How important is suspense to your writing?
March 23, 2014
Take one neighbor, tie their hands, get your gun…
Imagine this. You invite your neighbor round for coffee. You don’t like them much, they’re kind of irritating, not really your type. But you start up a friendly conversation anyway. Nothing particularly revolutionary, elaborate or interesting. Just a pleasant, enjoyable chat.
So far, so dull.
While you’re chatting, you casually get a roll of duct tape out of the kitchen drawer. You know, the one you keep for fixing stuff around the house? You come back and tie your neighbor’s hands and feet against the chair. Then I want you to take out your .38 revolver from your closet, release the cylinder, put one bullet in the gun. Just ONE. Then close it up.
Now I want you to put the gun against your neighbor’s head. Nothing has changed. You are still making pleasant, inconsequential conversation. Except once a minute, every minute, you pull the trigger.
I guarantee you that conversation will be the most riveting, suspenseful conversation you and your neighbor will ever have. Because suspense isn’t so much what is happening, but what might happen. It’s a situation in which the outcome is in doubt. You’re asking questions not immediately answered. Posing posing a threat that isn’t being immediately resolved. Raising concerns that are not addressed. The longer you stretch those questions, the longer you delay, the longer you parcel out information without providing answers, the more suspense you generate. Bear that in mind for every sentence you write and you will be able to put suspense at the heart of your work.
So what do you think? How important is suspense in your writing?
Please click the book cover image to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman and her novels.