This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘pace’

How to Build Suspense in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on April 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Writing about suspense in a NOVEL is all about building anticipation for your readers. To do this you offer hints at what is to come, but you give them no answers until the very end of your novel. The purpose in writing suspense is to give your reader something about which to worry, to encourage them to read more of your novel. It also gives them a puzzle to unravel, which is a fun thing to many readers.

The secret to suspense? It’s sort of like a magic act. You give them first one clue, then another and another, yet all the while you have them look in the wrong direction. When you do finally deliver your solution, or the Prestige as they say in the illusion industry, you do so with a flourish and fanfare. “Ta-da!” It’s at this point the reader realizes they’ve been watching the wrong hand the entire time.

Here are some techniques to establish and build suspense in your novel.

1. Build suspense from the very start of your novel. Get your reader hooked and wanting more right away.

2. Pose an intriguing question. Is this character insane or a master artist of disguise? Did the character really die or has he simply planned an elaborate hoax to sidestep his child support payments?

3. Place your characters in unusual situations. Maybe your character finds a large hole in their yard where none existed yesterday.

4. You can create a sense of impending doom. Might your character run across a field as one lightening strike after another closes on him?

5. Vary the pace of your novel. As the suspense builds, you might wish to speed up the pace of your story. (Read this for more on PACE IN YOUR NOVEL.)

6. The use of deception is another wonderful tool to increase the suspense in your novel. In effect, have your characters lie to throw off your reader as to the true nature of things.

7. Deadlines or immediacy is another valuable tool you can use to increase the suspense. How many times have you seen the character glance at the ticking clock on the atomic bomb as he attempts to dismantle it?

8. It’s often beneficial to have a second character involved in the suspenseful situation. You can have the two characters ricochet off of each other for added suspense. your reader  will never know which one is going to die when there are no red-shirts in the cast?

9. Play up to people’s natural fears. If you focus on universal fears such as arachnophobia, (spiders), Musophobia (mice), Coulrophobia (clowns), or Glossophobia, (speaking in public), you’ll capture the imagination of a wider range of readers. If you focus on things that don’t concern most people, Motorphobia (automobiles) for example, as you might suspect, fewer people will get emotionally involved in the storyline.

10. The close shave. Suspense can be built upon the near-miss, too. You know the routine. It’s when the bullet whizzes past the hero’s head.

Of course, with few exceptions, you should probably solve the mystery for your reader by the end of your novel. How would you feel if you read a four-hundred page tome and never found out, “who done it?”

There is one major pitfall to writing suspense, however. As with all sleight of hand, it’s in the delivery.  Should you reveal too little, your reader may lose interest in your novel. If you reveal too much, they have no reason to continue reading. It’s a delicate balance, but a learnable skill.

I hope by now you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”

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The Secrets to Pace in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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As you write your novel, you’ll find conflict is a key tool in developing the readers’ interest and conflict goes hand-in-hand with the pace of your scenes. If what I call the Read-Speed is slow, the impact of your conflict is much diminished. Further, as an author, you should pay great attention to the speed at which your novel reads. If it’s overall pace or Read-Speed is tedious, the reader will set your book down. Now, there are any number of techniques by which an author can increase the pace of his story and I’ll cover some of the best in this blog post.

One often ignored practice is to manipulate the amount of white space on the page. To clarify what I mean, imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, top to bottom, side to side, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower the reader, slow the pace and make for difficulty when reading. In contrast, white space makes for a faster read and a better rhythm. The mere fact the reader flips the pages more often also gives the illusion of speed.

Write in short, choppy sentences, in particular when employing dialogue. Your sentences should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for faster reading which, in turn, increases the tempo.

One secret often missed is working with sentence fragments, which work well to increase the pace of your writing. Of course, fragments are frowned upon in the writing world, yet the judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting scenes that hinge upon the conflict in your novel, well-used and well-positioned fragments can increase the excitement, and thus, the pace of the conflict. Always. Every time. Like this. Use discretion, however, for you can lose control if you’re not careful. In fact, I reviewed a book the other day and put it aside after reading the first paragraph. Its one-sentence construction covered at least two inches of page space, contained four hyphens and three semicolons. It was absolutely unintelligible. The moral is exercise caution when writing in sentence fragments.

You can utilize shorter words to boost the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader, slows the pace. Review your four or longer syllable words and consider replacing them with diminutive, or rather, shorter and easier to pronounce synonyms. For example, you might reconsider the use of the word, “antagonism,” when “anger” will suffice.

Be cautious of argot the middling may not twig. That is to say, don’t use terminology your average reader won’t understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows to a snail’s speed.

Consider the power behind the words you choose. (How many times have we heard this one?) Does your character dream in nightmares or is he haunted by them? I think you can see the power in the word, “haunted” when compared to, “dreams.” As to verbs, consider the difference between someone who “falls” to someone who “collapses”. Falling could mean anything from tripping to going over a cliff. In contrast, “collapse,” assuming it fits the scene, indicates loss of bodily control. If there is no chance your reader will misinterpret what you wrote, they won’t have to reread a sentence to make sense of it. Anytime they reread anything, your pace suffers.

Don’t retell information. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow the reader, and your plot.

Use active voice. Passive voice is a slower read. “He was planning to do the work,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He planned to do the work.” Take your time to learn about active voice. It’s a powerful tool to use when writing your novel.

For more about this subject, consider THIS POST by Gail Martin in her blog titled, “Novel Journey,” or THIS ONE by Roz Denny Fox at her romance blog, “Desert Rose.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will offer better word of mouth advertising in return.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”