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Friday, August 15, 2008

How to do Suspense!

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


I taught this class for the first time last week – and, as I was thinking about how to talk about suspense had, of course, to tell the story of Nikki Anderson’s haunted house.

Twelve years old. Halloween. Me and the neighbor boy. We stood outside my friend Nikki’s house from which oozed eerie cackling laughter and fake smoke and trembled. We’d heard her father was transforming the house for our yearly trick and treat around the neighborhood, but for the first time, I feared entering the one-story 1970’s rambler. My little heart thundered in my chest…what if something, you know, GOT me?

We got left our bags of treats in the entry and began our adventure through the house – going through the standard rooms – the “mad scientist” room where we dutifully stuck our fingers in jello and spaghetti. The “creepy tunnel” room where we crawled through cardboard boxes with dangling “spider webs.” The “grabby” room where people stood behind bars and lunged out at us. No problem. I wasn’t scared. Until, of course, the final room. I stood at the threshold and fear had me by the throat.

Nikki’s father had laid down electric lights that fizzled and sparked (not sure where he got those). They would flicker on randomly, then off again, pitching the room in blackness. But in that flash of light, we’d see it – a figure, moving about the room, a shadow of doom and horror. And, every flash, HE WAS SOMEWHERE ELSE.

I knew we were doomed. My legs cemented to the floor. I wasn’t moving. The line bumped up behind us. I couldn’t draw breath. Until, of course, the neighbor boy took my greasy hand. He fairly PULLED me, terrified, through the room until I managed a final spurt to the far side under my own power.

We’d made it. Without death, or maiming. And then proceeded to talk about our bravery for the rest of the night.

This, in short, is the three-act synopsis of a romantic suspense novel. The set-up, the action, and the rush of joy. If you’re writing a suspense, you’ve already set up your characters and the goal of the story. But how do you add in the suspense, the “room by room” tension of the story?

For the rest of the week I’m going to back talking about building suspense….the four components of creating that scary final event that our characters (and readers, and small twelve year old girls) fear.

Wow...great illustration. I'll be posting more on their suspense series next week.

Enjoy these last days of summer.

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