Several years ago I was sharing a chapter of Rules for Giving with a critique group. When copies of the manuscripts were passed back to me, one member of the group scrawled in the margin: “Conflict! Conflict! Conflict! I have always remembered that, so when guest blogger Lucy Adams offered to post about suspense, I jumped at the chance for her to share it with readers of this blog.
Today I’m going to consider a very complex and elusive concept, without which, however, it’s almost impossible to create any serious dramatic work. Yes, that’s suspense. If you want to fascinate the reader and make him worry about the fate of the characters, then I advise you to read this article to the end. And I believe you won’t regret it.
Suspense is a state of anxious waiting, a long-lasting anxiety of the reader, and a set of techniques used for the immersion in this condition. In other words, it is a state of maximum engagement of the audience in the plot of the story. Of course, this state is called consciously by a pen wizard with the help of special techniques.
#1 The Reader's Sympathy
The first thing you should pay attention to is the fact that the reader will never experience the anxiety and suspense toward the antipathetic hero. Therefore, the writer should prepare to create suspense at the stage of planning.
In fact, the suspense is so complicated phenomenon that its creation requires serious effort. I won’t be mistaken if I say that often the story itself is constructed in such a way as to arouse the reader's suspense. After all, it is remote in space and time impact on the psyche of the reader.
To create the effect, I believe you should start with the personality of the protagonist. You need to seriously work on it to make it attractive to the reader. Remember the rule: if there’s no sympathy for the main character, there’ll be no suspense as well!
#2 Dramatic Situations
The way to the suspense lies in a series of dramatic situations. Without getting too deep into terminology, I will explain: to make the story really interesting, the protagonist needs to get into a stalemate, requiring the mobilization of all his physical and moral strength, as well as the manifestations of the best qualities. That is when the main character fights with a powerful antagonist or insurmountable external circumstances, the reader is imbued with sympathy and empathizes him (of course, provided that the goal of the hero is familiar and comprehensible).
If these conditions are met, the author has everything to arouse the reader's suspense. This is typically accomplished by the following method:
The author intentionally gives or shows the reader the mortal dangers faced by the main character, and then coolly leads him directly into the trap. The reader, knowing in advance about the threatening character of mortal danger, experiences the suspense, being in a state of anxiety for the fate of the protagonist.
All seems pretty simple, but in practice, the creation of such a situation requires considerable effort and compliance with the above conditions.
Suspense and Surprising Effect
We’ve just examined how to call for suspense. However, in addition to the described method, there is another one, which leads to the creation of the so-called surprising effect, a state very close to suspense.
The effect of surprise arises when neither the protagonist nor the reader is not aware of the impending mortal danger. The event happens unexpectedly and causes the reader a momentary shock.
The difference between suspense and the surprising effect is in its duration: the first can be stretched in time while the latter is a momentary phenomenon. And, of course, it’s much easier to create the effect of surprise.
I believe it makes sense to vary these techniques, giving the reader the opportunity to get used to either suspense or surprising effect.
Does Any Literary Work Need Suspense?
I think no. Even if to put aside the descriptive prose and various philosophical parables, extremely topical story requires suspense. All depends on the purpose of the author. The suspense is like the icing on the cake; it’s a nice emotional addition! However, if you don’t include suspense in your book, it doesn’t mean it will be unpopular, uninteresting, and unprofitable. I wish you to use suspense wisely when working on your books.
Lucy Adams is a blogger from a service that provides high-quality essay writing services in the U.S. This diligent and open-hearted author is always ready to cover an intriguing topic. Moreover, research is free. Lucy loves literature, education, language learning, self-development, psychology, and many other niches. Simply put, she’s a generalist. Feel free to share your ideas with the blogger and be sure, very soon you’ll get grounded response.