation. The trick here is that it has to be natural. The characters need to really be talking to each other rather than the author talking to the reader. The best dialogue slips in information a bit at a time. Good dialogue also skips over the details and makes a statement that sums up the basics of what happened, allowing the reader to fill in the logical blanks. For example, here’s an unwieldy piece of dialogue that tries to impart too many details:

“I’m just glad the trial ended last week, and he was convicted. Now he’s been sentenced to life without parole. Still, it’s not enough!”

Here’s a better way, pumping up the emotion while slipping in the main info:

“Life without parole.” She aimed a bitter look out the window. “It’s too good for him.”

The facts that the trial is over and he was convicted are made obvious in those first three words.

3. Narrative. It’s really easy to do too much of this, so when I use it, I write very tightly, making every word count, and again, not detailing more information than I have to. The narrative is in the form of the point-of-view character’s thoughts. I break up these passages, moving from action to conversation to a bit of narrative, back to conversation. I structure the conversation into beats that will lead naturally to the character thinking about some aspect of the story that needs to be resolved. For example, let’s say the above bit of dialogue was spoken to the point-of-view character. And one of the unresolved pieces of information is the number of crimes for which the guy was convicted. The point-of-view character then might respond:

“Yes, it is.”

She sank into a chair, sick at heart and feeling more frail than ever. If only they could have proved the second murder. He’d have gotten death. And death was what he deserved.

Sometimes to impart a lot of information I’ve structured a portion of the scene around a TV show about the case, or around characters reading a newspaper article. These techniques can work—again, as long as the scene focuses on the characters and their interaction and emotions, not the show or article itself.

Of course, some pieces of information can be effectively worked into the crisis/climax. An obvious one is the answer to who-dun-it. And in the midst of the action, I can sometimes weave in a few bits of dialogue that will show the bad guy’s motivation behind the crime, or will show how he accomplished some bit of legerdemain. But the action can’t be slowed to do this! I will only weave in what’s natural and save the rest for the resolution.

In my suspense novels I find the resolution the hardest scene (or scenes) to write. Not only because of all the resolution must accomplish in tying up loose ends, but I’m also aware it’s my last word to the reader. I want to leave my readers with satisfying thoughts about the story and something to think about regarding the human condition. After sticking with the entire novel, this is what the reader expects and deserves, no matter the genre.

Read the Reviews for Dark Pursuit

Dark Pursuit