5 TIPS FOR WRITING SUSPENSE
by Kira Peikoff
I am a traditionally published thriller author. My latest book No Time to Die just hit shelves this week. When I first started writing suspense fiction, though, I had very little idea what I was doing. It took a humble amount of trial and error to get in a groove and overcome basic rookie errors. Now, seven years later, I like to think I’ve figured out some tricks of the trade. I’ve also been extremely lucky to receive the support and mentorship of some of the top names in the biz, like Jack Reacher’s creator Lee Child and the late Michael Palmer. So without further ado, here are some tips for budding thriller writers that I wish I’d known from day one…
1) Structure Scenes like Mini-Novels: Each one should contain its own narrative arc, with rising action and a climactic moment that signals the end of the chapter. It’s good form to finish most chapters on a cliffhanger—especially the first one. A major dramatic question should be raised in the opening scene, and then resolved in an unexpected or unfavorable way to hurl the main character further into the conflict (and thus drag your readers into the story). Get your protagonist in trouble as soon as possible and never let her get too comfortable or too safe. As far as chapter length, I’ve found that an average of five pages (double-spaced, size 12) works well for keeping up the pace.
2) Plot Strategically to Avoid the Sagging Middle: This rookie error is one I had the misfortune of making early on: I wrote the beginning of a book and then abruptly ran out of steam about sixty pages in. When you’re staring down 240 blank pages without a plan, it’s easy to freeze up. Now I have a method. Once I have the main cast of characters and their conflicts, I conceive a new book in four sections. At the end of each section, I devise a major twist to launch into the next section and keep up the narrative momentum. Once I’ve figured out my four big plot points, I go deeper into plotting the concretes of each individual section, dropping red herrings and hints about the twists to come so that they will be logical without being predictable. This is the most challenging part of the process for me and is apt to change when I actually get to writing. I think of the outline like a highway: you can go off-roading from time to time but you get back on the highway to get to your final destination.
The other three tips are:
3) Alternate Character POVs (Point of Views).
4) Obscure POV when useful.
5) Raise questions and delay the answers.
For details and a chance to win a copy of Kira Peikoff’s book No Time to Die, go to: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/5-tips-for-writing-suspense?et_mid=693701&rid=239626420