Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Suspense is Like a Whiskey: It Needs To Be Sipped and Savored

I was in need of a book to read last weekend so I grabbed one at one of those "community book shelves" at my local gym. You know the ones? Leave a book and take a book. In any case, I grabbed one by an author I know and started into it. No, I am not going to bring up the name of the author here, that is not the point.

In this case, it was a historical romantic suspense. I love historical romance and a good suspense is always fun.

As I read it, I started turning on the dissection portion of my brain. What was it about this novel that was drawing me into it. The characters were just OK. The plot was not that, how should I say it, that original. Sure, this author had some great lines, but these didn't go for pages and pages. I can also say those lines did not hook me so I wanted to keep reading to find one more of those gems. Even the first three chapters were not that over-the-top amazing. Good but...

So what was it?

It was the pacing.

This author knew how, in this story, to let tidbits of information out every now and then to make me think about a new piece of the puzzle. Every now and then, she would say one little thing to make me stop and think how that would turn out. Even with the romance she did that. These characters were not hot and heavy in bed every chapter. Instead, she was able to, again, every now and then, drop a subtle glance, a tentative thought, a moment of potential hotness that was going on between them.

Romantic suspense is one of those genres that I turn away a lot. I am overly picky about these darn things and much of it has to do with these small little twists. Look, I read romance so I know about predictability, but that does not mean that I have figured out who the bad guy is by the end of chapter 1. I know the hero and heroine are going to get together, but I don't want to see them ready to move to the alter at the end of chapter 1. Pace it out.

When I think about suspense and pacing, I am reminded of a comment Hitchcock made about building suspense. He described the difference between terror and suspense with a sample scene.

Version A - He could show people sitting around a desk talking for a block of time. They can be talking about any subject and then, at the end of the time, he can blow up the table. That is terror.

Version B - He can show that exact same scene, but right before they start talking, he can show the audience the bomb under the table and the time. Now the suspense builds because we see it and we know what is going to happen.

The key is pacing. The key is know when to drop those nuggets of information to draw the reader in.

So, if you are someone writing romantic suspense, which I should add is a really tough one to write, play around with this. You might find that the struggles you have had stem from the pacing.

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