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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Writing Suspense Question Answered

One of our blog readers recently posed a question to us through the contact form on our website contact page. (www.keepmeinsuspense.com) . She asked:

I am working on a novel, and I don't have a problem with suspense scenes, but I do have a problem with just writing the 'everyday things' that need to happen in the story without a villain lurking in every corner. How do I master that effect? I would appreciate your input.

Here are answers from us:

Wanda Dyson:

Basically, I try to use things that are going to either move my story along - ie - my character goes into a coffee shop and picks up a paper and while sitting in a corner booth, drinking that cup of coffee he reads in the paper that another woman has been killed and he just knows that it's connected to the case he's working on... OR... to reveal something about my character... ie - I want to show that my character is a strong woman with a soft touch, so I'll have her watering the plants, talking to them as she does... or I'll have her go out and refill the bird feeders so she can sit and watch the birds to relax a bit... I want to show she's a neat freak, so I'll have her cleaning out her car every other day. The mundane things need to be there for a reason while at the same time, giving us a breather from the action.

Susan Davis:

I’d say every story needs some “down time,” when the reader can catch her breath. Usually that’s when the relationships grow and the romance blooms. It might also be when the hero or heroine is struck by something ordinary that causes the mind to leap to a realization concerning the case. One of those, “Of course!” moments. When you’re on the run, you don’t always think clearly, but when the action slows, the little gray cells have time to regroup. But keep in mind you don’t have to put in all mundane stuff. If you want to keep the pace fast, keep the internal and external action coming

Candice Speare:

Everyday, regular moments in a mystery or suspense are a good time to drop subtle clues or to move along a subplot—or both at once! For example, if you’re writing a romantic suspense, you have two things going on in your books. The mystery and the romance. The hero and heroine can go get ice cream. The activity advances their relationship (with a little conflict thrown in), but, also, as they’re leaving, the heroine passes a woman at a table who has this awesome Fossil handbag. As the heroine is oogling the handbag, she overhears the customer say something about the cousin of the sister of the guy the heroine suspects is the murderer. BUT, the heroine doesn’t grasp the significance of what she’s heard until later, when she’s at the mall and sees a bag like the one the customer had. Then she has an, ah ha moment.

In a mystery, not every scene has to be a bang-em-up kind of thing. A reader needs a little bit of downtime. Just make sure that every scene advances your plot/s somehow.

Check out Brandilyn Collins blog. She has some awesome stuff about writing suspense. I always learn new stuff, even when I reread her articles.

Lisa Harris:

Read Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. I’m just now getting into the book, but he talks about the importance of learning how to write scenes and sequels. Scenes are the “unit of conflict lived through by character and reader.” This is where your villain is lurking around the corner and the hero has to run for his life. Then you have the sequel, or the link to the next scene. This is where the hero reflects on the battle he’s just been involved in and sets another goal for survival. Readers don’t need a rundown of every mundane thing that happens in your hero’s day. Supper, stopping off to buy cough drops, and a late night glass of milk before bed will bore the readers unless the milk is laced with cyanide.

Swain also talks about how to use summery to get through these ‘everyday things.” These should never be written in scene-like detail. Swain says that you should “telescope reality.” In other words, he teaches that you need to show the hours going by along with the growing conflict without grinding the story to a halt with unimportant details.

You can also check out Randy Ingermanson’s website at www.randyingermanson.com under writing the perfect scene for similar insight into this essential way of building a story step by step.

Lynette Sowell:

Give your hero/heroine an interesting enough occupation to keep things moving
along. Also, quirky characters always make the everyday interesting.

Also, the "breather" times need to have a purpose other than just to take up
space. What other threads of your story need attention? Usually I find there's
several in a story: the crime, the romance, the spiritual journey, and possibly
even personal issues (although this might range into more women's fiction, most of the time even in suspense the protagonists have personal issues to deal with).

That way even though your heroine's not out on a ledge all the time, you're not
making her life any easier. :)

Beth Goddard:

Get inside of your character’s head really well, and they must have a life outside of the “suspense or mystery” that they have to live in on a daily basis. . .it can be something interesting, doesn’t have to be something mundane. Like in the only book I have coming out. . .my heroine manages a cranberry Farm. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there that fills in as the mystery or suspense evolves.


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