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David Nickle: No such thing as "just lunch"

The author dubbed "the next Stephen King" by The National Post on making every single scene rise above the mundane.

quote-cw-thumb-130x130-104373.jpg One thing you can say about almost any story that's died on the vine: the cause of death is rarely murder. If you've got a story that's fallen down—that you can't finish writing, or worse, your readers can't finish reading—odds are it's died not of blunt-force trauma or poisoning or zombie outbreak. It's almost certainly sheer boredom that's done it in. My prescription against that kind of death is simple: ratchet the tension. That's not to say that I need to have my characters' quiet lunch by the seaside interrupted by a giant squid attack. But there had better be something at stake in that scene, beyond which wine best goes with the lamb shanks.The characters must all want or need something badly, and they should have some real questions about how to get to that goal. Sometimes, a secondary character's motives might be unclear, and the reader has questions about what that character is up to. Sometimes, the reader is the only one aware that a storm is approaching, and the question becomes how will it hit those otherwise-motivated characters. So on a scene-by-scene level, the tension becomes all about the questions: Will Bill tell Ann that he wants to end it? Will Ann use the revolver she's carrying in her handbag? What was Steve doing alone at the next table, and why did he leave so hurriedly when he saw them both arrive? Will anyone notice the vial of powder that the waiter slipped into the wine? At the end of the luncheon scene, a reader should feel as though they have one burning question answered, and at least two more equally burning questions raised. Those new questions go on to drive the story to even greater heights of tension—and keep the reader on tenterhooks until the end, when all questions are answered, and the tale expires as well as anyone can hope for: in a death by satisfying conclusion."

David Nickle is a Toronto-based author and journalist whose fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies like Cemetery Dance:The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, the Northern Frights series and the Queer Fear series. Some of it has been collected in his book of stories, Monstrous Affections. His first solo novel, Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, led the National Post to call him “a worthy heir to the mantle of Stephen King.” His latest novel, Rasputin’s Bastards, was published by Chizine Publications in June 2012.

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