Reading like a Writer — Suspense
Suspense is perhaps the most important element that keeps readers turning the page or viewers glued to the cinema or television screen. Wanting to know what happens next seems to be a basic human need.
TIMING is a key quality.
Stephen King’s THE DEAD ZONE is the story of a young man who develops psychic abilities after a serious accident. In an important scene early in the book, several pages are devoted to the hero betting on a Wheel of Fortune at a small town fair. He starts to win…
The episode starts on page 36. At the bottom of the page the hero wins for the first time. On page 37 he wins for the second time. At the top of page 38 instinct tells the hero not to play. The clapper stops at 0 and as a result everyone who plays loses. The hero wins again at the top of page 39 and he has his fourth win at the bottom of the page – now other spectators are following his bets. A page and a half goes by before the next win, which occurs halfway down page 41 when the clappers on the Wheel of Fortune slowly nudge through nine numbers before settling on the hero’s chosen number. The sixth and final win is delayed until the top of page 45. The hero places all the money he has won on one number. This time no one else follows him. Spectators watch as the Wheel swings around. The clapper goes through five numbers and then rests on the number chosen by the hero. The clapper seems about to go on to the next number…It teeters on the edge and then rests back. The hero has won again and scooped all the money from the Wheel of Fortune. It’s a lot of words to devote to just one incident but King ensures that the tension is taunt. At the same time we are learning about the central characters and that is important because the story only works if we care about them.
Often the reader or viewer has INFORMATION that the main characters don’t possess.
Film director Alfred Hitchcock said that there was a world of difference between surprise and suspense. A bomb going off in a cafe where a couple sit sipping coffee is a 15 second surprise. In a suspense scene the audience sees an anarchist plant the bomb underneath a table and know it will go off at one o’clock. A couple stroll in and sit down at the table. They order coffee. On the wall above their heads is a clock showing that the time is now quarter to one. The result is 15 minutes of suspense.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sometimes the outcome is certain and suspense revolves around HOW the story is going to unfold
I’m thinking of James Bond films where, however evil the baddie is or however powerful the nuclear bomb or sharp the teeth of the piranha, James is going to walk away at the end. In the same way in Disney’s Aladdin we wait for much of the film for for the boy to use his third and last wish.
You can find more examples of suspense in fiction HERE
Has a book ever kept you awake at night because you simply had to find out what happened next? Or have you missed your stop because you’ve been so engrossed?
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