Snark on Suspense

A few of us are having a discussion on what makes a suspense story work.

Most have said pacing, a sense of urgency and/or danger with a story that finishes up within a fairly short amount of time with the hero and heroine working together to stay alive or vanquish the threat.

Others claim it can encompass more than one book and be told over a longer period of time.

We're hoping your wisdom can shed some light on this discussion and we can stop kicking the gin pail in frustration.

Miss Snark has the answer you're seeking. It will solve all your problems with this and clarify every single obscure point. Ready?

Tell you tomorrow.


THRILL said...

Miss Snark, the suspense is killing me!

I've turned the page, I want the answer.

kitty said...

Miss Snark has the answer you're seeking. It will solve all your problems with this and clarify every single obscure point. Ready?

Tell you tomorrow.

How many snarklings did Miss Snark hook? ;~)

Molly said...

Great answer. :)

Anonymous said...

I've heard this one. You can't fool me. My uncle claimed that he knew how to keep an idiot in suspense, but refuses to tell me...


antfarm said...

I've just done my master's thesis on this very subject. What you need is to have the reader concerned about characters and uncertain about what's going on/what will happen. So they need to care about the characters, which requires the characters to be likable/intriguing/worthy of the reader's interest and emotion. And you need the reader to want to know the answer to questions, which are best raised and answered over varying lengths of time. EG, in a mystery, whodunit it might not be answered until the end, but meanwhile you have other questions of different size answered within a scene, a chapter, or over a few chapters.
You could answer 'whodunit' it in this book, but keep questions of 'who is pulling the strings behind the scenes' going over a few books.

Bernita said...

Antfarm, in other words, leapfrog suspense?

antfarm said...

Nice term Bernita! :)

CarpDeus said...

This is a concept that Alfred Hitchcock discussed in an interview that I saw at the end of October when TCM was running a bunch of his movies.

The premise is this: you have two men sitting at a table in a cafe, chatting about the weather or something totally innocuous. They are not characters in the movie which, for the purpose of this discussion, is about a terrorist bomber. Suddenly, a bomb under the table explodes and they are killed. In a modern gorror movie, this would be cause for much blood and mangled body parts, but all that does is shock the viewer.

As Hitch explained it, the real difference is to show the audience that the bomb exists. Start with a close up of the bomb, a timer ticking down from 10 minutes. Now, pan back so that the table with the two men talking fills the frame, put a convienent clock in the background set at quarter after the hour and let the men talk. This grips the audience. They know something the people in the movie don't and are on the edge of their seats, wanting to warn the men, knowing they can't. While the dialogue about weather in the first example could have been tedious after just a minute or two, you could take almost 10 minutes to keep the audience riveted with the same dialogue. Cut to the bomber outside the cafe, waiting; cut to the hero racing toward the cafe; cut back to the men talking. That's suspense.

And the same principle applies to a good suspense book, though some authors have made it a bit formulaic.