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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jack-in-the-Box Suspense


Everyone talks about tension in a novel, it’s what keeps a reader flipping the page or scanning along on their e-reader. Tension is suspense. It isn’t mystery. Mystery happens after the deed.  Suspense happens before. As in who kidnapped the CEO’s daughter, opposed to threats to kidnap her.

I liken suspense to the Jack-in-the-Box my brother received for Christmas one year.(Yup, it’s the one pictured, it was back in the 50’s) Ever since that red haired, evil jumped out of his box to the tune of round the mulberry bush, my brother hated clowns.

Turn that crank so the tune plays and the clown jumps out to scare the crap out of any kid. We know he’s gonna pop, so we turn the crank one plink at a time, poised on our knees, necks strained, eyes squinty. One plink, two plink, keep going. You know he’ll scare you but just maybe this time we’ll hear the click before he bursts into your face waving back and forth with lipstick smeared all over his mouth. Every time he wins.

When writing suspense we want the reader to feel he’s in the scene. It’s important to set it up using the senses. The touch of the doorknob, creak of the door, scent of a rotting corpse, shadows in corners, and then plink, plink, plink.

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