Thriller 101

5 Minute Writer: Suspense

October 06, 2022 David
Show Notes Transcript

Lee Childs

David Gwyn: [00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome to the five minute writers series. Rob Hart is a phenomenal author who I had on as a recent guest on the podcast. He suggested everyone reads this one article by Lee Childs to teach a very specific writing skill, which is building suspense. 

Here's Rob Hart talking about the importance of that article. 

Rob Hart: the best thing I ever read about about this subject was Lee Childs wrote an essay for the New York times. That's basically just like about asking questions about how, as you're writing, you should be asking questions of your reader, not answering them right away. It's like a way to kind of like build momentum and suspense.

And , even when you answer those questions to have those kind of like, bring about more questions, you know, every answer should it should itself also provide a bit of a question

David Gwyn: I've linked to that article below. 

And if you haven't yet listened to that interview with Rob Hart, I highly suggest it. He provided so many tangible writing tips. To help aspiring writers

I'll link that in the description as [00:01:00] well. If you're looking for that interview. 

It's a pretty short article. So

whether you read it or not, this analysis that I'm about to do will help you Plus, I end with a very specific experiment for you to do with your own writing. Be sure to hang out. To do this one thing that will test whether or not you have enough suspense in your story. 

So not wasting any time here, let's get to the three key takeaways. Number one child's opens with a cake baking analogy that I found really interesting. He's basically arguing that instead of focusing on the ingredients to bake a cake, like one might focus on the ingredients of developing suspense, meaning character situation, et cetera. 

Instead he says, when baking a cake, it's actually just more important to focus on making people hungry. And that that's what suspense is really about. If you ask or imply a question at the beginning of your story. Then you just need to delay the answer. And that will keep readers reading. Hey, two things before I go onto the next item 

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Number two humans seem hardwired to want answers to questions being asked. This might be true of questions. People aren't even particularly interested in. 

Provide a question and delay the answer. Do this from the beginning of the book to the end of the book, but also trying to do it within each chapter and even more granular [00:03:00] within each paragraph. If you're doing this consistently, child's argues, you'll be building momentum for readers that can propel them through an entire book. 

Number three. I consider proposing a large question at the beginning. Something like someone killed someone else. For example, then slowly drip answers to reader as well. Also opening up new questions as you go.

I shared something a few months ago that might work as a companion to this idea. It's a YouTube video. I called it looping questions where you ask questions and make readers, wait, while answering other questions along the way. I'll link that below. If you're interested. 

Okay. Two quotes. Number one. Every novel needs a narrative engine, a reason for people to keep reading to the end. Whatever the subject style genre or approach. 

 Number two. Someone killed someone else. Who. You'll find out at the end of the book. Something weird is happening. What. You'll find out at the end of the [00:04:00] book. Something has to be stopped, how you'll find out at the end of the book. 

Okay. So here's that experiment I talked about in the opening, according to child's, we need to keep the questions rolling, to keep readers, reading. So when you look at the timeline of your novel, can you identify the questions you're asking readers at each point in time? What answers are they waiting for? 

 You should be able to do this on the macro level, across your whole story. But also on the chapter level

So go through and look at your manuscript and decide. At every point in time, is there a question driving the narrative forward. Is there something that readers will be propelled to want to read to the end, to find out. If not, you've got some work to do. 

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