Monday, March 22, 2010

Building Suspense

“Your job as a writer is to seduce the reader via the opening scenes, then, once she’s involved in the protagonist’s life, to disturb her and force her to speculate about upcoming events and results.” --Jessica Page Morrell in {Between the Lines}.
Ms. Morrell compares the process of creating suspense in a story to doing a striptease. Okay, I realize most of you have never been a stripper. Oh, wait. I mean you’ve never seen a stripper, but you do have excellent imaginations. Anyway, the stripper comes on the stage dressed in some costume--so I’m told. She (or he) doesn’t immediately take everything off. Instead, she teases the patrons by first strutting around a bit, bending this way and that to provide glimpses of her body, and then begins the process of slowly undressing. At some point, she may unzip her top, only to zip it back up. This is how suspense works. The writer takes the reader in one direction and then swerves in an unexpected direction, or slows the pace, to delay the final outcome. And that’s how it should work.

I critiqued a story recently where the author gave away too much, too soon. IMHO. Even though I assumed the story could go the way it did, I didn’t want to know I was right in the second paragraph (this was a short-short). I felt cheated in a way, because the truth was revealed too quickly.  That was a good lesson for me. I need to slow the pace at times with internal thoughts or description in order to build the tension for the reader and delay the outcome.

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