Where does Suspense come from?

I’ve been writing and learning about writing for a very long time and I guess over the years I’ve collected together a few of my own ideas and theories about what makes a book the best it can possibly be. I think the best gift you can give to any story is that “unputdownable” quality (if that’s even a word) that gets a reader hooked and won’t let go. And so it’s that quality in my novels that I’m constantly striving for.
So how do you get that page turning, nail biting suspense that keeps a reader wanting more. I believe the secret is in the narrative tension. This tension must exists in every single scene. Most “How to” books will tell you that. But my own personal theory is, don’t just use one type of tension. Use as many as you can! Three or more tensions in the one scene, indeed in every scene will give you that page turner.
Let me explain.
I have found that the most common forms of tension in narrative are the following.
1. Tension through danger : a character the reader cares about is in danger
2. Tension through deadline: there’s a timeline, due date, ticking clock placed on the main character to get something done or else everything falls apart.
3. Tension through mystery: stress in a character the reader cares about due to “the unknown” or stress in the reader because they know what “the unknown” is but the main character does not!
4. Sexual tension : pretty self explanatory I think
5. Tension through conflict : every character must have the potential to conflict with another whenever you need them too. Either due to personality, their history or their own personal goals.

There’s probably more than this but these are the ones (I’ve found) that are used most often in fiction.
In The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots, I loaded my main character Lena up with as much tension possibilities as I could find. She had deadlines, unknowns(or secrets) to hide or discover, she had a lot of sexual tension with Dan and she had heaps of conflict with just about every character in the book. The dangers to her personally were sexual harassment, getting fired, getting hurt (mostly by crazed kangaroos) and the mystery surrounding Dan just seemed to grow and grow. Some scenes contained several types of tension all running at the same time. It’s all about plaits and using as many strands as you can… all leading to that beautiful bow at the end.
Anyway, that’s just my thoughts for this week….


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