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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Suspense Technique #2

Tonight's suspense technique is in one aspect related to Mystery. In fact, when you think about it, all suspense techniques begin with a kind of mystery.

Tonight, we take a look at the suspenseful power of:


Suppose you're walking through a park and come across a little girl sitting on the curb and sobbing uncontrollably. What's the first thing you'll ask her? "What's wrong, sweetie?"

Okay, maybe "sweetie" isn't your style, but I bet you'd still ask her what's wrong. It's only natural when we see someone experiencing some intense emotion to wonder why? For this technique to work, you begin your tale with a main character exhibiting an intense emotion. It doesn't have to be sadness. It can be any emotion at all. Just make it intense. Intense anger, intense fear, intense anxiety, intense joy--Intense! And, as always, remember to show not tell.

This type of hook works because the reader wonders WHY the character is so happy, sad, angry, etc. The reader reads on to find out.

Here's an example:

1. Detective Black glanced back over his shoulder. His partner--for once--had been true to his word and driven away after dropping Black off. A cool wind whispered through the pines and pulled at the last brown, shriveled leaves that fall had not claimed from the oaks. Black navigated the stones with detached familiarity. He'd been there enough, but he was not at home there…never would be.

Black's knees buckled as he walked around the hill. He saw the stone. He saw the dates. He saw the name. He swallowed back his guts and approached the site. He pulled a small brown mass from his coat. It was a little stuffed bear wearing a football helmet. He gently laid it by the stone. I very like that, Daddy, he would have said. No strength could hold back the torrent. He fell to his knees and embraced the stone. His body wracked with sobs. He choked, trying in vain to say his name.

Feel like you've got the hang of the Intense Emotion Suspense Technique?

Now, it's your turn. Write an opening line, paragraph or two that
will really hook us using Intense Emotion. Post it here.

Once I have twenty or thirty of them, I'll have my veteran Quality Fiction Team {ie: my lovely wife and me} select a winner who will receive a signed copy of Isle of Swords OR
The Door Within Paperback with "Lost Chapters!"

Only two entries per person, so get crafting and submit them when they are ready!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Suspense Technique #1

Suspense Technique #1 of 7

I begin with a golden oldie, tried-and-true, and probably already familiar to you:
This type of hook has been around since the dawn of fiction, but if anything, it has only become a more potent force with age. Mystery simply means to show the reader a glimpse of something enticing, but not tell them what it is…yet.

Mystery fiction and thriller fiction often begin with a crime: a theft, a kidnapping, a murder. There are interesting clues left at the scene (or no clues), but the case is as of yet unsolved by the detective/ protagonist--and especially not by the reader!

But to employ this technique, you don't need to be writing a traditional detective story within the mystery genre. You can hook the reader with mystery in any genre you write. Just begin the story with something that is unknown to the reader and make it as alluring as possible. And try to do this right at the beginning of your tale. Here are some examples of how mystery might be employed in the opening lines:

1. The voice on the other end of the phone was frantic, breathless…urgent. "Go! Go now!" he said. "It's locker 44 in the basement of the train station."
"I don't understand," Margaret said. "How does this involve me--?"
"Shut up!" said the voice. "There's no time. Go now. If the others find out you have the key, they'll do anything to stop you."
"I'm calling the police," Margaret said, wiping tears away. "I'll give them the key."
"I wouldn't blame you," said the voice. "But if the police go to that locker, they won't find what you can find if you go RIGHT NOW. Margaret, I'm begging you. Go to the locker now. If you don't, you'll miss the one chance to change the way you are. You know what I'm talking about…don't you, Margaret?"

Okay, so here we have mystery on several levels: a) what in the world is in the locker? b) who is this person on the other end of the line? c) Who else is after the key? d) What is it about herself that Margaret wants desperately to change? e) And finally, how will whatever is in the locker help Margaret change?

Here's another:

2. Zach knew better than to upset his grandfather. The guy was pushing seventy, but he still had broad shoulders and those ridiculously swollen forearms from thirty some-odd years working as a blacksmith. His temper, like the hot coals in his forge, was not to be trifled with. Still Zach wanted to know, and for the first time in a hundred visits to Grandpa's house, the old man had left the storm doors unlocked.

A little more subtle here. a) Zach knew better--how? b) What did Zach want to know? c) Why had Zach's grandfather kept the storm doors locked? d) And what is down in the storm cellar?

Last one:

3. "Get him out of here!" commanded Nazlund, pointing through the window at the approaching shadow of Lysander on the front walk. For a moment, Isabelle thought Nazlund might conjure a lightning bolt, but thankfully, the guards ran to the door and intercepted Lysander.
"Troublemaker," Nazlund muttered.
Isabelle nodded. That's exactly what Lysander was. The nerve of that old wizard scaring me like that. "Beware of the child you carry," he says. How dare he--"Oh, OH!! It's happening. Ah, the pain! Help me!"
Nursemaids flew into action, and Nazlund stepped aside to let them work. "Bear down, m'lady," said one of the maids.
"Here it comes," said the other.
Isabelle grunted and pushed with all her might. She could feel the pressure, and then…a sudden release. The room went silent. The nursemaids stared. Even Nazlund backed away.
"What?" Isabelle cried. "What's wrong with my child?"

Yike, every mother's nightmare. The mystery here includes: 1) What does Lysander the wizard know about Isabelle's child? 2) Is Nazlund the one Isabelle should be listening to? 3) And of course, what is wrong with Isabelle's child?

Feel like you've got the hang of the Mystery Suspense Technique?

Now, it's your turn. Write an opening line, paragraph or two that
will really hook us using mystery. Post it here.

Once I have twenty or thirty of them, I'll have my veteran Quality Fiction Team {ie: my lovely wife and me} select a winner who will receive a signed copy of Isle of Swords OR
The Door Within Paperback with "Lost Chapters!"

Only two entries per person, so get crafting and submit them when they are ready!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Suspense Continued...

Yesterday, I talked about how important it is to build suspense early in your story--the first sentence or paragraph if possible. Here are some of my favorite "first sentence" or "first paragraph" hooks:

1. “Like silent, hungry sharks that swim in the darkness of the sea, the German submarines arrived in the middle of the night.”

2. “Judd Thompson and Vicki Byrne were the only ones left. Their parents and older siblings had disappeared right out of their clothes a few days before.”

3. “I am Miguel. For most people it does not make so much difference that I am Miguel. But for me, often, it is a very great trouble.”

4. “No one ever opened the door at the bottom of the basement stairs. No one ever talked about it either. It was simply understood: leave that door alone.”

5. “These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”

6. “Adventures are funny things. They may fall out of a tree, appear down a seldom trodden path, or even arrive in an envelope, but they always begin the same way. Adventures always begin with the unexpected.”

7. “Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”

8. “When I was a kid, my parents always told me there was no such thing as monsters. With all my heart, I wish that were true.”

Two tasks for you, if you are interested:

A. Post one of your favorite "first sentence" or "first paragraph" hooks. Tell what you like about it.

B. I will sign and ship a copy of Isle of Swords for the first person who can name all of the book titles these hooks come from, and identify the hooks that I wrote. {Here's a hint: My hooks probably aren't as good as the others!} ;-)

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.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Visit from a Loremaster...

After a long day--and night of writing--Christopher and I retired to our new favorite haunt, The Banshee. Christopher has the brilliant idea of bringing books with us to give away to the manager if we can find her. So we do. We meet Bobbi the manager, talk to her about how edifying we felt the place was--a balm to a fantasy writer's soul. She brings us Banshee hats, buys us a round, and later…brings by this incredible gentlemen. He looked to me as if he walked off the cobblestone streets of old Dublin. Thinning gray curls waving on top, mischievous arched brows, and a stark white stache and beard. Bobbi introduces him as the owner's father and a member of the Irish Republican _ _ _ _ _ _ _? Neither Christopher nor I could remember that 3rd word, but it wasn't Army. This gentleman gestured for us to sit and said, "Let's have a conversation." He began to unfold the lore of the Banshee: how the place is haunted, full of magic, built with love. He told us of a forehead-tapping spectre and of the furniture and panneling, all made/crafted from the wood of the original building. Upon this gentleman's leaving, he told us that, it was his honor to meet us. US. He was kind, but wrong. The honor was all ours. What a cool night.