Tips for Writers by Redone
FeatureSummary:

We have all seen those stories that get no comments and those stories that regularly get a handful of comments per chapter. This series will focus on providing tips on how to be one of the latter, not the former!

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Newest Segment: Developing Minor and Supporting Characters


Categories: Admin Only Characters: None
General Warnings: None
Trigger Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 34 Completed: No Word count: 26875 Read: 61708 Published: Jan 19, 2015 Updated: Sep 11, 2017
Writing Suspense into your Fiction by Redone
Author's Notes:

Segment 3 in a subseries on Writing Genres

I'm going about this segment a bit differently. Where as the one on fantasy/sci-fi focused on those as pertaining to a general genre, suspense is often something that you see sprinkled in stories across genres. Like hurt/comfort, it isn't entirely relegated to ONE genre. As such, I'll focus on providing a breakdown of methods of infusing suspense into a story. So let's go ahead and give this sucker a shot.

 

Integrating Suspense into your Story

 

1. Intersperse some action. Make it intense. Suspenseful action helps move a plot and keep readers engaged. Does Michael suddenly leave the room in anger and not say anything? Will she suddenly refuse to take his calls? Will Lassie get to them in time to save Timmy?

 

2. If the scene calls for danger, try to make it feel real. Don't cut away for backstory right as the tension is rising. If you need to include it, you can always weave it in, if it adds to the fear or suspense of the moment.  For instance, Michael is caught out in a crowded location when his disguise falls. That's not the moment to describe his logic in coming out. That's a time to focus on his anxiety at that moment, his heart pounding, his palms sweating, and the swell of people around him. Now, you could weave those together.

 

E.g. (written in 1st POV)

 

I feel my breathe catch as I notice one pair of eyes zoom in on me, then another, leading my heart beat to start speeding up. What's wrong? I'd come prepared for Central Park's crowd, going so far as a fake beard, moustache, and turban. I know that I'd taken off my glasses to clean them, but are my eyes really that noticeable? I hadn't worn any eye makeup today, just in case. Despite the loud thumping of my pulse in my ears, I can't miss hearing the murmurs around me.  Fearful of catching a gaze, I look down and gasp. Oh no!! There, between my canvas slippers lay the small, thin strip of black hairs that had previously wrested on my upper lip. Shitshitshitshitshit. Immediately I'm cognizant of how far I am from the entryway to the park, where my driver presides, waiting for me despite his rightful trepidation.  At the same time, I am acutely aware of how many people are on each side of me and how close they are to me. What am I going to do?

 

3. Remember that suspense doesn't just come with action. One of the best (and most under-utilized) sources of suspense is emotion. Feelings are realistic and powerful ways of adding suspense to a story. Moreover, putting emotions at the core of your fanfic adds importance to the situation. Take my previous example. Note that nothing actually happens. No one attacks him, no one even approaches him. The moustache has already fallen. He's just realizing that it is falling and reacting (internally) to the situation at hand.

When I say "feelings" that add suspense, I think of:

betrayal . . . rage . . . lust . . . fear. . .

desire . . . surprise . . . anger . . . excitement

. . . dread . . . anxiety . . . shock . . . hope . . . 

 

4. Repetition of a same action/dialogue topic, creates a more intense reaction in the reader when done with repetition (but use caution!). Think about it this way:

1st time - you draw the readers' attention to the topic/action

2nd time - readers can now see that the action/topic is important. They may not know why, but they get a sense that it might foreshadow a future event.

3rd time - think of this as the most intense visit of the action/topic. This is when everything comes to a climax and readers are biting their nails.

NOTE: Avoid excessive repetition.

 

5. Withold some of the information. By withholding information, readers can attempt to draw their own conclusions and make their own hypotheses on what will happen. This is a big one, so get ready for me to lay down some information about the benefits of witholding infomation and how you can implement this tactic:

  1. Withold some of the backstory/information about characters. Think about Alfred Hitchcock and how he put together his films. The audience is drawn to make hypotheses, but helpless to do anything about them.
  2. Withold what others are thinking.  However, because they don't know the full backstory/what everyone is thinking, they don't know each person's motives.  Hidden motives will affect how a character acts, so including them can clue readers into what's really happening. At the same time, they will require that your readers feel that they must stay alert and attend to the details in your story. An example of this might be having Michael rub his temple. The OG might take this to think he is upset, but really he has a headache. Don't immediately reveal that he has a headache. Let some time lapse in which she worries.
  3. Implementation is key. When you are outlining your story, give thought to when details will be revealed. Think about spacing them out across chapters so as to maintain reader interest and suspence. Be confident and sure of what will happen, because changing it halfway through could confuse readers. Also, go easy on the teasers at the ends of your chapters. If you are already doing suspense, there is no reason to add suspense at the ends of chapters.

 

6. Don't neglect your chapter endings. Cliffhangers can be a powerful tool. Used sparingly, they leave your readers on the edges of their seats. Used in every chapter/every other chapter, they make them frustrated and annoyed. So, every once and a while, try ending a chapter right before something is supposed to happen or before a character can respond to an important question.

 

Now, I neglected pacing and foreshadowing in this segment, as despite being huge tools in creating suspense, I've already covered them. So, if you are needing a refresher on those, take a look at some of the early segments.

 

 

End Notes:

As always, I love reading your rants/raves/reactions and thank all of you who have shared your piece.

A reminder:

-if you think of something that you want to see addressed, but hasn't been, please peruse the list of previous segments and mosy on up to the "Topic Ideas?" segment.  Let me know if you'd like something additional added.

-This is an opinion/advice piece. I am not getting paid for doing this. So, I will not be posting my CV or my resume. Suffice it to say that I am or have been a: teacher; student; supervisor; supervisee; an editor; writer; and most of all, a reader.  Now, if you have a problem with something that I've written, please let me know, along with a cut+paste of the offending passage.  I am interested in learning and growing. That being said, just as I invite you all to do to anything I write, I may or may not implement your feedback into my future writings. That doesn't mean that I don't want to hear your criticisms. 

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