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TL Gray

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Basic Elements of Suspense Writing: Things I’ve learned over the Years
by TL Gray   

Last edited: Monday, July 30, 2001
Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

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Building Suspense. Ways to deepen suspense. Secondary characters and their roles.

These are some tips I’ve picked up along the way from articles, conferences, author interviews, research, etc. Build The Suspense By: Keeping the time line short—the threat to your character(s) should be immediate and ever present, building in intensity hour by hour, day by day, minute by minute. Make sure your character has a mystery to solve—Characters shouldn’t stumble on the answers they need. They should work through the situation, follow the clues, and discover the truth. List what your characters know and what they need to find out—this will help outline the chapters. Secondary Characters—in a crime/mystery the detective rarely solves the case himself. He has help from a number of people. Corner, Partner, Witnesses, Forensics, Profilers, etc. He’s trying to catch a killer/lawbreaker. Ways to deepen the Suspense: Dreams—foreshadowing what may happen or showing the characters deepest fears, his haunting past. Psychics—Give them one gift (seeing images, seeing faces, places, etc), which will help yet frustrate the character at the same time. Clues—such as journals/diaries/letters/notes/pictures, etc. can be used, but this information should only assist the character in solving the crime. Don’t forget all the physical evidence that can be used to determine time of death, how, where. The Weather—choose a season according to your story to match or contrast your characters emotional state. Should it be summer, with sweltering heat? Cold and rainy? Fall, with shorter days? Ice and sleet? The Senses—The smell of blood. The taste of fear. Reaction to finding a dead body. The stench of an alley. The feel of blood-soaked clothing. The Villain—Readers should understand his/her motivations whether or not they know his intentions. Motivation can be as simple as greed, jealousy, money. Or as complicated as the serial killer mind. In this case, you can use a Profiler to help reveal motivation of the serial killer. This is a very effective way of keeping the villain’s actions in the limelight without actually writing him into a scene. Part of the mystery is discovering why he kills, how he kills, his emotional/intellectual level, etc. Red Herrings—Like I said, no one person solves a mystery/crime alone. Other characters in the book provide the perfect opportunity to plant red herrings. Shift suspicion onto them. Make them mysterious. Give them something to hide. A motive. Make them interactive in as far as throwing up roadblocks or providing false information for your character to stumble over. Some questions to ask yourself—Who already knows the truth and wants to stop him? Who plots against them? Conceals or destroys evidence? Is someone planning to get rid of your detective?

Web Site: BooksByTLGray


Reader Reviews for "Basic Elements of Suspense Writing: Things I’ve learned over the Years"


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Reviewed by Kerry Reed 12/10/2007
Excellent, i found this site very helpful. It filled in some of the gaps.
Reviewed by Paul Kyriazi 3/2/2002
Great overall ideas for the writer to consider when embarking on a mystery suspence story. "Dr. Jekyle and Mr. Hyde" came to mind as I was reading this as well as some movies. So it did the job by making me think. Thanks.
Reviewed by Sylvia 12/25/2001
Excellent. I immediately started thinking up ways to implement Mr. Gray's suggestions for my WIP.
Reviewed by Diane Dorce 12/23/2001
I liked it..and I'll use some of this advice while I revise, revise, revise. This advice is as good as I found in two of the "how to write mystery/suspense." Keep up the good work.
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