Killing off Suspense

how-not-to-write-a-novel1There are some books that you hear a lot of people talk about, but you never get around to reading them until years later.  One of those books for me was How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. Whenever I got together with a group of writers, this book would always pop up in conversation.  I quietly listened while they said things like:

“I like the one about the gum because…”

“Oh, I know. Whenever I see a mantle piece I think about that.”

“Remember that scene where the boy in the bed…”

“Oh yeah…” [laughter] “That one’s really awful”

So, when I saw the book on Cecile’s shelf, I grabbed it and thought it was time to read it.

“200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published” remains a snappy byline for anyone who still wants to get his/her book published.

I have gotten very far, but I’ve learned my first mistake in the lesson called “Rose-Colored Half-Full Glasses”.  The last sentence of their example should give you a good idea at what they are getting at:

“They went to the door, unlocking it easily and walking out to safety.”

A paraphrase of the authors’ comments:  “We wouldn’t want to create any anxiety in the reader, now, would we?  That might lead to suspense, which might lead to a book sale.”

I realised this is what I do. I avoid complications.  And I know exactly why I do it – I’m bad at handling suspense.  When I’m watching TV on my own, I switch channels whenever the suspense becomes too intense.  I return to it a few minutes later hoping that the conflict has been resolved.  When reading, I sometimes read the first sentence of the next chapter to check if the person in mortal trouble has survived.

So, that’s what I do when I write – I let my reader know everything’s going to be alright.  There’s no suspense.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?



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