Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Suspense rises when readers know something the protagonist does not.

Suspense is a sensation of allure and excitement mixed with apprehension, tension, and anxiety developed from an unpredictable, mysterious and rousing book. Suspense rises when readers know something the protagonist does not. A bomb under the table. A killer behind a door. Of course, as a reader, they are powerless to intervene to prevent it from happening.

Are suspense and surprise the same thing? 
There is a distinct difference between suspense and surprise, and yet writers confuse the two. Two characters are having a chat at the kitchen table. All of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. A bomb had been under the table. Readers are surprised, but before the surprise, it was an ordinary scene, of no special consequence.

Now, we’ll change it into a suspense scene. The bomb is underneath the table and readers know it, probably because they saw someone place it there. Readers know the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock on the wall. Readers hear a character say it’s a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because readers are participating in the scene. They want to yell at the book, “There’s a bomb under the table!”

In the first case, we gave readers ten seconds of surprise when the bomb explodes. In the second, we have provided them with ten minutes of suspense.

What is the source of tension in my novel?

Whether you're reading a dramatic saga, an action-packed mystery or a creepy horror story, conflict is the source of tension, which drives all works of literature. However, not all conflicts are the same. For example, protagonists may be battling their own inner demons.

Person versus person is the showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist. Throughout the story, these two characters try to be smarter than the other is. There will be momentary victories for each of them. However, by the conclusion, one should emerge from the battle as the winner. The protagonist should face the antagonist at the end of the novel and should defeat him.

Person versus nature finds protagonists in a struggle against their environment. This could involve supernatural phenomena or being just trapped on a deserted island. Throughout the story, the characters will fight for their lives against prevailing conditions, and the survivor may experience changes in their view of life.

Person versus society. Literature is full of characters who stand up for their convictions by publicly taking a stand against external social forces. The protagonist is at odds with an ideology or group. Willing to advocate what's right, they should suffer consequences from their position as they work to change the status quo.

When you write an active scene, consider this checklist:
  1. Decide specifically what the protagonist's immediate goal is. (To get the woman in the red dress to go to a motel with him.)
  2. Write this clearly in the scene. (Tom realized he only had three hours to get her to the motel and still get home by midnight.)
  3. For yourself only, write down, clearly and briefly, what the "scene question" is. (Will the woman in the red dress go to the motel with him?)
  4. In the scene, once you have stated the goal, set up the opposition: (“Go to a motel with you? I prefer a hotel with a good band.”)
  5. Plan the maneuvers and steps in the conflict between the two characters you have set up.
  6. Write the scene in real time, moment-by-moment with no summary.
  7. Devise a disastrous ending to the scene; a surprise, which answers the scene question badly and leads, inevitably, to another scene. (Claire stops by the bar and says, “Hi honey. The church is closed for repairs. I thought I'd come and watch some baseball with you. Who's the lady in the red dress?”) (A reversal sets up another scene.)
----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://smarturl.it/novsec

Lary Crews