Our friends at the New York Times got Lee Child to write a little op-ed about suspense. Well worth the read!
How do you create suspense? I’m asked that question often, and it seems that every writers’ symposium has a class with that title. It’s an important technical issue, and not just for so-called suspense novels. Every novel needs a narrative engine, a reason for people to keep reading to the end, whatever the subject, style, genre or approach.
But it’s a bad question. Its very form misleads writers and pushes them onto an unhelpful and overcomplicated track.
Because “How do you create suspense?” has the same interrogatory shape as “How do you bake a cake?” And we all know — in theory or practice — how to bake a cake. We need ingredients, and we infer that the better quality those ingredients are, the better quality the cake will be. We know that we have to mix and stir those ingredients, and we’re led to believe that the more thoroughly and conscientiously we combine them, the better the cake will taste. We know we have to cook the cake in an oven, and we figure that the more exact the temperature and timing, the better the cake will look.
So writers are taught to focus on ingredients and their combination. They’re told they should create attractive, sympathetic characters, so that readers will care about them deeply, and then to plunge those characters into situations of continuing peril, the descent into which is the mixing and stirring, and the duration and horrors of which are the timing and temperature.
But it’s really much simpler than that. “How do you bake a cake?” has the wrong structure. It’s too indirect. The right structure and the right question is: “How do you make your family hungry?”
And the answer is:
Read the rest on the New York Times website.
Unless of course, you aren’t that intrigued. 😉