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Monday, November 7, 2011

Where's the Suspense?

This week I want to talk about suspense. What it is, and what it isn't. And, how do we use it in our stories to keep the reader on the edge of their seat/turning pages/and other cliched phrases I can't think of at the moment. :)

First, and most important, suspense is not the conflict. It isn't violence, or the moment the bad guy jumps out and grabs you. No, that's action.

Suspense is the waiting. The wondering if something will or won't happen. The building of anticipation. Notice I didn't say fear. Suspense can be waiting for something good too. That first kiss anyone?

In my mind, suspense is closely linked to tension (Merriam Webster--a. inner striving, unrest, or imbalance often with physiological indication of emotion, b. a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements). I'm thinking specifically sexual tension in stories. 

The important thing is to keep the suspense building until it must resolve. Depending on the basis of the suspense, this could take a while to work through your story. Don't rush it. And, if the suspense breaks or resolves before the end of the book, you may need to add another suspense thread. 

Okay, mini rant here on sexual tension. This was the element that I loved most in the TV series Bones. The whole, will they or won't they give in between Brennan and Booth.
Last season the writers turned Brennan into an emotional robot again. I was frustrated, but there was still that sexual tension. The suspense was just enough to keep me watching. Plus I kept hoping they'd see the error of their ways and make her human again. But, they ruined everything this season and I no longer care to watch.

The season opener has Brennan and Booth together. They've been together for five months! The writers skipped ahead and I didn't get to see that moment when the tension/suspense became too much for the characters to handle. I'm ticked off!

Looking back, there was the one episode they were comforting each other and the next day Brennan tells Angela she slept with Booth. But that episode made it look like nothing happened. I didn't give it a second thought. When Brennan says she's pregnant and Booth is the father at the end of the season, I thought it was because he donated (remember that episode?).

Rant over. Anyway, my point is this: If you are building suspense, you'd better darn well play it out to the end and let the reader see that end. The kiss has to happen on screen so to speak. The boogie man has to jump out and the MC must deal with it.

This applies to more than just mystery, horror, and detective novels. Every book, every genre needs this element of suspense in it. I promise. A little here and there can carry the reader a long way if played right.

So, do you have suspense in your story? Remember, it can be the anticipation of good as well as bad things in the future.

Send your submissions of up to 500 words (as short as you want and up to this length) to: unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with UB Suspense in the subject line.
Please include Title and Genre with your submission and a lead in sentence or two. 

Pepper Smith (She presented a workshop at Muse Con on suspense. That's what sparked this topic for the week.)
Janice Hardy Setting up the Tension
9 Tricks to Writing Suspense Fiction
Foreshadowing and Suspense
Elana Johnson talks about How to Add Suspense to Your Post-Apocalyptic (or any) Novel


Sophia said...

Man, when Bones first said she 'spent the night at Booth's' I thought she just meant she slept over after being comforted, and Angela was overreacting about the emotional content. When Bones announced she was pregnant I was like 'what??'. I just had to comment because I don't know anyone IRL who watches the show! And you're so right, we never got to see how they finally crossed that line. Did Booth just say 'okay, we're having a baby together, let's stop beating around the bush'?

Tara Tyler said...

just the right amount of teasing makes good tv!
will i give you a piece? you'll have to wait and see!

Huntress said...

You are singing my song about Bones. They went overboard with her lack of emotions then smacked us with a crying fit last Thursday that made me step back and wonder wtheck.
Shoot, I thought I missed an episode or two.

Not a lot of love in my heart for the series. I'll go to The Secret Circle on the CW channel instead. Right after Vampire Diaries *BG*

1000th.monkey said...

I just sent mine :) ...a scene with several points of tension/suspense.

I wasn't sure if I was supposed to include a lead-up sentence or two though...

mshatch said...

what? And they didn't even show the big moment? What a complete ripoff! I'm no where near caught up but now I'm not sure if I want to be!

oh, and great post about suspense :)