Much is written about story structure. My novels utilize what I call a story timeline, which lays a foundation for all of the plot points and character arc transitions that are required in a great novel.
Listed below are the nineteen unique timeline points I use when designing a story. Two of those listed – Complications and Fall from Grace – are actually multiple actions that get expanded into many specific timeline points.
This blog post will go into the Act I timeline points.
The first point is the Inciting Incident. This is where the initial problem begins, and the story arc begins. It’s the reason the story is being told. It should happen right away as the novel begins.
Next, the protagonist arc begins, as he or she is Called to Action as a result of the Inciting Incident. Something has happened that forces the protagonist to react and do something about it.
When this action is ineffective in solving the problem, the protagonist has a Defining Moment, a crucible where he or she chooses to do something he or she wouldn’t normally do. The protagonist is now out of their comfort zone. Their internal fears and moral problems are now exposed.
The final timeline point in Act I acts as a transition to Act II. In this First Turning Point the protagonist has an awakening, and the plot moves in an entirely different direction, leading to multiple complications and rising action.
All of this should be accomplished in approximately ten percent of the story timeline (not number of words).
By structuring the start of your novel in this fashion, you greatly improve your chances of giving the reader a comfortable and recognized flow.
Next up, Act II.
Steven G. Jackson July 18th, 2016
Our annual search for the world’s most thrilling restaurants took us to Copenhagen recently, where we dined at noma, considered by many as the world’s finest. Here is a summary of our experience.
We arrived by cab and were greeted in front of the restaurant by our primary server, by name. He escorted us in, and the owner and head chef, as well as the entire wait staff, was there to greet us by name.
Lunch and dinner are identical 14 course meals, unless they run out of something late in the evening. Everything is grown locally and sustainably produced. They picked the produce for our meal that morning, often after letting it ferment for a year. A bee hive outside our window provides fresh honey.
They have only 12 tables. For those, they have 15 head waiters, 50 chefs, and another 10-15 in support.
After a spectacular meal, we were given a tour of the kitchens, BBQ area, fermenting areas, and their business center. The feeling you get is that every employee is passionate about every customer.
They are moving locations at the end of the year, to a farm where they can grow more local food. They also plan to adjust their menu to accommodate the seasons in Scandinavia.
noma met all of our expectations, and then some. It’s hard to get in to (they had a wait list of 200 names the day we went), but worth it.
You can discover more about thrilling restaurants at stevengjackson.com.
Steven G. Jackson June 13th, 2016
Posted In: Thriller Restaurants
Plots in thriller novels require careful planning. There is a structure to them that readers enjoy, and literary agents and publishers expect. Because thriller plots are often complex, with many twists and turns, it’s best not to start writing until you know how your plot starts and ends.
I think of thrillers as being written in three acts.
Act I is where you establish your main characters, hook the reader, establish goals and blind spots, define crucibles – what motivates characters to do what they normally wouldn’t – and establish what the book is about. The moral problems of the characters are demonstrated. This takes up about five percent of the story’s timeline.
Act I starts with an inciting incident – something changes in the life of the protagonist. This “something” is the reason for the story to be written. This needs to happen within the first five pages – the earlier the better. The inciting incident creates a call to action for the protagonist, and an internal crucible – a defining moment where the protagonist has to make a choice, and the story spins in a new direction. This is the transition point from Act I to Act II.
Act II is about complications and subplots. The protagonist tries to reach his or her goal, but obstacles mount up, complications arise, each more difficult than the last, the stakes always rising, building suspense and tension. One or two subplots are added, each revolving around the main character. Nothing ever goes right. This is also the time to show the story from the antagonist’s point of view – giving the reader insight into impending trouble the protagonist doesn’t see coming. It’s also the time to build suspension of disbelief for the reader, because the reader will need to buy into the heroic actions of the protagonist in Act III. At the midpoint of Act II (and the book) there is a moment of enlightenment for the protagonist – an awakening that the old stuff doesn’t work, which moves the story in a new direction and propels the protagonist into a downward spiral. There is conflict in every scene and piece of dialogue. The main character falls from grace until he or she reaches a point of no return, and must decide whether to quit or go forward, knowing that going forward has no chance of success. This is the Big Gloom, where everything the protagonist has tried has failed, and there is no path forward that can possibly work. The protagonist is destroyed. Act II takes up 90% of the book’s timeline.
In Act III, the protagonist rebounds and overcomes all obstacles – personal, emotional, get the bad guy, and get the love interest. The main character reaches his or her goal in the climax, subplots are resolved, and the main arcs conclude – both the story arc and the protagonist’s character arc. This is also the time to throw in a twist, and to solve puzzles.
There are no rules for writing a novel, and structure can’t guarantee success. But taking the time to put together the structure for a thriller – I spend at least nine months outlining, planning, and identifying the plot points before I start writing – will help you keep the story moving in ways that professionals will be looking for.
Steven G. Jackson May 9th, 2016
Posted In: Steven G. Jackson
Characters in Thriller Novels have some unique aspects. Allow me to share some of the material I use when I speak on Writing a Thriller.
Like all great fiction, characters are what differentiate your story from those with similar plot lines. Many people think of plot as the key ingredient when they think of thrillers, but characters are the ones who make us believe, who make us care, and who make us keep reading.
There are four main characters in most thrillers: the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Love Interest, and the Sidekick. Each plays a critical role, and each has important characteristics.
The Protagonist is more than hero. He (or she) must possess special skills. He must also have accomplished something impressive in his past. Why? Because the reader needs to trust that he can overcome the odds he’s about to face. The reader needs to believe he can succeed.
Protagonists are typically between twenty-five and forty-five years old. They have defined moral problems, which drive their behavior. They have well-defined flaws and vulnerabilities that are shown early. And, they are questing. Questing to be a better person, get the girl, and save the world.
Antagonists are more than just bad guys. They must be a worthy opponent, one with a belief system the reader can believe in, no matter how evil. They think they are the good guy, and are the hero of their own story. They have positive, humanizing traits. They are also the ideal opponent for the protagonist.
The Love Interest is the person the Protagonist goes after, as part of the plot. It’s best for the protagonist to only win them over at the end of the story.
The sidekick needs to be a specialist at something that comes into play to help the protagonist succeed. Without the sidekick’s special skill, all would be lost.
Next week, I’ll be sharing the Unique Aspects of Plot in Thrillers.
I’ll be sharing this, and other good stuff, at the San Marino Library on Wednesday, April 20th, at 7PM. If you’re in the area, come on down.
Steven G. Jackson April 18th, 2016
Posted In: Techno Thriller Books
Thriller Recipes – Soups – concludes our month of recipes. These hot soups are great before the main course, or as a main course.
Grilled Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup
Lightly brush 2lbs sweet potatoes (cut in ½” slices), 1 red onion (cut in ½” slices), and 1oz fresh ginger with olive oil. Season with coarse salt and pepper, and grill over direct medium heat for 10 minutes, turning halfway through. Finely chop the ginger. Place all in a large saucepan. Add 6C vegetable stock, ¼t allspice, and 1/8t cayenne. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 30 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender in at least 2 batches. Return to the pan. Add ¼C half and half, 2T Italian parsley, and 1T frozen limeade. Makes 7 cups.
Heat 4 slices of precooked bacon until just crisp and prepare ¼” dice. In a 6-8 Qt heavy pot over moderate heat, combine 3T olive oil with 2C diced sweet onion, 2 diced carrots, ¾C diced celery, and 1 diced red bell pepper. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ½Lb yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼” dice, and ½Lb sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¼” dice. Add 5C reduced-sodium chicken broth and 2 fresh thyme sprigs and simmer, covered, until potatoes are just tender, ~15 minutes. Add 3C corn kernels and 1½ C heavy cream and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Add 1t sea salt and 1t pepper, then stir in bacon. Serves 8.
Steve and Yann’s Chili
Fry 4 slices of bacon and set aside to drain off fat. Reserving the pan, cook 1 sweet onion, diced, 1 green pepper, sliced, and 1Lb ground sirloin until just cooked through. In a large pot combine the beef, onion, bacon in bite-size chunks, 1 can corn kernels with juice, 2 cans of kidney beans with juice, 2 cans of tomatoes with juice, 1T shortening, and 1t chili powder. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours. Add more chili powder if desired halfway through cooking. Serves 4.
In a large soup pot, heat 2T corn or canola oil over medium heat and sauté 1/2 sweet onion, chopped, 4 garlic cloves, minced, 1/2 zucchini, chopped, 1 yellow summer squash, chopped, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 yellow bell pepper, and 10 roma tomatoes until tender, 10-15 minutes. Add 4C chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Put 4 corn tortillas on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, until crisp and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and break into large pieces.
Working in batches, puree the soup and tortillas in a food processor. Return to the pan to reheat. Stir in 2T cilantro, chopped. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream. Serves 4-6.
Bring 1 1/2” water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add 2 1 1/2 lb lobsters, cover, and cook for 13 minutes. Remove the lobsters and cool just enough to handle. Crack the shells and remove the meat. Keep the claws whole and chop the remainder of the meat into large pieces and reserve.
Preheat oven to 450ºF. Heat a 12” ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 1/2t extra-virgin olive oil and sauté 1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped, and 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced, until the onion is translucent, ~5 minutes. Add 2 links Portuguese sausage (or chorizo), skinned and chopped, and cook for 3 minutes. Gently stir in 2C white rice and cook for a few minutes to lightly toast.
Heat 3C chicken broth. Add to the skillet. Add 1 pinch saffron, crushed, and coarse salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove and cover with a lid. Place the Paelle in the oven for 10 minutes. Uncover and scatter 1 dozen littleneck clams on top of the rice. Cover and cook for 12 minutes, until the clams are open. Add 1 1/2 lbs codfish (or firm white fish), cut into 2” pieces, and the lobster. Cook for 3 minutes. Discard any clams that don’t open. Serves 4-6.
Chipotle Wild Alaskan Salmon Chowder
In a 6 qt soup pot, over medium-high heat, sauté 2 sweet onions, chopped, and 4 garlic cloves, pressed, in 1t olive oil for 2 minutes. Turn heat to medium, add 1¼ C celery, chopped, and 1t dried thyme, crushed. Stir occasionally until onion starts to brown. Add 1T olive oil and stir to coat. Add 2T flour, stirring continuously to thoroughly coat the mixture, then add ½C vermouth, a little at a time, while stirring constantly to avoid clumps in the flour. Add 2½ C vegetable stock, 1 chipotle chili, finely chopped, 1T adobo sauce, 1T rosemary leaves, ½t nutmeg, 1 red potato, unpeeled and cut into bite size pieces, and 2 yams, unpeeled and cut into bite size pieces. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove pot from heat. Remove 1C of vegetables and blend. Return to pot and turn heat to medium-low. Stir in 2¾ C milk and cook for 2 minutes, then add 1 lb wild salmon, cut into 2” strips. Cover and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from burner, add 1C basil, chopped, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper. Serve with a sprinkling of sweet paprika. and 2T fresh dill. Serves 5.
Steven G. Jackson March 28th, 2016
Posted In: Thriller Recipes
Homemade salad dressings add a touch of freshness and style to any meal. Here are six sure-fire ways to please the palate, and your guests.
Combine ½C red wine vinegar, 5T chutney, 1 garlic clove, 2T coarse-ground mustard, 2t sugar, and ½C vegetable oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Asian Chicken Salad Dressing
Whisk ¼ C sugar, ¼ C unseasoned rice vinegar, ¼ sweet onion, chopped, and ¾ t dry mustard in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in ½ C canola oil. Stir in 1½ t poppy seeds. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
Spicy Caesar Salad Dressing
Roast 4 red jalapeños. In a blender, combine 2 egg yolks; 4 cloves garlic, minced; 2 shallots, minced; 4 anchovy filets, 2T Dijon mustard, 1T Worcestershire sauce, 2t Tabasco sauce, and 2t balsamic vinegar. Puree until smooth. Slowly add ¾C canola oil and ¾C olive oil until dressing is emulsified and creamy. Add chopped jalapeños, 1T chopped cilantro, 2T frozen limeade, and salt.
Blue Cheese Dressing
Place ¾ C sour cream, ½ t dry mustard, ½ t black pepper, ½ t salt, 1/3 t garlic powder, and 1 t Worcestershire sauce in mixer bowl. Blend until thoroughly mixed, ~ 2 minutes at low speed. Add 1 1/3 C mayonnaise and blend 2 minutes more. Add 4 oz crumbled blue cheese and continue blending no longer than 4 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.
Toasted Cumin Dressing
Heat small skillet over high heat. Add 2T cumin seeds and stir until lightly browned and beginning to smoke, ~1 minute. Remove from heat. Add 6T sherry wine vinegar and 2T rice vinegar and 2T water. Cool to lukewarm. Transfer to a blender. Add 1 ½ T Dijon mustard and 1 garlic clove, minced. Blend until smooth, ~20 seconds. With blender running, add 1 ½ C olive oil.
Green Goddess Dressing
Blend 1/2 C sour cream, 2t fresh chives, 1/8 t black pepper, 2t anchovy paste, 1 clove garlic, minced, 2T white wine vinegar, and 1 T sweet and sour until thoroughly mixed, ~ 2 minutes at low speed. Add 1 C mayonnaise and blend 2 minutes more. Add milk to thin, if needed. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Steven G. Jackson March 22nd, 2016
Posted In: Thriller Recipes
This week’s Thriller Recipes are Cajun Cuisine. I love authentic cajun food. While New Orleans is one of my favorite dining destinations, it’s good to be able to prepare simple and authentic cajun dishes in your own kitchen. Here are three recipes that never fail to please.
Cook 6C rice. Melt 3T unsalted butter in 4Q saucepan over high heat. Add 4oz andouille sausage and 4oz tasso (or other smoked ham); cook until meat starts to brown, ~4-5 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping pan bottom well. Add 3/4 lb boneless chicken, cut into bit-size pieces (~2C) and continue cooking until chicken is brown, ~4-5 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping pan bottom well. Stir in 2 bay leaves, 2T Chef Paul Magic (poultry, beef, or pork & veal), 1/2C sweet onions, chopped, 1/2C celery, chopped, 1/2C green bell pepper, chopped, and 1T minced garlic. Cook until vegetables start to get tender, ~ 6-8 minutes. Stir in 1/2C tomato sauce and cook 1 minute. Stir in 1/2C sweet onion, 1/2C celery, 1/2C green bell peppers, and 1C fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped. Stir in 1 1/2C uncooked rice and 2 1/2C chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered over low heat until rice is tender but still crunchy, ~30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Let sit 5 minutes uncovered. Serve over 1/2 -1 C cooked rice. Serves 6.
Grilled Spicy Shrimp and Andouille Skewers
Combine ¼ C Creole mustard, ¼ C honey, 2T bourbon, and 1t Tabasco. Set aside.
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Alternately thread 1 1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp and 18 oz andouille sausage cut into ¾” thick rounds onto soaked wood skewers. Brush both sides with 3T vegetable oil, and season with 1/2 T Creole seasoning. Grill skewers until shrimp are pink and cooked through and sausages are browned and hot all the way through, ~2 minutes per side. Baste the shrimp with the Spicy Bourbon Mustard during the last 30 seconds of grilling. Serve immediately with the mustard on the side. Serves 6.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine 1Q whole milk, 1/2t cinnamon, 6 eggs, lightly beaten, 3oz melted butter, 1 1/2C sugar, and 2T vanilla extract. Line a 9×13” pan with 1 loaf Hawaiian bread (stale), 1 1/2C raisins, and 1C pecans. Cover with the custard mixture and bake until firm when pressed in the center, ~1 hour. When the pudding is done cool on a wire rack until just warm, ~ 20 minutes.
Steven G. Jackson March 14th, 2016
Posted In: Thriller Recipes
This week I feature proven thriller recipes utilizing a variety of ingredients found in the southwest. They are easy to prepare, a joy to eat. Enjoy.
Steve and Yann’s Margarita
Combine ¼ C frozen limeade, 5/8 C cold bottled water, ¼ C sweet and sour, 3/8 C Patron Reposada tequila, 1/8 C Grand Marnier, and 1/8 C Cointreau. Shake until frozen limeade is liquid. Poor over ice and serve with or without a salted rim. Serves 2.
Mash 3 avocados in a medium bowl with the back of a slotted spoon. Add 1/2 t Serrano chile, seeded and minced, 2T sweet onion, chopped, 1/4C cilantro, 2T frozen limeade, 1/4t kosher salt, and pepper. Makes 2C.
Jicama and Peppers Salad
Combine ½ small Jicama, peeled and cut into fine julienne strips; ½ small red bell pepper, cut into fine julienne strips; ½ small yellow bell pepper, cut into fine julienne strips; ½ small zucchini, cut into fine julienne strips; ½ small carrot, cut into fine julienne strips; 4T Thai peanut salad dressing; and 2T frozen limeade. Add cayenne pepper to taste. Toss to mix well. Serves 6.
Grilled Lobster Taco
In a food processor, process 2 pints yellow cherry tomatoes (or 1 Lb yellow tomatoes) until well chopped, but do not puree. Pour into a mixing bowl. Add 1 shallot, very finely minced; 2T cilantro, finely minced; 1 clove garlic, finely minced; 1T white wine vinegar; 2t frozen limeade, and salt. Mix well. Add 1T maple syrup. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Place the tails of 2 uncooked lobster tails (~7 oz each) on cutting board, shell side down. Split the tails lengthwise to expose the meat. Grill the lobster tails, shell side down, over direct medium heat until the meat is creamy white (~8-10 minutes). Let cool.
Preheat oven to 300ºF. Remove the meat from the shells and cut into medium-size dice. Wrap 6 7” flour tortillas tightly in foil and place in the oven for ~15 minutes or until heated through. Keep warm. Heat 3T corn oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and sauté lobster until just heated through. Spoon equal portions of warm lobster medallions into the center of each warm tortilla. Sprinkle with equal portions of 1 C grated jalapeño jack cheese and 1C spinach leaves, shredded. Roll tortillas into a cylinder shape and place each one on a warm serving plate with the edge facing the bottom. Surround the taco with the cold yellow tomato salsa. Serves 6.
Combine 2C flour, 2T sugar, 2t baking powder, and 1t salt. Work in 1/2C shortening and add ice water as needed to form dough. Divide into 20-24 pieces. Roll out on a floured board into circles. Fill with jam, moisten edges, fold over, and crimp with a fork. Fry in hot oil until golden brown. While hot, roll in a combination of 1C sugar and 1T cinnamon. Serves 20-24.
Steven G. Jackson March 7th, 2016
Posted In: Thriller Recipes
March is Thriller Recipe Month at stevengjackson.com. Each week, I’ll be posting recipes that will enable you to create a fine dining experience in your home, at a reasonable cost. These are no-hassle recipes that I’ve prepared many times, and always crowd favorites.
The first Thriller Recipes provide a three-course fine dining experience for six using recipes my mother passed down to me. The meal begins with a tantalizing Spinach Salad, followed by Jambalaya, and Empanadas.
Spinach Salad with Chutney Dressing
Combine ½C red wine vinegar, 5T chutney, 1 garlic clove, 2T coarse-ground mustard, 2t sugar, and ½C vegetable oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve. In a large salad bowl insert 1Lb fresh spinach, trimmed of stems, washed and dried. Add 6 sliced mushrooms, 6 slices of crisp bacon, cooked and crumbled, ½C shredded Swiss cheese, and ¼C red onion, thinly sliced. Serve with the dressing. Serves 6.
Cook 3C rice. Melt 3T unsalted butter in 4Q saucepan over high heat. Add 4oz andouille sausage and 4oz tasso (or other smoked ham); cook until meat starts to brown, ~4-5 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping pan bottom well. Add 3/4 lb boneless chicken, cut into bit-size pieces (~2C) and continue cooking until chicken is brown, ~4-5 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping pan bottom well. Stir in 2 bay leaves, 2T Chef Paul Magic (poultry, beef, or pork & veal), 1/2C sweet onion, chopped, 1/2C celery, chopped, 1/2C green bell pepper, chopped, and 1T minced garlic. Cook until vegetables start to get tender, ~ 6-8 minutes. Stir in 1/2C tomato sauce and cook 1 minute. Stir in 1/2C sweet onion, 1/2C celery, 1/2C green bell peppers, and 1C fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped. Stir in 1 1/2C uncooked rice and 2 1/2C chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered over low heat until rice is tender but still crunchy, ~30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Let sit 5 minutes uncovered. Serve over 1/2 C cooked rice. Serves 6.
Combine 1C flour, 1T sugar, 1t baking powder, and 1/2 t salt. Work in 1/4 C shortening and add ice water as needed to form dough. Divide into 12 pieces. Roll out on a floured board into circles. Fill with jam, moisten edges, fold over, and crimp with a fork. Fry in hot oil until golden brown. While hot, roll in a combination of 1/2 C sugar and 1/2 T cinnamon. Serves 6.
Next up: Flavors of the Southwest.
Steven G. Jackson February 29th, 2016
Posted In: Thriller Recipes
Monkey C Media (MCM) is a top shelf company that builds websites that sells books. Led by Jeniffer Thompson, and staffed with helpful and creative people like Samantha Foster and a team of programmers, they can create a website for any business that will leverage the company brand and get results.
Jeniffer offers several packages for website development. The high end packages will have you go through a branding exercise, to find the best brand for your products. Then they’ll create a dynamic website for you based on your brand. Lower end packages are also available, and if you’re more interested in a static website, they can do that for you as well.
Another option they offer is to optimize your website for SEO success, assuring that search engines will find you more often. This is critical if you’re trying to make the first page of search engines.
They’ll use WordPress to create your site, and you’ll have a full suite of tools to modify, maintain, and analysis your site’s effectiveness. The process takes several months, so give yourself time to get your site up and running so it’s ready when you need it.
My new and improved site is up and running, and I’m very pleased with the results. Every serious business needs to have a serious internet presence. Monkey C Media, based in San Diego, gets my highest recommendation if you’re trying to look like a pro.
Steven G. Jackson February 23rd, 2016
Posted In: Steven G. Jackson