“A gothic unraveling of a novel, as moody and atmospheric as the isolated island on which it’s set.” Jodi Picoult
Jenny and Jodi — perfect together! What a terrific review for The Second Mother, my gifted friend Jenny Milchman’s just-released new thriller! “Moody and atmospheric” — this perfectly describes Jenny’s nerve-jangling novel (https://www.jennymilchman.com/).
Jenny is truly a source of inspiration and encouragement for me. She traveled a rocky road in her pursuit of a writing career:It took her more than a decade to get her first award-winning novel, Cover of Snow published. Since it launched, she’s virtually written a book a year and her new thriller is garnering exciting praise. What a hard-fought success and how well deserved!
Whatever the genre we’re writing in, we can learn a lot about pacing and story set-up from a gifted thriller writer. In the first fifty pages of The Second Mother, Jenny uses four techniques to build momentum:
Problem planting: Problems, problems — we all struggle with them every day and know what it’s like to feel we’re drowning in them. In the first pages of Jenny’s novel, she gives Julie, her protagonist, a boatload of problems. We see Julie’s life unraveling on the page, wonder how she got where she is, and keep reading to find out.
Mystery making: By page three, we learn that something terrible has happened to Julie. We know what it is, but we don’t know why or how it happened. Was it fate? An accident? Julie’s fault? We have no idea, but feel compelled to read on to find out.
Stake setting: Now that we know why Julie’s life is falling apart, we know what’s at stake: survival. If her downward spiral continues, she’s lost. If she can somehow rescue herself, she has a chance. High stakes create high drama — and keep us reading.
Character conflicting: Jenny afflicts Julie with a raft of conflicting emotions. Julie fights with guilt, her relationships, her circumstances, her demons. She’s fiercely flawed and we can’t help but keep reading because she’s either going down or clawing her way back to life.
Problems, mystery, high stakes, conflict — all the ingredients of a successful suspenseful story. Bravo, Jenny — write on!