Are We Keepers of Suspense?
Posted by Sue
Book beginnings and middles give way to endings. If the beginning of your book doesn’t grab the reader, then she or he (usually) won’t read further. If the middles, and ending of your book are not satisfying to a reader, then you’ve lost that reader. Simple wisdom? Yes, but how many books have you read this year that disappointed you? I read several books a week and I have read several this year by writers that lost me as a reader. (As an aside here, I know that all readers will never be pleased with any book.) So how do we keep our story so readers stay satisfied?
According to my mental mentor-writer, Phyllis A. Whitney, suspense is one important key. That doesn’t mean you must have dozens of dead bodies strewn around in your novel. There must be a problem, there must be conflict, there must be a goal. Your main character must be actively involved in solving the problem(s) and in the conflict. If your character just drifts along, letting things happen to her, soon your reader may be yawning and putting your book down. Action is needed.
The more unexpected, unforseen, and unpredictable the outcome, the stronger the story interest, the stronger the suspense. Urgency–if possible, a time limit–increases suspense. Make sure your main character’s purpose is opposed in nearly every scene. What will it cost him if he doesn’t succeed? If your opposition is only a misunderstanding that could be cleared up at any point, it isn’t strong enough.
(Oh, I wish I had a dollar for every romance I’ve ever read when a “misunderstanding” was the only thing that kept apart the main characters! I really dislike “misunderstanding” in books.)
Books full of suspense hold onto a reader. Surprise also helps, but writing about that is for next time.