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Suspense quote

Weekly Spark: Suspense Pacing—Utilizing the Reader’s Imagination

Have you ever watched a scene in a scary movie where the camera pans around the house in a tight zoom from room to room? Nothing bad or frightening is happening in those rooms, but for some reason you know it will. The camera focuses on a person watching TV, another cutting a sandwich with a sharp knife, innocent children playing in the yard. Maybe the musical score is filled with dissonant chords or whiney instruments. Your heart pounds. You contemplate covering your eyes to shield them from the likely assault, or at least having your palms at the ready.

A noise sounds to the right. The camera swings to spot its source. And then …

A small boy asks to go to the bathroom.

That’s right, no hairy monster. No one-eyed man with an ax. And yet you rode the pulse thrumming excitement of all that adrenaline, expecting something great—and loved it.

Deep breath!

This is what we call suspense. Hitchcock used it all the time. M. Night Shyamalan employed it in the movie Signs. It was also what made the film Jaws such a thriller. You thought the shark was coming toward the group of kids splashing in the water—but … no shark. The suspense is not about what happens. It’s what you think could happen.

Suspense is not action. It’s the expectation of something big and sometimes more intense than the event itself. It not only uses the writer’s imagination, but taps into all the possibilities swimming around in the reader’s mind as well. And the reader might fill it in with his or her own deepest, darkest fear—a suspense writer’s gold.

How do you write suspense? Unlike action pacing, suspense is slower, more drawn out, and filled with details that set a tone of expectation, leaving multiple clues of various possibilities. Like the camera angles in the tight zoom of a movie, the author shows very little of what is really there, but leads the reader to believe deadly hazards are all around. There may be a deadened silence, broken only by an eerie sound—footsteps on a vacant walk, the pop of a light bulb burning out, a black crow cawing.

Why do these things make our hearts pound? Because the anticipation of something awful is actually more anxiety producing than the experience of it. The anticipation makes us ask the questions, “What is the next challenge?” and “Can we get through it?” The experience shows us we can. Which is scarier to you? The not knowing.

However, unlike life, where we want these answers right away, the author’s bread and butter is in making the reader wait. So stretch these moments out. Add more description mixed with hints that are crucial to the story so they won’t miss a letter. That’s the essence of suspense.

What is your favorite suspense scene in a book or a movie? How did the writer play on your imagination to create the suspense in your mind?

~*~

Connie AlmonyConnie Almony is the author of At the Edge of a Dark Forest, a modern-day Beauty and the Beast story about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD. You can find her writing book reviews for Jesus Freak Hideout, hosting InfiniteCharacters.com and LivingtheBodyofChrist.Blogspot.com, or hanging out on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

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Learning By Reading

By Rachel Hauck

I found a book that looked interesting to me on Barnes & Noble’s site.

A story set in the ’30s and had some element of football in it. So I downloaded it.

Devoured it. The story captured me. The writing… I didn’t spend half my time rewriting the sentences in my head or pondering why the character was acting without proper motivation.

I told Susie, “You have to read this book!”

And, as it was set in the ’30s and had football element to it, she was keen to give it a go.

Two days later she emails. “I’m mad at you! I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. reading that book.”

By now, I’m dying to talk to her about it because it had some fascinating elements. But she halted me from gushing on and on until she finished.

THEN, we had a long talk, breaking it down, decided what worked, what didn’t, why we liked it, how we could learn from this author.

The story was told from a single point of view in first person present tense. A form Susie and I have both written in the past but due to the more popular third person past, we both changed. There’s a bit more versatility with third-past.

It was told in alternating time lines: 1931-32 and 1938.

The author had good descriptions, good turns of phrase, a solid voice.

True to form, Susie noticed the main protagonist didn’t have a large story arc, but it was understandable. And that’s a trait of literary fiction.

We discussed the changes she did make, why and how.

We discussed the romance and the relationship between the protagonist and the hero.

“I loved them together,” Susie said, “And I was rooting for them, but I never saw why. Like what did he bring to her no one else could and what did she bring to him.”

Good point. You know we talk about the “essence” of a character here at MBT and how the hero and heroine must bring something to the other no one else does. Or sees the true person inside, underneath all the muck.

Luke Danes and Lorelei Gilmore are the perfect example of a couple who are very different but at the core the same and “get” one another. They bring out the best.

Back to the book Susie and I discussed…

We loved the time frame and setting.

We loved the writing.

We loved her phrasing.

She did a great job of obfuscating and deflecting truth.

There was a little girl in the story. The little sister of the heroine. But I KNEW it was really her daughter.

The love affair from the ’31 years gone south but she ended up pregnant. To hide her shame the parents raised the baby as their own

But I was wrong!

I studied how the author wrote the scenes with the little sister to figure out how she left room for this girl to really be her own, but yet wasn’t without lying to me, the reader.

There was a hurricane at the end of the book. A big slam bam finish!

I loved this the best. Because the hurricane was only mentioned twice in the story, almost a throw away line, by the protagonist’s aunt.

But if you’re a smart author, no line of dialog is a throw away!

Turns out the hurricane was making it’s way up the eastern seaboard, wreaking havoc.

It was the perfect foil. When the “big storm” was on its way — they didn’t know it was a hurricane — but I did, as the reader.

I love when plot points are so intricately woven in to the story. But not slapping me in the face.

The ending was the protagonist marrying her man, having a family, waiting for him to return from war. I cried, it was so good.

It hit all of my emotions.

I learned from it, as a writer.

So here’s my challenge to you all.

Take a book you love, pair up with another writer friend, and discuss it. What worked, what didn’t work? What did you learn? How can you incorporate it into your own writing?

I didn’t see the weak character arc until Susie pointed it out.

But she totally missed the layered in hurricane story.

We helped each other see and learn.

And it was fun!

So, go for it. Learn from others. Share.

Happy Reading and Writing.

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ACFW – Are you ready?

successI’m at American Christian Fictions Writers Conference in St. Louis, Missouri this week. The place where writers and authors are gathering to learn craft and pitch their stories. For those that are yet unpublished, the anxiety before pitching can be crushing and the stress intense.

I remember my first time walking into a room of writers waiting to pitch. While most were friendly I couldn’t escape just how anxious many of them were. But then again, that year I didn’t pitch a story.

Once I went through it, boy did I gain a whole new understanding. I’m back again and this time around I’m determined to enjoy the conference, enjoy meeting people and yes, even enjoy pitching. I’m determined to conquer this challenge.

But one thing I know, I cannot do it alone.

So may I humbly offer some scriptures to hold onto?

Scriptures that if you were to walk by me, you might hear me mumbling to myself. You already know I’m a writer. So hey, this shouldn’t be too much of a shock.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

This scripture could be my all time favorite. Why? It’s not me gritting my teeth and muscling through. It’s God giving the strength. I’ve got really puny strength on my own, but with God? I’m tying my tiny row boat to his ship and hanging on as we power through the waves.

This is the day The Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

This is the day He’s given me, I’m to make the most of today and may all those around me see the peace of God and not some curly haired crazy brunette.  This is the season he’s sent for you and me to live. Let’s live it to the fullest, make the most of every conversation and every class at ACFW.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

I pray that your conference experience be all that you want it to be.

If you need prayer or just want to celebrate good news, please stop by The My Book Therapy Booth.

Blessings!

Alena Tauriainen

 

 

 

 

 

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