01 Jul

Create Suspense in Fiction Part Five

Techniques for creating suspense - part fiveI’m back with the next technique for creating dramatic tension, or suspense, in fiction. You have to be quite deft in using this technique to make it effective. If you’re just joining me, you may enjoy reading about techniques one, two, three, and four.  Okay, here we go.
CLOSING DOORS
This one is all about the setup. Your reader knows that your MC will have some kind of serious confrontation for the climax of the story. Your reader also knows what things/people will be useful in defeating the opposition. Well, throughout the story, your MC will need to close doors and burn bridges that would clearly help him/her at the end. This only works if the reader knows that these doors need to remain open. Basically what happens is your MC systematically lowers their own odds at winning in the end, even though they may not get what they’re doing or they have good reasons to do so at the time.
Let’s see if I can come up with a good example.
MC is planning a hiking trip up to the summit of some mountain where the weather is known to be extremely tempermental; blizzards can turn up anytime without warning. He has prepared well. Even bought a new coat just in case one of those freak blizzards chances in. Well, on his way, he sees some homeless guy and decides to give him the coat because the guy looked like he might die without it and the weather guy predicted sunny skies all week. As he nears the top of the mountain later that evening, the weather shifts and in rolls the dreaded blizzard. As he tries to stay warm, he imagines that bum wearing the one thing that might have saved his life.

Okay, that’s a poor example, but I think it gets the point across. Character closes a door that the reader knew needed to stay open. The reason you have to use this technique with skill is because the reader has to feel the problem building even though the character doesn’t quite get it.

22 Jun

Create Suspense in Fiction Part Two

Techniques for creating suspense - part twoIn part one, I wrote about creating suspense with possible danger. As promised, I’m back with another technique for how you can create dramatic tension or suspense in your books. This one is kind of a cousin to possible danger. Ready?

LURKING DANGER
This one works best with a multiple point of view (POV) book. It’s that part of a story where the reader knows about a danger and the MC is unaware. For example, a serial killer character POV has just ended with the killer slipping into the MC’s house and will be waiting with chloroform, duct tape, and a scalpel. The next chapter switches to the POV of the MC who is on her way home from work and just told everyone not to bother her because she needs some peace and quiet.

See how that works? Sort of like possible danger, but with one major difference. The reader has been told exactly what the danger is and the MC has no clue.

That wasn’t too bad, was it? The next technique I’ll present probably gets used more than any others. Anyone want to guess?

21 Jun

Create Suspense in Fiction

Techniques for creating suspense - part one

Suspense: that elusive element of every awesome book that writers strive to understand and create in their work.

  1. How do you define suspense? 
  2. How important is suspense?
  3. How do you create suspense?

First of all, I want to clarify something. When I began researching this, I started with the word tension instead of suspense. When I went to look up tension, I got a lot of definitions about stretching things out. That’s when I tried searching dramatic tension. All the references for dramatic tension redirected to suspense. And in truth, suspense is what I wanted. But not the genre, the concept. So, in short, dramatic tension and suspense are generally equal. Here’s a pretty good definition I found online.

Suspense:

1. a state of mental uncertainty, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, accompanied by anxiety or excitement.
2. a state of mental indecision.
3. undecided or doubtful condition, as of affairs. 

I agree with those definitions. But is it really necessary to create suspense in a book to keep the reader going?

Answer: Yes. Yes it is. It doesn’t have to be nail-biting, murderous-stalker-lurking suspense, but suspense needs to exist or the reader will feel like nothing is happening, despite the hundred pages they just read where lots of actions take place. Ever have that feeling while you were reading? Now you know why and here’s where it gets fun. How do we create suspense?

I’ll post my answer to this question one technique at a time. Ready?

POSSIBLE DANGER

Not “Danger” but “possible danger”. There’s a big difference and it’s a simple concept. Not that danger can’t create suspense, it’s just not going to be as reliable as possible danger. Here’s why.

Imagine your MC in a Western. He’s just been challenged to a duel. He’s standing in the middle of the dusty road, hand hovering over the grip of his pistol, facing one of the fastest draws in the territory. That’s danger. And, there’s suspense.

But let’s add in one simple thing.

As your MC stares into the eyes of his opponent, something pops into his mind. Did he reload his pistol after the bar fight last night? He fired five of the six rounds and passed out at some point. When he got up this morning, all he could remember was strapping on his belt with his gun already in the holster.

Now that’s suspense.

Let’s try another. This time without any actual danger involved.

A new mother is kneeling next to the tub, bathing her eight month old when the doorbell rings. She’s expecting a package she’ll have to sign for and doesn’t want to miss it. The bell rings again — an impatient deliverer. The front door is just around the corner from the bathroom. Little Lucy will be fine by herself for twenty seconds. Besides there’s only an inch or two of water in the tub. She dries off her hands and scampers to the front door.

I don’t know about you, but that creates some suspense for me. That’s what possible danger can do for you, your characters, and your novels. And that’s only one technique. Expect another in my next post.

dtn