Guest Post: Are You Brave Enough?

Are You Brave Enough?

   By Hank Phillippi Ryan



Doesn’t matter if you say yes or no, but are you a Game of Thrones fan? I am, and I have to tell you I think about that series every day as I sit at my computer working on my manuscript.  More specifically, I think about the author, George RR Martin.


I’m not thinking about dragons or castles or that winter is coming, (I’m more worried about the deadlines coming), but I do think about how brave George Martin is. Brave. 


There is not an episode of that show that doesn’t make me gasp in other surprise. Every single expectation is defied. Every single twist I predict does not occur. Instead, some astonishingly shocking thing happens. 


So, think about it. How many times do you watch a movie or TV show or read a book, and how many times are you able to predict exactly what happens?  Sometimes so much so that you think: oh, please, don’t do that. Please don’t do that.  Then they do.


But George Martin? He’ll kill anyone! He’ll do anything! He’ll try anything! He’ll do the biggest baddest craziest most authentically tectonic-plate-shifting thing anyone could possibly imagine. And some you can’t. He has no rules, other than making sure his story is riveting and entertaining and compelling.


So are you going for it when you write?  Are you being brave enough?


In the manuscript of  TRUST ME, there was a moment when there was a fire alarm in the main character’s house. She leaps out of bed, heart pounding. She runs through her house, the alarm clanging. She’s terrified! Is she going to die?


It’s all very exciting and suspenseful. Until, as I initially wrote it, it turns out to be a false alarm.


What a silly idea that was! It’s horrible, right? False suspense, and clearly inserted because I felt the action dragging.  Instead of writing a scene that was truly stressful, with true stakes and real meaning, I pulled my punch. I was not fearless enough.


What my editor said her notes has stuck with me ever since. “Why have a false alarm,” she asked, “when you could have a fire?”


Why have a false alarm when you could have a fire! Now I ask myself that on every page. When suspense and conflict is contrived, or manipulated, or predictable, you know it, don’t you? My main character was not going to die in a fire on page 200, of course.  But wow. When there was a real fire, and she was actually in danger, what would happen as a result of that? And who caused the fire, and how did it happen, and would they do it again?


Why are we afraid to go for it? Why are we afraid to take a risk? Why are we afraid to push our story as far and hard and fast and high as it can?


I met George RR Martin at Thrillerfest, and when I got over my fan girl nerves, I went up to him and said: I’m on my eleventh book, and I think of you every day when I’m writing. 


He looked at me, surprised. You do, he said?


I told him: Yes, I ask myself every turn: what would George do? Because you are so brave, and so fearless and you’ll try anything.


He truly grinned, in obvious delight. I had made a  pal—a pal who had taught me something along the way.


So. Go look at your manuscript. Are you holding back? Or are you going for it? Are you taking chances? Chances that will make your readers gasp with surprise and delight? Trust me. Try that. 


Don’t have a false alarm. Have a fire. Or whatever “fire” means in your novel. And watch your story ignite.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, winning 36 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. A nationally bestselling author of 11 thrillers, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, three Anthonys, the Daphne, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Critics call her “a master of suspense.” Her highly-acclaimed TRUST ME was chosen for numerous prestigious Best of 2018 lists and was an Agatha nominee. Hank’s newest book is THE MURDER LIST, now an Agatha and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. The Library Journal starred review says “Masterly plotted—with a twisted ending—a riveting, character-driven story.” 

Watch for THE FIRST TO LIE, coming August 2020.



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