Friday, February 6, 2009

Creating Suspense without Special Effects...

Ever watch a really suspenseful Hollywood movie and find you can't STOP watching because you're so riveted by what's happening on screen? How does the hero make it through the tunnel unscathed just as the truck explodes, sending fire and debris raining down upon him. How does a tiny figure that can fit into the palm of your hand suddenly grow to mammoth proportions? How does a shot with a few actors in costume suddenly become a scene filled with menacing Orcs numbered in the thousands?

Special effects have become a staple in many Hollywood movies. It seems that almost anything can be created with the help of a blue screen, a computer and a sound studio. Special effects have become so popular that in 1939 an OSCAR category was estatblished dedicated to special effects, one for visual and one for audio. Visual and audio effects help to create an overall movie experience. Color, sound, movement all work together to build drama and suspense because they naturally dazzle the senses.

What about suspense books? Writer's don't have the luxury of writing their prose against a blue screen for a Hollywood film specialist to manipulate into a great action scene the reader can see. Or to have the reader hear that ticking clock or the blood curdling scream the heroine lets loose when the villain finally finds her. Books don't have soundtracks that go along with them. (Although I do admit to making a soundtrack for each book when I write them.) The only thing writers are armed with are words. Granted, those words are powerful...if we allow them to be.

Here are some tricks you can use to help build suspense while writing:
  • Let the reader see the Hero and Heroine in a safe environment before the action starts. For instance, in Cradle of Secrets, Tammie Gardner is in her office grading papers at the University she works at. She has no clue that her world is about to be turned upside down so when it does happen, the reader has already connected with her on a "safe" level and feels how devastating the news she receives really is.
  • Use setting and season along with the 5 senses to create drama. Too much information can bog down your story, but slowly feeding the reader information as the story moves along will help create the image in the reader's mind that danger is afoot. Your readers aren't going to be able to see the small cabin high in the hills or the fact that it is snowing, but you can show them with words that the lights flicker because of old wiring and that it is snowing heavy. So when the power goes out, the reader doesn't know if it is weather related, outdated electrical, or that the power has been cut by the villain. In the dark, anything could happen and it adds to the drama and suspense of the scene.
  • Let the reader in on a secret that the hero or heroine doesn't know. This is especially helpful if you are writing in two different points of views. Let the hero talk to someone else about a particular danger or piece of evidence that the heroine is not aware of. That way when the scene changes to the heroine, the reader knows this information and can anticipate danger before the heroine does, adding drama and suspense.
  • Foreshadow with foregone conclusions that are erroneous. Ever hear a scrape against the window and automatically think that a bush or tree branch is moving in the wind? Most people will explain away little details as being nothing. Of course you (and sometimes your reader) will know that the little piece of information is really a foreshadow of something that is to come.

There are so many ways to build suspense using words. You don't need special effects or a high-priced recording studio to make it happen. When you write suspense, allow your words to become powerful by building the scene in the readers mind. Use all the senses to allow the reader to see, hear and smell the danger ahead.

Until next time, many blessings, Lisa Mondello


PamelaTracy said...

Wow, Lisa, I'm giving a talk at the library tomorrow on writing suspense. Maybe I need to print this out.

Margaret Daley said...

Great suggestions, Lisa. After all a sound track doesn't come with our books.

Jill Kemerer said...

I'm printing this one out! Thanks Lisa, for sharing these great tips on creating suspense.

And now you've got me thinking about soundtracks...

Loved both your LIS books!

Jill Kemerer

Tracy Montoya said...

I love your post, Lisa. With Intrigues, we tend to blow things up first and THEN show the hero and heroine in a safe environment, but I agree that having your reader emotionally connect at a safe moment first can make the suspense more powerful later on!

Lisa Mondello said...

Thanks for the comments about my LIS books, Jill. I'm glad you liked the post.

Tracy, I've done the "blow up" scene first too. In fact, Her Only Protector starts right into the action. I love getting right into a scene.

Margaret, I really wish the soundtrack I make could go with the book. It makes for so much more drama!

Pam, please do print this off. Good luck with your talk tomorrow!

Stephanie Julian said...

Lisa, great ideas. I'm always looking for ways to increase the suspense.

MJFredrick said...

Great post, Lisa. I had the worst time with my last RS. I wanted to lay in the clues of what the target would be. If it was a movie, I could show the hero or heroine watching TV or hearing the news on the radio about the target, but writing it made it so heavy-handed! Finding a balance was really tough.

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks for great tips on building suspense!

Ellen Breen said...

Lisa, very good thoughts... very concrete and useful.

mez said...

I loved reading about building suspense. It's amazing how powerful words are, they can make you hold your breath or your heart to pound!