Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How to Build Suspense by Ginger Simpson #suspense #mystery #writing tips

I am particularly interested in this topic because one of my current WIPs is going to be a suspense story.  I tried my hand at writing one and although I thought I did a great job of surprising the reader with the villain, reviews suggest otherwise.  The last thing you want in suspense is predictability.  Maybe using some of Elizabeth Sim's tips  borrowed by WRITERS DIGEST and an article written on how to FUEL YOUR STORY WITH SUSPENSE:

  1. Elizabeth Sims is an American writer, journalist, and contributing editor at Writer's Digest magazine.

1.  Point a finger.  This can work to create and maintain suspense in any genre.  You can point to anything:  financial ruin, a broken heart, a lost opportunity....

2.  Pull a false alarm.

3.  Build a forgotten place.  (Example:  Edgar Allen Poe tricked an enemy into joining him in a wine cellar then bricked him up there.  Suspense rises in trying to figure out the reason.

4.  Plant a hazard, then wait.  An example Sims gives is a snake pit in True Grit.  It's introduced but not used until Mattie falls backwards into it.  Although from the moment of introduction, it's been lurking in the reader's mind.

5.  Make panic your friend.  Have your victim stumble and fall.  Built anticipation.

6.  Water a plant.  I see your confused stare.  *smile*  Growth of the character can be incredibly suspenseful.  Think about Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, The Bad Seed.  You water a plant and wait to see what it grows into.

7.  Withhold the right stuff.  According to Sims...withhold substance but give tantalizing information as in The Valley of Fear where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle keeps a character's identity secret from the other characters and readers thus giving everyone the opportunity to interpret clues.

8.  Banish someone....as in the Bible where God throws Satan out of Heaven...or if you wish to modernize...a troublesome kid gets sent to boarding school.  Let your imagination guide you.

9.  Rip it from the headlines.  Check your local news.

10. Fray an End.  Okay, I see that same blank stare.  Leave a cupboard door open because little odd things not quite in order create suspense, although subtle.

11.  Fake 'em out.  An example given...have the guard step out for a smoke.  Readers will suppose it's a great time for an escape.  Have the guard come back, think the same thing and race to where he finds the prisoner lounging peacefully.

12.  Stash Someone.  Harriet the Spy discovered how useful hiding is.  Watch and listen undetected.  Suspense conjures up questions such as:  What is you sneeze?  What is a dog comes along and detects the candy in your pocket?

13.  Seat a pigeon on a stool.  Guess what this means.

14.  Put a mask on it.  Use disguises or impersonation to build suspense.

15.  Amp the Unknown.  Stephen King is the master and has built a colossal career by using the unknown...example:  The Shining.

16.  Put a symbol to work.  Example:  A beautiful lake can represent the water of life, or symbolize something more unsettling.  For instance....it can transgress into something cold, hard and dangerous.

17.  Flip the Hourglass, then flip it again.  I see the puzzled look again.  :)  Example A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne who skillfully works with time for max suspense.  From the start, the reader knows a murder occurred many years ago, and then transport the reader back in time to when the victim was alive.  How was the crime committed?  How was it hidden or exposed?  Then flash forward again to the conclusion.

18.  Double down on the Debt.  Huh?  Anyone knows when you do favors, people are in your debt and more easily persuadable.

19.  Isolate 'em.  How about a stuck elevator or a vehicle with a flat tire?

20.  Throw a Monkey wrench.  Make the reader work for the real culprit.

21.  Get your head into it.  Live and breath your writing.  If you do, you[ll have a greater chance of having your readers stick with you with bated breath.

Note from Ginger:  I'd like to take credit for all these tips, but it's evident these are from someone well-read and experienced.   The entire article is in the November/December 2014 issue, and it's great.


Unknown said...

These are great tips,thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth Sims said...

Very glad the article resonated with you, Ginger, and thank you for sharing it with your followers!

Unknown said...

Elizabeth...Thank you for stopping by and for not minding that I used your material for my blog. It did resonate with me and I so wanted to share with people so they don't make the same mistake I did in my first suspense.

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