Suspense is often an elusive passage to writing a complete scene
in a story. Continuity, the element of suspense that is overlooked in
writing can be difficult to grasp. At best, suspense is a continuous
series of choppy attempts to scare or keep the reader guessing.
Yet, writing a suspenseful story can be easily accomplished if at
each scene the writer remembers to begin slowly and build the suspense
into a climax that builds onto the next scene. The introductory line
in a scene is the first element and each subsequent paragraph builds
upon the next until the scene is completed.
Writers such as Stephen King are masters at building suspense in
a story. The book _The Shining_ is an example of building suspense so
the reader is terrified to read further, but finds that they must know
what happens next. The formula to writing suspense is to begin with an
incomplete description of what is wrong (i.e. the problem) and increase
the problematic scenario until the situation is reversed and now the
protagonist is confronted with a limited number of choices.
In _The Shining_, King built the suspense into a crescendo of
fear and suspicion between the husband and wife. The climax was an
accumulation of all the suspense in which King brought the protagonist
into a situation where she had to make a choice. Each scene began
with an incomplete and somewhat vague problem (i.e. the death of the
previous caretaker) and how it affected the characters attitudes
(note: attitudes are very, very important in suspense) as each scene
The structure King took with _The Shining_ is indicative of how
to write a completed work of suspense. A chapter in King's book reads
like a textbook on writing suspense. Study the techniques he used in
most of his manuscripts and a pattern will slowly develop. Other
writer's have also mastered the art of suspense using various other
techniques, such as; Clive Barker, Thomas Harris, etc. Some may
believe King and the others are Horror genre writers, but don't
forget that the essence of Horror is suspense.
Please scare me, but slowly is the adage to remember.
J.L. Campbell -- The bottom of the well is the top of the earth.
Originally posted Jun 11 1994, 7:01 am