Make Mine Mystery
Linda Lee Kane
What is Suspense?
Suspense arises from our reader's anticipation of what’s about to occur. They worry, even fear, what will happen to the characters they love. So always leave the reader hanging at the end of each chapter. Leave them wanting more.
To build suspense, we need to raise our reader's concern over how our POV characters’ plans can go array. Ever hear this comment when talking books with a friend? Nothing really happened, so I stopped reading. I’ve put down numerous books for the same reason, and some by authors who are household names, authors who should know better. But that’s the thing about suspense. It’s not easy to hold our reader's hostage for 300 pages. By employing the following techniques, we have a better shot of grabbing them by the throat. Then it’s just a matter of not letting go.
“Show that something terrible is about to happen, then postpone the resolution to sustain the suspense.” ~ Writer’s Digest
Every book makes a pledge to the reader. The difference between concept and premise is, something happens to the main POV characters that disrupts their lives. If you’re not familiar with the difference between concept and premise, there’s no one better to learn from than Larry Brooks. He has several posts on the subject.
Rather than asking yourself, “What should happen next?” Try: “What can I promise that’ll go wrong? Problems that will bring my characters to their knees.”
The central dramatic story question promises an intriguing quest.
By making promise after promise, we keep our readers engaged. Don’t tell the reader, of course. Instead, hint at the trouble to come; tease the reader into ﬁnding out. Do it right away, too. We need to establish our CDSQ on the first page. If we can accomplish it in the ﬁrst paragraph, great.
Every promise, no matter how minor, should either set up or pay off a future scene. Once a promise is paid, make another. The most considerable promises, like the central dramatic story question, should be paid off in the climax.
For an example of a CDSQ, look at Wings of Mayhem.
After unknowingly stealing his trophy box, can Shawnee Daniels a forensic police hacker by day; cat burglar by night, stop the serial killer who's destroying her life before he murders everyone she loves?
If your story drags, it’s often due to the lack of tension and/or suspense. In other words, you haven’t made your reader worry enough. How can we ﬁx a dragging plot? By making more significant, more critical, promises. Promises that will devastate our hero and secondary characters. Promises they might never recover from.