Monday, June 10, 2013

Creating Suspense in Fiction

Suspense is what keeps the reader turning pages, anxious to find out why and what and when and how. Suspense is what makes the reader worry about the characters -- whether they’ll be all right, if they’ll finally reach their happy ending.

Now, we’re not necessarily talking about suspense in terms of actual danger, here. The character's life doesn't have to be at stake for us to create suspense for the reader.

 Suspense is the reader’s natural desire to know what happens next.

Too often, the author – because she knows what’s happening and why and what’s going to happen next, sacrifices the suspense which would keep her reader moving forward.

Here’s an example of how an author sacrificed all the suspense in her situation with a giveaway last line to a scene where she’d told the reader about the scheme her heroine was cooking up:

It was a great plan. And it worked.

At that point, we know what the scheme is. And we know it worked. So just how likely are we to turn the page and read on?

Oh, we might, just to find out exactly how things worked out – especially if we really like the character, or it’s a funny setup. Or if we’re blowing off a slow, lovely Sunday afternoon and have nothing better to do.

But if it’s midnight and we have to go to work in the morning… or if we just recalled that there’s a load of laundry needing to be folded before the wrinkles set… or if the kids are whining about being hungry… or the husband wants to go for a walk on a slow, lovely Sunday afternoon… then the book is apt to get set aside. 
And once a book is set aside, it might never be picked up again.

But what if that author had written this instead?

It was a great plan. And it almost worked.

Then it’s going to be much tougher for the reader to close the book and turn off the light and go cozily off to sleep or out for a walk, or feed the kids anything that takes time to fix. And the laundry? She’ll forget it entirely.

In this case, just one word makes a huge difference – because instead of the reader knowing that the heroine’s plans went just as she hoped they would, all we know is that they didn't.

1 comment:

  1. Great points, Leigh. Amazing how one word or the turn of a phrase can make all the difference for our reader. Blessings! ~Angela