Use Details to Build Suspense
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Often when meeting new individuals in the publishing industry, and they find out what my “full-time” job is, I’m asked about a million and one questions to assist in whatever manuscript they may be working, or some sort of project they are hoping to accomplish. This, all in an industry that’s constantly evolving, is a huge example of just how far and how much research many do in order to keep things “real” in their novels.
In case all of this is completely going over your head, my background is in military and law enforcement operations. And basically, to explain what sort of experience I can equate to, I’m often called the Investigative Whisperer. *laughs*
Do I use my knowledge I’ve gained in my job in order to help with what I write? Hell yes, I do. It’s what I’m establishing my brand to be, and with the exception of High Scandal, you’ll always see some sort of marker for those two entities in my work.
That being said, I figured I’d start a snippet and help others out with some of the common questions I’m asked. One of those questions is the art of building suspense. This, I don’t think is related directly to my job (although, it is what I write), but some of the tactics I use within my job can transfer to a piece and help with what I’m trying to accomplish.
There are several factors we’ll hit on in later posts, but the first and foremost thing you should do when trying to build the suspense in your work-in-progress (WIP), is slow…things…down. And no, I don’t mean what I just did with the ellipses.
Slowing things down in your WIP can be shown (key word to remember here) in the details you need to add. Back when I was a part of a writing community, I had some authors who hated the amount of detail I put into my novels, and when critiqued, I was reminded of that. Others, loved it, and happily followed along as they said the details brought in that suspense building. That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do (on top of other things—such as scene setting).
When you slow it down, you draw in all senses of your character. We want to use the senses anyway, but focusing on them all at once really draws the reader to concentrate on exactly what you’re looking for. For example, say Betty Joe is looking for Billy Bob. They just had a fight on the phone before it cut out with a loud scream. She’s pulled up to his house and is approaching the front door.
‘ Everything was too quiet. No birds chirped in the trees, no wind blew, and no sounds came from inside the house. Despite the world seemingly frozen, a chill snaked up Betty Joe’s spine, crawling like a serpent across her skin. She hovered her hand over the brass knob, and fought for courage. “Just grab it and turn,” she whispered with a harsh voice.
Billy Bob’s scream still resonated in her ears, the terror shaking his voice before cut off, a sound she could never replicate. There were octaves a man’s voice should never go, a rule broken today.
She paused, waited, listened again. Fear, a bitter taste like sour milk, rose in her mouth with each passing pulse of her heart. The beat hammered out a song in her throat as she closed her hand over the handle and pushed it open.
“Surprise!” everyone yelled! ‘
Now, mind you, that may not be the best passage and is very off the cuff, but for the most part, you see the suspense that is being built and a big way, that’s done through showing the senses, giving your details. In other words, refer back to Show and Tell when trying to achieve the build-up.
How much fun would Betty Joe of been if she simply got out of her car, stormed up the steps, and opened the door? Well, hell, I’m sure she’d surprise the hell out of a reader with the size of her balls after a scream like what Billie Bob did, but then again, you’re trying to build that suspense, right?