Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tales to Keep You In... Suspense!

We're back with authors Bill Craig and Lee Houston Jr. this week to talk about writing.This week in keeping with the creepy mood of October and Halloween, we're going to be looking at writing suspense.

What's makes a story suspenseful to you?

Bill Craig: That's easy there has to be an impending sense of danger to the characters as they race through the story towards its conclusion.

Lee Houston Jr.: Suspense is important to every story. Regardless of genre.
In romance: will they or won't they?
In mystery: who did it?
In action/adventure tales: how does the hero get out of this dilemma?

It is just a question of how this story element is applied, let alone if it's applied properly. You don't want to reveal too much too soon.

What's your main "silver bullet" for writing suspenseful fiction?

Bill Craig: There is no real silver bullet, you just have to keep up the sense of impending danger to make it work. An example:

Her brown face looked almost gray in the low light, the only sound the ever-present beep of the devices monitoring her heart beat and respiration.  Bandages covered parts of her face and her arms looked like thin sticks.  “Dat you Sam Decker,” a wavering voice issues from lips that barely seemed to move, causing Decker to jump because they were so unexpected.

Decker moved over to the bed where he hoped she could see him better.  “It’s me, Mama Celeste,” Decker replied.

“You bes’ find dat little girl quick.  Very bad man has her, gonna do terrible t’ings to her ‘lessen you stop him.  He has an army gonna come after you Sam.  After you and Rafe.  Dey gonna be hard to stop.  He caught me by surprise Sam, but now, de loa knows and dey come to protect me whiles I heal.  Look for the White Orchid Man, Sam.  He be de one dat has her.  Just like he did before,” Mama Celeste closed her eyes and began to snore softly, leaving Sam Decker with a lot to think about!

Something that Mama Celeste said stuck in his mind.  She said that the White Orchid Man had her, just like he had before.  Had the White Orchid man been the one that had kidnapped her as a child?  Sam took a sip of his coffee and pulled out his cell phone and called Rafael…


How much does foreshadowing and veiled symbolism play into your foreboding when you are trying to build suspense in a story?

Bill Craig:  It is usually not something I consciously think about but sometimes it happens.

Give us an example from you work, please.

Bill Craig: Here is an example from my upcoming Decker P.I. title Running the Voodoo Down:

The day had been a long one with autographs and CD signings at a local record store before coming in to do a two set show at the club.  Carly leaned back in her chair, finally getting to relax as she took a second gulp of her drink.  Then she saw it and her glass froze halfway to her lips.  Her heart began to beat faster, her chest felt suddenly tight as she looked at it.

She hadn’t noticed it when she first came in.  But she saw it now with crystal clarity.

A single white orchid on her dressing table.  Not the first one either.  This one made a dozen since she had performed in New Orleans.  Each of them appearing in her dressing room after a show.  Dressing rooms that were supposed to be locked and secured.  “No,” Carly gasped loudly, sucking in a long, loud breath and then letting it out slowly.  She concentrated on her breathing, forcing it back to normal.  She gulped her drink and sat the glass down as she stood up.


Lee Houston, Jr.: An example, from the forthcoming "Catch A Rising Star" (aka HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE: BOOK 2)

I was just at the office door, unlocking it from the inside for the day, when these two goons pushed their way in and grabbed me. Each took an arm and pinned it behind my back, preventing me from taking any immediate action.

I wasn't sure if either man was armed, but as I contemplated my next move, a third one walked in. He took one look at his partners, who both nodded in unison, and then proceeded to frisk me.

As you can see, the suspense in this case is:
*Who are these characters?
*What do they want with Hugh?
*And of course, what happens next?