Getting to the good stuff: Act 2
Writing a suspense is all about the adventure, romance, suspense and disasters that happen in the middle of the novel. A great suspense should pick up speed as the hero/heroine launches into the second act.
All the great stuff happens during the Guts phase – confronting fears, reaching out in the darkness for the girl’s hand, stealing a kiss, failing big, learning something new about yourself and summoning your courage.
The overall concept is Make it Worse. At the start of every chapter, the character will have choices. He’ll contemplate these choices, weigh them against possible outcomes, consider his motivations and then move forward into the danger, during which something bad will happen he didn’t expect, and will cause him to contemplate his next choice.
What’s in Act 2….which I like to call: The Guts
In the Guts of the Book, there are 4 things that have to happen. We’ll talk about them over the next two weeks here at MBT.
First: G = Growing Relationship of the Hero/Heroine
If a suspense has any romance at all, it will be developed during the second act of the novel. For a true genre romantic suspense, the romance thread is half of the story thread, and must be woven like a braid into the story in rhythm. Often genre suspense novels also have elements of romance, even if is a straight genre suspense.
Developing the romance thread.
Usually the hero/heroine are thrown together as a result of the compelling nature of the event that will happen.
However, at the beginning they are far from perfect for each other.
~ External Obstacles – each wants something different – whether it’s to tell the police, or to run instead of fight, or even they have different ideals. Sometimes they’ll start the story with external obstacles – ie, in Dante’s Peak, the Mayor doesn’t want to alert the town to the volcano because she doesn’t want to start an unnecessary panic. The hero, having lived through it before, doesn’t want lives lost, even if it costs the town their tourist status. The obstacles will be obliterated as the story goes on, but like all romances, they should keep the hero/heroine apart.
~ Internal Obstacles – usually things from their past, or futures goals that conspire to keep them apart – fears, prejudices, career goals, etc. Ie, in Dante’s Peak, he’s lost someone to tragedy, and she has two small children she wants to protect. Also, he is a volcano guy…he travels all the time. She is the mayor. Of course, these obstacles are gone when the town is covered in ash.
In Expect the Sunrise, the external obstacles are differing goals – Andee wants to hike down the mountain by herself, Mac doesn’t want her to go alone because he thinks she might be the terrorist and he’s not letting anyone go outside his eyesight. Internal goals – Andee is a bush pilot, and she’s never met anyone who wants to live her rustic lifestyle. Also, her parents were separated because her father was an FBI agent. Mac is a FBI agent and doesn’t want a wife getting in the way of his career.
During the course of the story, they’re going to discover that the other person has some trait that they desperately need – patience, trust, wisdom, something they admire, and something they lack.
Try this – to get to the Obstacles, as well as the things they admire, ask your characters: Why and Why Not?
Why is this person perfect for them? We explored this more fully in our Romance series last year. But simplified, we fall in love because we share values, because our significant other completes us and makes us better people.
But they also need obstacles. Ask Why Not. Why can’t they be together right now? What external and internal elements keep them apart?
At some point in the story, they will discover
1. They love this person.
2. In order to be with this person, they have to surrender something.
3. They will decide they can’t surrender it. (Black Moment).
4. Something will happen to make them realize how stupid they are (or how much they need the other person) or how miserable they are without them.
5. They will make the sacrifice and find their happy ending.
As your plotting your story, you want to weave in these romantic plot points – usually the black moment in the relationship is right before or right after the climatic moment.
In Expect the Sunrise, Mac finds out that Andee is the pilot who didn’t come to his aid when his brother was dying. He has vowed to never forgive her – but he’s already come to respect…even fall for her. So, now he has to decide what he will do with their romance. Andee’s black moment comes when she discovers that Mac is FBI – and she doesn’t’ want to be involved with an FBI agent. She rejects Mac and they walk away from their future together until that climatic moment when Andee’s life is threatened, and Mac decides he’s going to fight to win her heart, and Andee realizes what a fool she is.
Sometimes the black moment takes place right after the climatic moment, when they go back to their lives, and discover there is no room for them in it.
Because it’s a suspense romance, ending with the romance, and the knowledge that the two will be together forever is important. To keep the romance sizzling to the end, don’t tie up the romantic thread until AFTER the climatic moment, when they’ve face their darkest fears, realized the truth and can now come to each other a new person.
But how do you get them to that climatic moment?
We’ll talk about that…tomorrow!