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Friday, August 22, 2008

How to do Suspense! Part 3 Tricks or Treats

Taken from Susan May Warren's and Rachel Hauck's My Book Therapy!


Part 2: The Big Event

Tricks or Treats

So you’ve figured out your BIG EVENT, and made it believeable and compelling and immediate and threatening. But to really create a great suspense, you new a few TRICKS!

Here’s the first one:

Grab ‘em with a HOOK from the first line. The suspense Hook is essential for a great story. Your hook should, set the tone, start with your hero/heroine in action, hint at the stakes and raise a story question. However, there is one key that every suspense hook needs to have:

Intrigue. Why? How? What? It needs to raise one of these questions right at the beginning.

Here are some of my hooks:

The past had picked the worst time to find her. (What?) from Flee the Night

Out of all FSB Agent Yanna Andrevka’s bright ideas, masquerading as a mail-order bride ranked among the most stupid. (Why?) from Wiser than Serpents

Stirling McRae should have known he couldn’t escape his duty, even deep inside the forests of northeastern Alaska, a hundred miles from civilization. (How?) From Expect the Sunrise

Today, more than any other, reporter Will Masterson prayed his lies would save lives. (How?) from Escape to Morning

If the train trudged any slower into the station, American missionary Gracie Benson would be dead by sunset. (Why?) from In Sheep’s Clothing.

(BTW, Where and Who are also questions, although they’re not as compelling, unless of course you’re a thousand miles under the ocean, or a space invader. Mostly, people connect with whys and hows, and then whats.)

To create that Intriguing Hook, ask: What statement can you make about your character or story that leaves a question in the reader’s mind?

Second Suspense Trick:

Leave them Hanging – You know how you’re with the character as she opens the door, and she sees a form diving for her and –

That’s when you want to leave a scene. Don’t leave the scene with all the threads tied up. Leave just when they’re about to hear some truth, or at the point of victory, or right before an attack or defeat. You want to leave it at the height of action or tension so that the reader will turn the page. And here’s another trick – don’t take up the scene again in the next POV – jump to another POV if you can, and then pick it up with yet another POV in the next scene. Or, jump ahead in time, and show the aftermath, and then flashback to the scene.

Your pacing in a story is really key here – if you are in a high action scene followed by another high action scene, it gets tiring for the reader. Let them breathe, and cutting off the action to a slower scene helps them breathe and prepare for the next high action scene.

You know those scenes where the hero and heroine hide behind something and reload their guns and say something deep and poignant – that’s a breather. Put breathers in, leaving them hanging helps you do this.

Start with a HOOK, and Leave them Hanging…and you’ll have readers caught in your book, breathlessly turning pages (or at least, we hope so!)

Next week we’re talking about: Emotional Layering – which is a sort of preview of the class I’m teaching at ACFW….so you all get to be my guinea pigs. How do you, uh, FEEL about that? *g*

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