By Olivia L.
Ever feel as if your creative writing has potential, but the stylistic details are a little bit off? Or that you have great ideas for stories, but just can’t make them sound right on paper? Never fear! We’re here to help. In honor of Halloween, the literary skill of this issue is suspense.
Edgar Allen Poe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Agatha Christie. These renowned authors have something in common- and it’s not just that they’re all on your assigned reading list. No, these writers are also masters of a little something called suspense. This element of any good mystery, thriller or generally spooky story has the uncanny ability to send a shiver up the spine of not only readers, but writers, too. Why? Because even the best of wordsmiths can have trouble making their plot lines pulsate with the nervous energy trademark to suspenseful stories. But with a little practice, anyone can use suspense to make their book a true page-turner.
Adult thriller author Steven James says that in regards to suspense, a story is “…like inflating a balloon—you can’t let the air out of your story….” If the goal of your plotline is to convey a feeling of suspense, then eliminate anything unnecessary. Flowery adjectives and entire paragraphs of descriptive language have their place, but in a more fast-paced plot line, they’ll just be letting air out of your metaphorical balloon. Keep your language sharp, and your plot turns sharper. Every aspect of your story should be more stream-lined than usual. If you’re not feeling a bit stressed by your storyline, then neither will your readers, so to create suspense, the bare minimum is key.
And yet, even if you keep your writing tight in regards to word choice, an element of suspense is not going to come automatically. Your reader also needs to care about your inevitable climax and, better yet, anxiously await it. Award winning children’s book author Gail Carson Levine suggests doing this by incorporating time, saying that “There needs to be a destination in the future that is looming.” The reader needs to have a definite idea of what they are waiting for and why it matters. Let’s say your main character’s name is Marty, and Marty is waiting to see whether he got accepted into a special school. Okay, great for Marty. But if Marty is a noble orphan with no friends and a cruel caretaker, and this opportunity is his only chance to get out of the situation he’s in until he turns eighteen…we have suspense. Before, all we had were vague details about some random kid and a letter, but now we have a clear definition of what is happening and why it is significant to the protagonist, and in turn, the reader. We want to know the outcome.
Suspense isn’t always necessary. In a story heavy on profound themes, appropriately lengthy language, and less tangible conflicts rather than traditional, more simple plot elements, it’s probably not the best idea. But if you’ve got a plot line that’s sagging in the rising action or is starting to lose your interest, raise the stakes and tighten up the language. You’ll have suspense in no time.