This week: Is There Enough Suspense in Your Drama? Edited by: Joy
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| Luck is everything... My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I'm fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn't make a good suspense film. |
“We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story.”
"I think one of the appeals of suspense is to safely explore our innermost fears."
“In suspense novels, even subplots about relationships have to have conflict.”
Hello, I am Joy , this week's drama editor. This issue is about adding to the suspense that may already be present in our fiction.
Thank you for reading our newsletters and for supplying the editors with feedback and encouragement.
Welcome to the Drama newsletter
Suppose you have already created a dramatic situation promising some suspense and you have a rough outline for your story or novel, but you feel more oomph is needed as far as tension is concerned. After all, you want to keep your readers on their toes, don’t you?
Let’s just say that, as advised by the writing coaches, you already developed strong characters, will write in active voice, are planning to end each chapter with a cliffhanger, will be using a rhythm interspersed with shorter sentences when you wish to create excitement, and will add shocking information to your character or characters later on, and you already know that the most common way is to shorten the deadline on your hero’s mission, the ticking clock idea.
All these, however, may not be enough on their own. You want more!
Here are some suggestions:
Add the possibility of even worse or more complicated situations possibly tinged with regret, at least in the minds of your characters.
“The worm that destroys you is the temptation to agree with your critics, to get their approval.
A noise was intruding.
Starling tried to remember her exact words in the undercover van. Had she said more than was necessary? A noise was intruding.
Brigham told her to brief the other on Evelda, Did she express some hostility, say some slur__
A noise was intruding.
~Hannibal~ by Thomas Harris
An additional way is to make the beginning scenes very vivid and very believable. This not only gets the attention of the reader to stay with the story but also it will enhance the believability of the coming actions.
“The Hallway was empty.
And nearly dark, the only light come from the far end, where a shadowy illumination crawled up the staircase.
I don’t think we’re alone.
Kara licked her lips, as she had a hundred times before when she was sneaking around this old house.”
~The Girl Who Survived~ by Lisa Jackson
You can also start in a mild manner and then up the ante, but this is usually a way of storytelling by already established storytellers like Michael Crichton, who has a whole “Prologue” chapter of setting the scene in the Jurassic Park.
Another way is to embellish a few descriptions with a twist such as John Grisham does in the following quote. With this type of suspense writing, here and there, one or two routine everyday moments are told in great detail and with stark reality as if a crime or something awful is taking place.
Here is a slice of a scene when the protagonist, a young boy, visits an old man in a hospital.
“Drag up a chair and tell me how you like the look of this.”
There was a blanket up to his waist. He tossed it back, revealing a complex steel gadget that encased his leg from the shin to upper thigh. There were thing rods going into his flesh, the points of entry sealed off with little rubber gasket thingies that were dark with dried blood. His knee was bandaged and looked as big as a breadloaf. A fan of those thin rods went through the wrappings.
He saw the expression on my face and gave a chuckle. “Looks like an implement of torture from the Inquisition, doesn’t it? It’s called an external fixator.”
Then, there is the question tool, which is a good way to keep the readers guessing. , especially if several characters ask the same question in different ways in some parts of the story and make that question stand out to launch and propel the suspense.
Here is a clip from the story of a Romanian family escaping from the approaching Russians during the World War II:
“She watched another tank go by, too, a step closer to him, and said quietly, “You’re sure, Emil? Running with the Nazis like this?”
Emil responded in a whisper. “We can stay and wait for the bear that know will kill us, or rape you and kill me and the boys, or imprison us all in Siberia. Or we can run with the wolves that will protect us until we can make our escape west. Escape the war. Escape everything.”
~The Last Green Valley~ by Mark Sullivan
As far as the repeated questioning goes, you can use it in a part of the novel or through the entirety of it, which will keep the readers reading. Then, make sure the answer comes during a peak emotional scene at the final pages.
And a writer-be-warned: Unanswered questions in a story will make the readers turn away from your books for life.
May all your suspense passages develop hooks and chill your readers’ spines.
Until next time!
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This Issue's Tip: After you write all the suspense in your story, don't fizzle the finale. Give it a slight twist or send a feeler or two into the future. Who knows you may end up with a series.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Feedback for "Why Write a Prologue?"
For me, doing a prologue and doing a good one are two different things. lol. My biggest worry is that I will just info dump. How do you draw the line between force-feeding content with sloppiness and impulse writing as opposed to composing a great prologue?
Thanks for your input. Yes, surely, info dump is a possibility, but if you are not sure of your prologue, I would say, finish the first draft of the story, and then, go back to it. You may not need it at all if you have the info in it in small doses inside the story or else, you can tweak it in such a way that it doesn't become boring. Some authors tell the info in the prologue as if another related short story. There are many possibilities for giving the information inside the prologue, either separately as a chapter/prologue or within the body of the fiction.
BIG BAD WOLF 34 on June 3
I've written a few prologues to my stories. Sometimes it's a backstory on a minor character in the main story.
Thanks for the input. Yes, of course, that can be. Every author has the license to create what he or she wants.
Good newsletter. I try to avoid prologues, a famous author said they are dangerous crutches. Tempting device to avoid showing the story the right way.
Thank you. Yes, most writing teachers warn against them. In the hands of the inexperienced, they could be disastrous. On the other hand, they are godsend if you are writing in genres like the sci-fi, fantasy, etc. Then, some stories' backgrounds really need clarification in detail.
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