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 So when the power goes out, the reader doesn't know if it is weather related, outdated electrical, or that the power has been cut by the villain.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