Suspense is Critical

Story revolves around suspense. From the first page, there needs to be a compelling story developing. Tension. Argument. A chase of some kind. A search for something important. And possibly even a dead body, be it human or animal.

Recently I picked up a book that sounded interesting. The youngest daughter had been implicated in the murder of her father and the near death of her mother, but the boyfriend was found guilty on circumstantial evidence. Sounds compelling, right?

The problem is that the story moved too slowly. It felt as if the same thoughts and actions happened over and over. Worry about the youngest daughter moving back home. The accused being released from prison on a technicality. The oldest daughter, once a thriving mother with tremendous potential, now wallowing at home.

I kept waiting for something to happen. Some action that brought renewed fear into the protagonist’s life. A window found open. A bloody knife left in plain sight. A note or call that threatened. But none of that ever happened.

As a writer, you have an obligation to engage your readers with suspense, even if your story is not a murder mystery or thriller.

How do you do this? Your protagonist has to interact with others, animate or inanimate. This interaction brings up a strong emotional response. The character reacts, either by confronting the “thing” or by running away or by putting it out of mind. This leads to more tension as the “thing” comes back again and again to haunt the character, spurring the character into action once again.

Your job is to take something that you’ve written, that perhaps you find less than compelling, and reread, looking for spots where the story bogs down. Where there is a pronounced lag.

As you discover these places, fix them either by eliminating them altogether or by turning them into scenes with dialogue, action, tension.

This will not be easy as we often do not like to rewrite our pieces, but you must.

Good luck on this one.

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