This week’s Tuesday Tip is about something essential, something crucial that you MUST have in your writing. Without it, the scenes between your action sequences will fall flat, and readers will get bored and take a break from reading your book or–gasp–stop reading it altogether!
Are you sweating yet? Nervous? You should be. Keep reading.
This Tuesday’s Tip is about–
Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!! Tension and Suspense.
Do you see what I did there? That’s what you should be doing in your writing. Tension and suspense go hand in hand with conflict. To read that Tuesday Tip, click here. Suspense keeps the readers turning the page, asking questions, and wondering what will happen next.
When do you add Suspense and Tension?
You may think suspense and tension belong in your action scenes, and you would be correct, but mainly they belong in the scenes between the action scenes. Suspense creates build-up, anticipation, the promise that something will happen–usually something bad. Think of it as the foreboding dark clouds before the storm.
How to add Tension and Suspense
Tease the reader with future events. Let the reader see the problem before the protagonist does.The reader will fear for the characters, knowing that they are in danger.
One way of doing this is to change perspective. The reader will learn information the protagonist does not through the eyes of another character. This is a great way to show information the protagonist might not be aware of or understand clearly.
Reveal the Plan
You might be tempted to conceal what your character plans to do to add suspense, but contradictory to belief, revealing their plans and motives adds suspense.
But you just gave it all away! Now all that’s left to do is stop the villain and save the day, and the protagonist just said how he’s going to do it, so I might as well stop reading this book now. Wrong. All you gave away was the plan, not future events. This is where you add a dilemma, a twist, something your character didn’t consider or can’t predict. Let them make the plans. Make sure they feel good about them too, and then sweep the rug out from under them. The characters–and your readers–will be surprised.
Don’t forget the Antagonist’s plan. Knowing their plan when the protagonist doesn’t will add suspense.
And what better way to reveal a plan than in song!
In The Lion King, Scar’s plan (plot might be a more accurate word) is told in the song “Be Prepared.” Really, considering how dumb hyenas are, this was a rather catchy way to help them remember their part in it, don’t you think? Before Mufasa dies, we know he’s toast. We totally see it coming. This does not ruin the moment for us when he actually does. If anything, the viewer is rewarded with the feeling of foreboding doom while we watch Scar’s plan unfold, unhindered before our eyes. We shout at Simba to stop meowing at a lizard and to get the Hell out of the ravine. Run, you idiot! Watch out Mufasa! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You feel the pressure when you have a task to complete by a deadline. Your character and your reader can feel it too. Add a sense of urgency by creating a deadline for your character to complete their mission.
Example: The Hobbit
The dwarves have to get to the Misty Mountain by Durin’s Day before the last light fades in order to locate the hidden keyhole. If they don’t, they won’t be able to enter the Misty Mountain and reclaim their home.
Add a Dilemma
When the protagonist isn’t battling the antagonist, they should be battling their mind. Give the character something to sweat about between action scenes. Create a dilemma, a choice, a conundrum that they have to resolve.
Example: The protagonist must choose for one person to die in order for another to live.
Example: They must do something they swore never to do again.
Tip: Let the reader be privy to your character’s thoughts during these scenes. Their doubt, dread, and anxiety will fuel suspense and keep the reader hooked.
Apply Murphy’s Law Generously
If something can go wrong in life, it usually does. In literature, it SHOULD. Give your protagonist a full-proof plan and then foil it. Don’t let your character’s plan succeed without a hitch.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT end your chapters on a peaceful note. This is a great place for a reader to rest their bookmark … and stop reading for good. End your scenes, chapters, and series with a shocking revelation, a precarious predicament, or other suspenseful event.
George R.R. Martin does this well in his Game of Thrones series. But I’m tired of using A Game of Thrones as an example, so I’m going to reference The Walking Dead.
Example: In season two, when the farmhouse is overrun by walkers,the season ends with the characters getting separated and running for their lives. Who lives? Who dies? Who is that cool, badass character with the zombies on leashes. Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!
It happens again in a later season when the prison is overrun by the Governor. Once again we are left with unanswered questions. Cliffhangers almost caused me to purchase cable; they will sell books. Trust me.
That’s all I have to say about suspense . . . for now. Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!
Hope you enjoyed. Please comment below. I love hearing from you. Praise is nice. I get a lot of it from my Tuesday Tips, but how about some praise for authors who use suspense well. Who is an author that left you hanging?