Writing Great Suspense Novels

Seven Tips on Writing Great Suspense Novels

(excerpts from Post by Tony Lee Moral on The Writer’s Dig, May 15, 2017)

  1. The number one rule of suspense is to give your reader information, i.e., there is a bomb in the room or there is a ghost in the room.
  2. Use counterpoint contrast. Per Alfred Hitchcock, “Suspense doesn’t have any value unless it’s balanced by humor.” Comedy can make your writing more dramatic and give your reader a chance to reflect on the suspense.
  3. A good story should start with an earthquake and be followed by rising tension.
  4. Never use a setting as a simple background. Use it 100%. Incorporate them into the drama.
  5. At the same time, avoid the cliché in your locations, such as staging a murder in a dark alleyway or at night. The sense of the unexpected and the idea that turmoil can erupt at any moment, will keep your readers on their guard.
  6. Keep your story moving. Use sudden switches in location to change the setting and promote suspense drama changes. Set up the locations at the beginning and use them for action later on.
  7. Avoid stereotypes whether it is the character or the plot. Make your villains attractive, so they can get near the victims.

 

Body Language As A Tag

Body Language as a TAG

  1. Use body language to add depth to dialog.
  2. Use it because more than 50% of human communication is non-verbal.
  3. Use it to show how your character’s emotions affect his or her actions.
  4. Use it to help you show rather than tell your reader everything.
  5. Use it in moderation. If overused, it can slow your story down.

A few ideas from writerswrite.co.za:

Anger or aggression: shake fist, point finger, stab finger, slam fist on a table, flushed face, throbbing veins in neck, jutting chin, clench fists, clench jaw, lower eyebrows, squint eyes, bare teeth, a wide stance, tight-lipped smile.

Boredom: yawn, avoid eye contact, tap feet, twirl a pen, doodle, fidget, slouch.

Confusion: tilt head, narrow eyes, furrowed brow, shrug.

Defensive: cross arms or legs, arms out with palms forward, hands up, place anything in front of body, hands in pockets.

Embarrassment: blush, stammer, cover face with hands, bow head, trouble maintaining eye contact, look down and away, blink back tears.

Fear: hunch shoulders, shrink back, mouth open, widen eyes, shake, tremble, freeze, rock from side to side, wrap arms around self, shaky hands.

Jealousy: tight lips, sour expression, narrow eyes, crossed arms.

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Deep POV Characters

 

This is a technique that draws us in, so that as the reader we feel one with the POV character. It is as if you are that person. Authors like Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven King), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games), and Cassandra Clare (Shadowhunters) use this technique effectively.

It is best used in novels that seek to thrill the reader or take them on an emotional journey. It is a technique that cannot be perfected overnight.

The Basics:

Limit your character’s knowledge and only reveal the things your character actually knows to keep readers engaged. Cut our filter words like “thought, wondered, or saw.” Just state it, e.g. She wondered how bad the tornado had been. VS. How bad had it been?

Limit your dialog tags. Use attribute tags instead, e.g. “Are you okay?” she asked. VS.  Are you okay?” She reached for his hand, but he pulled it away.

Employ the ultimate show, and don’t tell. Deep POV is all about getting into your character’s head, so avoid as many instances of telling as possible.

Don’t use the passive voice. No action should be done unto someone. Someone should always do it., e.g. Her shoulder was hit. VS. He hit her shoulder.

Be careful when identifying characters. In Deep POV, your character relationships aren’t easy. Use dialog when possible, e.g. Not “John, her brother, stood next to her” but “John stood next to her.” Or “Eric, this is my brother John.”

Relate backstory with memory flashes.

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