On Saturday, June 7, author Victor DiGenti aka Parker Francis did a fun workshop titled, “The Suspense is Killing Me.” Since he’ll be doing it elsewhere, I’m not going to steal his thunder here. You can hear it for yourself if you attend the 2014 FWA Annual Conference in October.
Suffice it to say, even after writing mysteries for the better part of 15 years and reading them for more than 50, I learned some new ideas and the refresher was valuable, too.
I will share a couple of the things I loved, though –
“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Alfred Hitchcock. Wow – just about says it all, for me.
Vic lead us through a couple of scenarios where we could clearly see the difference between a comfortable, well-adjusted hero/heroine vs the hero/heroine who was facing down their greatest fear and finding out that maybe that WASN’T their greatest fear.
Remember, for the mystery and suspense reader, you’ve got to hook them right away and never let them go. Well, okay – you can let them go long enough to catch their breath and then throw them into something even worse!
As a writer, the way to do this is to be really unkind to your characters. Put them in jeopardy. Make them sweat. Leave them hanging. Expose them to the unthinkable and then remove their advantages. Your hero/heroine can only shine as they dare to stand up to those huge challenges. In this case, it is really kind to be cruel. Be a proud troublemaker.
Remember that what’s not said is often a powerful way to involve the reader and build tension. Show your character’s emotional reactions and don’t be afraid to let the reader draw a few incorrect conclusions – after all, that’s part of the mystery puzzle.
Vic recommended that mystery writers might want to read The Fire in Fiction by New York literary agent, Donald Maass. The art of keeping the reader hooked is in learning how to include “micro-tension.”
Suspense is not about a Sunday picnic in the park – unless that picnic involves ticking time-bombs, a genius villain and the potential for full-scale Mayhem!
Keep reading and writing! Nancy Q.