Happy Tuesday folks.
Today I’m happy to be hosting Nancy Stewart. Nancy will be giving some great tips on how to bring your audience into the story and get them on pins and needles.
Don’t forget to follow Nancy’s links after the article to learn more about her and her books.
Best wishes and Happy Writing!!!
How Can We Make Our Novels More Suspenseful?
USE YOUR SENSES:
Put potential menace into everyday objects.
Make your character hyper-aware of sensations and sound and you ratchet up the dramatic tension. It all adds up to a feeling of impending danger, though it isn’t clear from what.
Suspense is sustained by the absence of anything terrible happening, and the continued focus on detail.
Remember: Your goal is to heighten anticipation.
*All examples are from my middle grade novel, Lost on the Skeleton Coast:
Olivia trudged around the rock shelter toward the streambed. This had to be the most forlorn part of the whole camp. Gaping crevices in the jagged stone hill stared at Olivia as she traveled around it. Deep crevices where someone could easily hide and wait to ambush an unsuspecting person. Shadowy crevices that could shelter a large animal. Why hadn’t she noticed these before? Probably because she was never alone in this part of camp. A prickle of panic played with the back of her neck. “I smell the darkness coming out of there.”
SLOOOW DOWN TIME:
Slowing down time increases suspense and anticipation!
Use complex sentences when possible:To create a feeling of apprehension about what might happen next, use longer, more complex sentences rather than rat-a-tat, subject-verb-object.
Internal dialogue: Let the reader hear your character’s thoughts.
Camera close-ups: You want the reader as close in as possible, experiencing the tension of your suspense sequence firsthand.
Quiet and darkness: Stillness and shadows suggest hidden menace.
Example: Footsteps. Stealthy ones. Someone tried to be silent but was not succeeding because of loose gravel around the entrance. Andy? But maybe it wasn’t. Slipping into one of the pitch-black passages, Olivia hugged the wall and felt her way along, careful to avoid the needles. Okay, so where was the snake that had to be there? Coiled, it would rise up, hiss and bite her. With increasing dread, she waited. No snake. But was that a shuffle onto stone? A presence was close to her. Too close.
Creating a suspense sequence that ends harmlessly is a good way to foreshadow something more sinister that happens later in your novel.
When you insert a hint of what’s to come, look at it critically and decide whether it’s something the reader will glide right by but remember later with an Aha! That’s foreshadowing. If instead the reader groans and guesses what’s coming, you’ve telegraphed.
Ultimately, the line between foreshadowing and telegraphing is in the eye of the beholder.
“What was that?” Olivia stopped sweeping, sat back and cocked her head. “Maybe it’s nerves, but I hear something that’s creeping me out.”
Andy put the trowel down and looked at her. “What? Where?”
She held her finger to her lips. “Sounds like metal scraping on rock. And it’s close. Could it be Pat? Maybe we should see?”
“I’ll go partway up the ladder and take a look.” He climbed a few rungs, slowly bringing his eyes even with the top of the trench. “Nothing. But the wind’s blowing a little harder than usual. Maybe that’s what you heard.”
Always End With a Payoff:
The payoff can be an unsettling discovery of evidence of a crime—finding a dead body, bloodstained clothing, a weapons cache, or that the floor of a basement has been dug up. The discovery might reveal a character’s secret. Finding love letters or a personal diary might reveal a hidden relationship between two characters. Finding drug paraphernalia in a car might suggest that a suburban matron has a secret life. Or it can be a plot twist: The bad guy confesses; the sleuth gets attacked, or locked in a basement, or lost in a cave; or the police show up and arrest the sleuth.
“We’re going to take you down, Pat,” Andy growled, “for kidnapping our uncle. The police can take care of diamond smuggling stuff.”
Olivia watched Pat intently. Was that apprehension flitting across his face? “Caught off guard, weren’t you, you jerk?” Hands clinched, Olivia walked toward Pat and stopped before he could grab her. Andy edged next to his sister.
“Look, guys, all I want is to walk away with my piece of the loot. But there’s plenty for us all. Happy to share with you—and Blake, of course.”
“Agggh!” Andy tucked and rammed Pat in the stomach. “That’s for my uncle!” Pounding Pat on the chest, Andy was fierce, but Pat was too powerful. Grabbing Andy’s arms, he jerked him to the ground and jumped on his back.
Olivia darted toward Pat, right hand brushing her pocket. The diamond rock! Working the stone out of her pocket, she lifted it and struck Pat on the head. Once, then twice. Did she really hit him—again? Could that be her hand holding the rock? It felt foreign, as if belonging to someone else.
Pat slumped over Andy and crumpled to the ground. Heaving him off, Andy rolled Pat on his back. “I think we might have gone a concussion too far, Olive.”
I hope these tips and examples can help with your suspense ratcheting! It’s fun and effective. Happy goosebump writing!