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Monday, February 05, 2007


Suspense is the key to getting published. Agree?

Consider that the average editor is inundated with hundreds--maybe thousands--of manuscripts every month. How much of each manuscript do you think editors have time to read? I've heard from several editors* that they'll read the first paragraph, first page, or maybe as much as the first chapter. That's all.

Unless…you hook them.

To hook the big fish, you need bait. The universal bait for fiction is SUSPENSE. Suspense taps into the 2
nd most powerful human force: curiosity. Remember around Christmastime when you were little. If your parents told you not to look under their bed or in the hall closet, what's the first thing you want to do? Hmmm...

You need to do the same thing to the reader. Make the reader yearn to turn (the page, that is.) You must make your story stand out from the rest, and a suspenseful first paragraph, first page, first chapter…will do just that.

Consider the following two openings. Which would you continue reading?

#1 Adrienne was a very friendly twelve-year-old girl. She lived in suburban Maine with her mother and father and three brothers. She had wavy, strawberry-blond hair, a flurry of freckles, and a girl-next-door smile. She was left-handed and considered smart for her age. Her room was a bit of a mess but nothing like her brothers'. There were times when she liked to draw or play games. But mostly, she liked to sleep.

#2 Adrienne sat bolt upright in bed. It was the dream again…each one more real than the last. And this night topped them all. She'd felt it--his hand on her shoulder. She could still feel the cold fingernails as they slid across her skin. She shivered in the silence…until CRACK! Adrienne jumped. It sounded like one of the tall oaks outside had lost a limb. Slowly, she peeled back the curtain and looked out into the night.

I'm guessing you'd probably keep reading number two. I know I would. Why? What's the difference. Author #1 began with character building--not a bad thing, but in a big lump, at the beginning? Deadly. Author #2
front loaded suspense, figuring if you keep turning pages, you'll eventually get to the character building anyway.

So, how do you build suspense? For each of the next several days, I'll post some of my favorite
suspense techniques. Until then, {ahem} I'll keep you waiting. ;-)

*And, of course, that's jumping the gun a bit because before your manuscript actually gets read by a publisher, it will have to be read and accepted by an agent. Agents will often read a little more.


everlastingscribe said...

Yup, suspense is the key (ah ha ha ha) to unlocking the door of reader curiousity. :-D I was told by a Timothy Zahn *all time favorite author* that thankfully, readers are more forgiving than agents/publishers. So, you hook an agent/publisher/editor you know you aren't going to let anyone else down.

WayneThomasBatson said...

True enough. That God for readers who are forgiving! lol

Josh said...

may I ask what the first most powerful human force is since the 2nd most powerful human force is curiosity. lol :)

WayneThomasBatson said...

Love, Sir Josh. In the immortal words of Huey Lewis:

It don't take money and it don't take fame

Don't need no credit card to ride this train.
Tougher than diamonds and stronger than steel

But you won't feel nothin' 'til you feel

You feel the power
just feel the power of love.

Amy said...

Oh my! Huey Lewis!

The very first concert I ever attended wasn't anything "cool" like the rest of my friends who saw the Beastie Boys or some other wild teenage stars. I was eight years old sitting on the top of my father's shoulders, in the 102 degree heat of July. The county fairgrounds were dusty and crowded with middle-aged fans of -- Huey Lewis and The News! I had the time of my life and didn't care that other kids weren't into this band. I walked off of those fairgrounds with a poster in my hands of my "favorite" singer and his band. It was magic to me, as so many events were at the age of eight.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Awwww...that's so cool. Amazing the power of a father (or mother) spending a special time with a child. Good word, Amy.