an interesting post on creating suspense, by Lee Child.
“How do you create suspense? I’m asked that question often …. But it’s a bad question. Its very form misleads writers and pushes them onto an unhelpful and overcomplicated track.”
Okay, that’s interesting. So what’s the right question?
According to Child, the right question is “How do you make your reader hungry to read more of your book?
And the answer, he asserts is very simple: “As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer.”
And “Page to page, paragraph to paragraph, line to line — even within single sentences — imply a question first, and then answer it second. The reader learns to chase, and the momentum becomes unstoppable. … 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 book. Something has to be stopped: how? You’ll find out at the end of the book.”
And his conclusion? “Trusting such a simple system feels cheap and meretricious while you’re doing it. But it works. It’s all you need. Of course, attractive and sympathetic characters are nice to have; and elaborate and sinister entanglements are satisfying; and impossible-to-escape pits of despair are great. But they’re all luxuries. The basic narrative fuel is always the slow unveiling of the final answer.”
It’s an entertaining column, you should go ahead and click through and read it! Plus, this is, I think, a potentially extraordinarily helpful way to think about creating suspense. I like it! I kind of think maybe I’ll re-read Hambly’s MAGISTRATES OF HELL, which I just finished, with an eye to what’s going on in the book with implied (and explicit) questions and how that works to compell the reader to turn the page.