The Steps for Bringing Out Suspense (In a Scene)
Do I have the nerve to do this? I don't know. I stay after, Mrs. Neal looks up at me, and I say, "Knock knock."This has the first and critical element of suspense: Will she actually have the nerve to talk to Mrs. Neal, or won't she? More generally, will she achieve her goal or solve her problem.
But it's just the first element. It's not enough.
The above fails, totally, because I created and resolved the suspense in the same paragraph! That's a recipe for failure. The second step of creating suspense is prolonging.
Do I have the nerve to do this? I don't know.
Changing the OddsThe third element of suspense is making the failure seem likely.
I stay after, Mrs. Neal looks up at me, my mouth isn't opening . . . I give up.
The Path OutSuccess, yeah, but I have made the failure seem so unlikely I have painted myself into a corner. I can, if worst comes to worst, just jump out: "Then I change my mind and say 'Knock knock'."
But unexlainable jumps are not ideal writing. Building a plausible path out is better:
I stay after, Mrs. Neal looks up at me, my mouth isn't opening . . . I give up. But I cannot, simply cannot, turn around and walk out the door and face my life . . . I NEED to change something. Somehow. "Knock knock."Building a path out can (and should) deepen the scene or the character. You are explain why the character did what she did.
So I decide to talk to her. "Knock knock."That's "okay" writing. But not good writing. The punch -- resolution of the suspense -- is "knock knock". Don't warn the reader it's coming. (And this is a bad time to "tell" -- the "show" does it all.) Read the paragraph above, where I have taken out that offending line.
PerspectiveIt is pretty natural to think of writing as being a lot of conflict-resolution. And, as you can see, conflict has the potential for suspense.
Then the focus is on making the conflict as big or important as possible. That works for suspense too, but it's still just one part of suspense. And here, the conflict was somewhat trivial, but it still created the opportunity for suspense.
This is Not a lot of Suspense
A lot of websites will teach you how to have conflicts with more suspense. Like, have her life be on the line. Or the future of the galaxy. My example is about a somewhat trivial decision, even in the context of this story.
And that flagrantly reveals my attitude. I like emotion. I like suspense, and if I am going to have it in my scene, I want to do it well. This is not a webpage about how to have a good start to your book with an important conflict that hooks the reader like a struggling fish and gets resolved at the end. It's about those little potential suspenses that can infect any scene.
July 16th, 2106. Good writers use these techniques all of the time; I'm not trying to suggest anything new. But I haven't seen this advice written down -- not this completely, not in this way.