The great thing about attending a conference is being able to sit and listen to different lectures about all sorts of different topics. Even better, I get to use my notes to share what I learned with you, my dear readers.
Today, I will be sharing tips from Gregg Luke‘s presentation on writing white-knuckle suspense. All books will have elements of suspense in them, not just suspense/thrillers. That means that any writer can use these tips to make their work better.
First and foremost there has to be good characterization. The main character must be compelling and interesting or readers won’t empathize with them. If no one cares about the character then it won’t matter what happens to them and the reader won’t feel anything. A well created character should have both external and internal conflicts and traits that readers can identify with.
Then there must be good pacing. From the beginning there should be conflict and situations that cause angst within the character and the reader. The beginning scene should give the reader enough momentum to pull them through the next 30-50 pages, they’ll want to keep reading to see what happens next. As that momentum wears off there has to be a plot point, or major event that introduces something crucial to the arc of the story, to give another boost of momentum. For scenes that are meant to be more intense use classic pacing devices like shorter sentences, choppy dialogue, and short paragraphs.
Part of writing good suspense is understanding the nature of suspense. Suspense is anticipatory where action is the thrill of the moment. Don’t make the mistake in thinking action equals suspense. By giving more time to dread the action you build more suspense than witnessing the action itself. This dread can be emphasized by exploring the unknown, which is one of man’s greatest fears. It’s one thing to know something bad is going to happen, it’s quite another when you know there’s no way to avoid it.
Other things that should be considered
- Adding random bits of bizarre behavior, i.e. red herrings, will throw readers off-balance which heightens suspense.
- When it comes to adding in technical detail there has to be balance, not enough will leave the reader unconvinced, too much can bore.
- You must reward the readers with a meaningful and plausible resolution that includes the protagonist. Forgetting this will make the reader angry and wonder why they wasted their time reading the book.
- Suspense writing is lean writing, chose words wisely and remember that in this instance – less is more.
- Don’t forget foreshadowing. When used with care it can heighten the overall suspense of the whole book.
So let’s sum up. In order to create good suspense there must be six elements, these are: good characterization, good pacing, understanding anticipation vs. thrills, careful handling of techno elements, a good resolution, and lean writing. Once you get a good handle on these you will be well on your way to create a page turning suspense novel.