Creating Suspense––Part VIII

creating-suspense-2When creating suspense, you want to draw it out. Milk every part of it. We’re going to be looking at how to draw out that tension in the next two weeks. Every scene should be chock full of some sort of tension that drives the story along. Click to Tweet #amwriting #creatingsuspense

One key element is to remember that in every scene, the viewpoint character should suffer some sort of setback, whether it be something small or huge. Suspense is elevated as the character tries to overcome that most recent setback.

cary-grant-nnwQuestions to ask yourself: What does the character want? What’s the character’s goal in this scene? How can you keep him or her from attaining that goal? What opposes the character? Another person? A situation? The inner workings, thoughts, attitudes of the character himself? How you answer these questions will help s–t–r–e–t–c–h the tension, and keep readers turning the pages to discover how the character resolves what’s happening.

Here are some tips for looking at your scenes to see what you can do to build suspense.

  1. Take a scene where there is a moment of high tension.
  2. Stretch the action out as far as you can, by making the reader wait for it.
  3. Take what you’ve got and add another 25% to your scene. Use slow motion, dialogue, inner thoughts, description, etc. to extend the pressure.
  4. Trim or add to the scene that will increase its readability.
  5. Find another intense scene and repeat stretching techniques.
  6. Keep finding more scenes for which you can stretch that tension.

Take this example from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout has just embarrassed Walter Cunningham, after he’d been invited to lunch. He’d poured pure molasses on his food.

Lee could have said it like this: Our cook orderd me to the kitchen. She was fruious. “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely.

But she didn’t. Here’s what was actually written, and it draws the anticipation of the rebuke Scout is sure will come.

It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen.

She was furious, and when she was furious, Calpurnia’s grammar became erratic. When in tranquility, her grammar was as good as any body’s in Macomb. Atticus said Calpurnia had more education than most colored folks.

When she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. “There’s some foils how don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely.

Stretching the tension will take your suspense up a notch. Click to Tweet #amwriting #creatingsuspense

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