Since I am working on the sequel to Timber Point, I have to outdo myself in the original. So I decided to research tips about creating intense suspense, twists and turns. If who haven’t checked out my earlier posts on sequel writing, you can review them here: Your Inner Author… Sequel Writing v. Series Writing and Book Two in a Series, Sequel Writing
For those of you who write thrillers, I read an incredible article by Writers Digest about the important five elements of thriller writing. Even if you don’t writer thrillers you can still find these tips helpful to create suspense and tension to your writing. I’ll be quoting some of the article, just to give the proper credit to Brian A. Klems, the online editor for Writers Digest. I’ll be adding the techniques I use to the elements.
Here are the top five essentials…
1. COMPLEX CHARACTERIZATIONS— Basically the author recommends using complex characters. Don’t have a protagonist who’s perfect. That’s boring. I actually wrote a post on this. You can find it here: Creating Characters in Fiction
2. CONFRONTATION— This is the main action of the thriller. Where the antagonist and protagonist face off, battle over the stakes the thriller demands. The best confrontations come from an antagonist who thinks they are justified in their actions. Just as you do with your protagonist, create a complete back story for your antagonist. Was he/she harmed in the past and that’s why he/she believes he’s/she’s justified in their actions? What hopes and dreams did he have? How were they dashed? What inciting incident pushed him over the edge? Was he betrayed by someone he loved? Now, no one is saying you need to make him sympathetic. However, he should believe his actions are fair after what the abusers (or whatever) did to him.
When you think back to the best antagonists all of them have a way of thinking that you can ALMOST relate to. You probably wouldn’t go on a killing spree because of it, but that’s what makes them the bad guy. A lot of serial killers were horribly abused as children. The stories of what they experienced are shockingly terrifying, like being locked in a box under a bed, or dumped in a basement. By showing these horrendous experiences your antagonist went through readers can understand where they’re coming from. Just don’t overdo it, or the reader will feel manipulated. Like everything in fiction– there’s a fine line between believable and far-fetched.
3. CAREENING– There is nothing like a stunning twist or shock to keep your reader on edge. And, more importantly, keep them turning the pages. To quote Brian A. Klems, “Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.”
Do the unexpected with your plot. Ask yourself at the beginning of a scene, “What would a reader expect to happen?” Then do the opposite!
4. CORONARY– The best thrillers stab at your heart. How do we do that? By letting them FEEL the story. The easiest way to do this, and I think the most believable way to do this, is to recall a moment in your life that’s similar to what your writing about. Most of us haven’t been abducted (I hope) or chased by a killer (God, I hope not), but you can still draw from your own experiences. For instance, when you were a teenager, did you ever get chased by the cops because you shouldn’t have partied in public (or at all for that matter)? BTW, I’m not saying this has ever happened to me *wink wink*. (My granddaughter might read this someday. She’s only seven months now.) Anyway, remember what it felt like to be chased. The adrenaline pumping through your veins, the fear of getting caught, the chaos of everyone running in different direction with the cops yelling for you to stop. Use these emotions, substituting a killer for the cops. You’ll end up with a realistic scene that others can relate to, and a scene that the reader can feel, sitting up straight, their eyes glued to the page.
5. COMMUNICATION– The original storytellers spun thrillers where the hero ran into the night and fought monsters, demons, and the like. The tribe hung back and vicariously lived the tale. But there was something more– they learned how to fight, act courageously, survive.
Readers still expect this on some level. So you need to ask yourself what your thriller is really about. Does it offer hope for justice? Or is justice denied in the end? What will the reader take away from the story? And, by the way, a lot of agents ask you to answer this question in your query letter. You better know how to respond so you don’t look like an amateur.
A lot of aspiring writers miss this point. They think action, action, action, and leave it at that. But your story WILL say something, you might as well control what that is instead of allowing the reader to imagine the underlying message.
My next post will be about Seven Ways to Create a Killer Opening. Check back to find out how.
If any of you want your query, first chapter and/or synopsis critiqued, Unicorn Bell is critiquing this week only for free!
You can find the submission guidelines here: http://unicornbell.blogspot.com/
I’m doing it. Mine is being reviewed on Thursday. They post the critiques on the blog for all to learn from your mistakes, or from the things you did correctly. It should be very informative, I can’t wait. I just hope they don’t rip me apart 🙂 No, they are professional and give kind helpful advice, so don’t worry about being humiliated.
I hope this post helps someone as much as the article helped me.
What are some of your tips to create tension and suspense? I’d love to hear about the techniques other writers use.