Saturday, December 29, 2018


Dear Murderby4 friends and fans. 
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you'll enjoy an equally marvelous New Year's Eve. Please help me welcome back writer Joe O'Donnell today with his brand new article on how to evoke genuine emotion from readers. And don't forget to check out his books and movie below!

- Aaron Paul Lazar, USA Today bestselling author

JP O’Donnell
       One of the most difficult concepts for writers of mystery fiction to master is the art of injecting emotion into their writing. Too often, the description of a scene or passages of dialogue come off as being trite or too familiar and, as a result, the intended emotion completely misses the mark.  Even worse, the reader chuckles rather than being touched or moved by the story. Why do so many writers struggle with this concept? The answer is simple: it’s a really hard concept to master.
       Fiction editor Beth Hill of the Editor’s Blog ( has written a number of excellent essays that deal with the subject of emotion in fiction writing. These essays are “must” reading for any writer of mystery fiction. In her blog of January 30, 2011, “Creating Emotion in the Reader,” Beth states:One technique the writer can make use of to create reality out of fiction is to induce emotion in readers, make them feel something of what the characters are experiencing. Writer and reader know the fictional events aren’t real, but the emotion can be. Readers can fear and feel joy and be excited and know grief. They can laugh and cry, shiver and rage. All from reading a story.”
       So, how does a writer do this? First of all, don’t just “tell” how one of your characters reacts to an event; make sure you “show” how the character reacts. If, for example, a female character in your novel is being held captive, and you want to convey a feeling of fright and hopelessness, don’t just write, “Susan was frightened and feared that she would never get out of this captivity alive.Rather, try to show the depth of her fear and create a vivid, emotional image of Susan as follows:
“For Susan, the nights were the most frightening time of all. She struggled to fall asleep. Every sound startled her. She felt a chill as she stared up at the ceiling. Her hand trembled as she reached for her cup of water.  She was isolated and alone in this cabin—held captive for six days and too afraid to attempt an escape.  She began to sob quietly. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she said to herself, “Will I ever get out of this place alive?”
       If you want to elicit emotion in your readers, you need to practice writing about those times in your own life that affected you emotionally. Write a paragraph or two about an event that brought you to tears. Was it a wedding ceremony, a death, your first public speaking event or the break-up with your first love?  Describe how you felt. Did you feel overwhelmed? Helpless? Did you swallow hard or did your mouth go dry? Was your body quivering uncontrollably? If you were frightened at some point, did you sweat, stammer, or find it difficult to breathe? Was your heart pounding? Did your knees feel weak? Were you hyperventilating?
       All of these descriptive phrases help readers to fully grasp the emotion of your characters. Remember, you are trying to create a clear image in the mind of your readers. Is your character truly feeling joy, pain, fear or despair? You want this image to be impactful and draw them into your story—to feel connected and want to read more.
       Love scenes can also pose a difficult challenge. Too often they are formulaic and present a sweaty, X-rated, four-letter-worded anatomy lesson rather than creating a compelling emotional bond between two lovers that will truly inspire a reader. One of the best ways to improve your ability to put emotion into love scenes is to listen to the lyrics of love songs. Take notes on how the words affect you. Do they grab at your heart? Make you look back at a lost love?  Recall a special moment in your life?  Make you feel regret? Make you appreciate your current relationship more than ever? Put these feelings into writing—don’t hesitate to dig deep into your own emotions—and soon enough you will be creating passages and dialogue that will be full of emotions that will not only affect you, but will bring your reader closer to your characters.
In a passage from Pulse of My Heart: A Gallagher Novel, the once vibrant relationship between my protagonist, Gallagher and his love interest, Kate, had become strained and distant. He struggled to get close to her, but she had pushed him away—both physically and emotionally. See how the following scene ignores the temptation to use hard-core descriptive phrases and, instead, delivers vivid, emotional imagery in order to create a memorable connection—a true bond—between the reader and the characters.  
       “Then one night, while he slept on the couch, he felt her hand on his face. She leaned over and kissed him.
       No words had been spoken. She had rested her head on his chest and caressed his neck. Then she had led him back to the bedroom.
       He remembered lying next to her naked body, feeling her smooth warm skin once again.
       But that was Kate—always warm.
       At times it seemed like a fire burned within her.
       After weeks of ice, their bodies had melted together passionately that night. Kate’s body had come alive with a new level of arousal and urgency.
       She had pulled him closer, desperate to feel him within her in order to satisfy a deep longing.
       Perhaps to create a lasting memory.
       An hour later, as they rested quietly on the bed, he had looked at her.
       “A chuisle mo chroi,” he had said, reciting again the Irish phrase “pulse of my heart.” Words that always perfectly summed up his feeling for her.
       He loved her more than ever.
       “Mo chuisle,” she had said softly. But her voice had quivered. Her eyes had filled with tears. She had looked away.
       Nothing more had been said, but he had known what was about to happen.
       He was powerless to stop her.
       The next day she was gone.
       And his life had been torn apart.
       Similarly, your dialogue can help to create a vivid image of your main character, or even a minor character without the use of descriptive passages.  Is he/she clever, sharp-witted, intelligent, or shrewd?  These are only a few of the dozens of characteristics that can be demonstrated through good use of dialogue.
       Take, for example, this brief encounter in a hospital emergency triage room after Gallagher is attacked by an intruder and suffers a knife wound to his abdomen. For a variety of reasons, Gallagher prefers to keep the police from knowing about the attack.
       The triage nurse in the emergency room lifted the towel away from the wound in Gallagher’s side.
       “You’re lucky. It’s not too deep, but it’s going to need some stitches,” she said with authority.
       “I figured it needed stitches. That’s why I came here,” said Gallagher.
       “Who brought you?”
       “Drove myself.”
       “With a gash like this?”
       “Didn’t want to wait for a cab.”
       “What happened?”
       “Cut myself shaving.”
       She flashed a skeptical smirk. “Maybe you should try a Norelco.”
       He smiled. Her spunky retort had momentarily taken his mind off the pain in his side.
       She placed a clean towel over his wound, turned and began to walk out of the cubicle. Then she looked back at Gallagher with a parting shot.
       “If you stick to that story about the shaving accident, I’ll tell the doctor to just have you bite on a bullet while he’s placing the stitches.”
       Gallagher gave her a thumbs up, acknowledging the good comeback. She winked as she pulled back the curtain and left the cubicle.  
       Although this scene has no physical description of the triage nurse, her dialogue alone creates a striking, positive image in the reader’s mind. Notice that the lines are short—more like everyday speech. Long lines of dialogue should be used sparingly. Also note that you don’t have to use the dialogue tags, “said” or “replied,” after every line. Pacing is so important in fiction writing. Once you establish the back and forth of the communication exchange, the tags only serve to slow things down and distract the reader.
       Always remember: Write to please yourself. If a passage in your novel strikes you emotionally and causes you to well up, it’s likely to do the same to your readers. If you continue writing with this focus, the door to success is clearly within your reach.
JP O'Donnell
JP O’Donnell is the author of Fatal Gamble and DeadlyCodes: A Gallagher Novel. Pulse of My Heart is the latest in JP’s Gallagher series. Pulse of My Heart is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Outskirts Press as a soft cover, hard cover and digital format.  An audiobook version will be released in January 2019. 
The feature length motion picture, Bent (2018) is based on characters created by JP in his Gallagher novels. Bent stars Karl Urban as Gallagher, Sofia Vergara as Rebecca, and Andy Garcia and Grace Byers in supporting roles. Bobby Moresco, Academy Award winner for Crash (Best Picture 2004), is the screenwriter and director of Bent.

For more information, please visit the author’s website:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Your First Line: The "Hook" That Gets Your Novel Off the BookShelves and Onto the Check-out Counter.

© JP O’Donnell 2018 all rights reserved


Charles Dickens could never have imagined that his first line in A TALE OF TWO CITIES would become a benchmark in the lexicon of literary fiction. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” It was also the perfect choice of words to make us want to read more. Authors, particularly those in the genre of mystery fiction, have long since recognized the critical importance of the first line. Without an attention-grabbing, knock ‘em dead first line, your novel is destined to gather dust on the shelves of the local bookshop, if it ever gets that far.

If you want to test this theory, simply observe the behavior of browsers at a bookstore. Unless they are looking for the latest effort by James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark or any of the other prominent best-selling mystery writers, they walk down the aisles slowly until a title or a book cover attracts their attention. Then they open the book and read the first line. If it grabs their interest, they read on; if not, the book is placed back on the shelf in a heartbeat.

Your first line—you have less than ten seconds to sink your hook or else the reader will move on to another option.

What is the essence of a great first line? First of all, it can’t be bland or trite. Avoid overused references to the elements or time of the year. If you choose to write about the weather, be careful. You run the risk of inviting comparisons to “It was a dark and stormy night,” (Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s classic first line from his 1830 novel, PAUL CLIFFORD) and your book won’t stand a chance. Instead, try to incorporate the mood or theme of your story. Begin to establish the background of the mystery that will unfold in the coming pages. If the weather is important to your opening scene, you’ll have plenty of time to write about it in the ensuing lines of the first chapter.

Some of the most successful mystery authors of our time are masters at writing a great first line. Consider Harlan Coben in GONE FOR GOOD: “Three days before her death, my mother told me—they weren’t her last words but they were pretty close—that my brother was still alive.” Did the narrator think that his brother was dead? The reader has to wonder why the narrator’s mother kept this secret and never told him about his brother. Certainly, more pages have to be read. A chilling first line is also found in another Harlan Coben thriller, THE WOODS: “I see my father with that shovel.” One has to keep reading to find out the significance of the shovel in his father’s hands. Is he burying something? Has he used it as a weapon? Our interest is piqued; we read on.

Or this from Jesse Kellerman in TROUBLE: “Jonah Stern heard a scream. He was walking to Times Square at two-forty five in the morning to buy new shoes.” Again, the reader asks why this person would be buying shoes at that hour of the morning. And what caused someone to scream? A brutal assault or a frightening discovery? The hook has been sunk; more pages will be turned. Notice how a brief first line can be immediately tied to a second line to create a continuous compelling thought. Be creative; let your imagination explore all of the possibilities in garnering the reader’s interest. But keep in mind that word efficiency is critical in writing a first line. Don’t be overly descriptive or your line will lose its punch. In THE MEPHISTO CLUB, Tess Gerritsen begins with, “They looked like the perfect family.” Short, but to the point. However, shades of doubt creep into our minds. We wonder what’s wrong with this family; we want to read more about them.

Agatha Christie, the most popular mystery writer of all time, considered THE MOVING FINGER as one of her best novels. She masterfully draws us into the story with a brilliant opening line: “I have often recalled the morning when the first of the anonymous letters came.” The mystery is immediately established! We ask: More than one anonymous letter? What did the letters say? Who wrote them? We can’t resist the temptation to keep reading and discover the answers.

Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” A mystery writer, therefore, can’t spend too much time working on a first line. Don’t be surprised if you have to finish the initial draft of your manuscript before the right first line crystallizes in your mind. Sometimes it takes knowing where your story begins and how it ends in order to come up with the “hook” you need.

If you have a friend or a fellow writer who can be brutally honest about your writing, ask them to review samples of your first line. They can tell you if it delivers an impact and stimulates interest. What you’re looking for is someone to say, “That’s it! Now I want to read more.”

About the author:

JP O'Donnell is the author of Fatal Gamble and its sequel, Deadly Codes: A Gallagher Novel.  Pulse of My Heart, described as a "skillfully crafted, page-turning mystery thriller", is the third in his Gallagher series. For a recent review of this novel, go to 
The feature length motion picture, Bent, is based on characters created by JP O'Donnell in the Gallagher novels. Bent stars Karl Urban as Gallagher, with Sofia Vergara as Rebecca, and Andy Garcia and Grace Byers in supporting roles. Bobby Moresco, Academy Award winner for Crash, is the screenwriter and director of Bent.