This is a guest post by Cynthia Vespia
Writing is a tricky business. It’s important to know all the tried and true techniques that will help mold and shape your novel or story. Once you learn those basics, however, it’s up to you to take what you’ve learned and throw out what you don’t need.
Martial arts legend Bruce Lee summed it up best when he said: It’s like a sculptor creating a magnificent statue. He doesn’t add more clay, he instead peels away layers to reveal the beauty of the work underneath.
So today I’m going to tell you a few of the things I use to help keep dramatic suspense in my work. What will keep the reader involved enough that they’ll want to revisit the novel and turn the pages to find out what’s going to happen next?
A lot of it is pacing. Your scenes should develop in a way that builds toward an event or a question of what is to follow. The way you deliver that most effectively is with action.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: show, don’t tell. Describe for the reader exactly how you see the scene play out in your head. Follow the little movie running in your mind, and be aware of all five of the senses so that you can incorporate them into your scene. You know you’ve done your job well when a reader describes back to you the emotion that you were trying to portray. That, again, is pacing—drawing the reader in so they feel like they’re part of the story. In a way, they become that character on the page.
Dean Koontz is a master at pacing. He delivers just enough description for the reader to paint a mental picture, but he leaves enough leeway for you to fill in the blanks with your own imagination. Never once does the scene become too stale or loaded with unnecessary filler that slows down the initial pace. This is particularly important with a thriller.
Here is an example of building suspense and tension taken from my supernatural thriller Demon Hunter: The Chosen One. Pay close attention to how I try to intertwine emotions with descriptions in order to move the story forward:
The knife was outstretched in his hands. Almost all of the blood had dried, giving its color a dark crimson masking rather than the brighter sheen of a fresh kill. The remaining liquid congealed at the tip, pulling one solitary, fat droplet down off the knife. It plummeted fast and found its landing direct upon the back of my hand. Warmth and cold both blanketed me in the same sensation as the blood sat soaking upon my skin. Both Tuck and I sat staring at the droplet in stark terror, daring not to move one single inch. That one small drop of blood marked what true danger we were exposed to. Finally I managed to pull my gaze away and regard the stranger before us. My blood ran cold as the man’s eyes rained down upon me, locked against my own. They were dark orbs, almost as dark as night, and they held within them just a touch of madness staring out from under his full brimmed hat.
Depending on what genre you’re writing, there are certain ways of delivering the story fans of that genre expect. Again, learn those techniques and then add what is essentially your own style to create your own definitive writing “voice.”
If you control the pace, you control the story. The bulk of any scene is built with some sort of conflict: an exterior struggle the audience can visualize, follow and relate to in some way. Build your suspense with the scene-and-sequel method, where the scene is built upon a certain goal, conflict or disaster and is almost immediately followed by its sequel with emotion, decision and action. Play out your scenes moment-to-moment, just like in real life. Read it back over to yourself and adjust until you feel your own heart quicken with anticipation.
But my most important tip for you is this: Have fun!
Writing, like life, is meant for you to enjoy the journey. Don’t get bogged down with a lot of rules. The tips I’ve presented here are a starting point to help you on that journey. Now go forth and discover some techniques of your own and join us back here where you will deliver your own set of tips. Write your story…and make sure you enjoy it.
About this post’s author:
Cynthia Vespia has a background as an award-winning video editor, certified personal trainer, licensed private security guard, and trained mixologist. But the allure of writing has always been her biggest passion. Today Cynthia writes character driven suspense fiction. Her down time is enjoyed by getting lost in a good book or movie and keeping active through various forms of martial arts and fitness. You can find Cynthia at her official site, Facebook and Twitter.