As reviewers, when we sign up for the Hachette blog tours we get to suggest Guest Post topics if we want to host a Guest Post. I am thrilled that Ms. Solomon is posting on one of my suggested questions. I figured it was a perfect topic for an author known for her wonderful romantic suspense novels. Thank you Ms. Solomon for sharing some author insight with us today!
DO YOU HAVE A FORMULA FOR BUILDING SUSPENSE?
Building suspense can be tricky in any novel—suspense or otherwise. It’s a matter of finding ways to create tension and to keep the stakes high. So, I wouldn’t say I have a formula, but I do have techniques.
One way is to hint at information but withhold it at the same time. Take the beginning of in Two Lethal Lies where the hero, Mitch Turner, performs a dangerous rescue. The circumstances would normally require a call for an ambulance, but Mitch has no cell phone and wouldn’t call even if he did. Right away the reader knows something’s up with him. The tension comes because there’s a gap between what the reader suspects and what she knows.
Another tried and true way is to throw bodies at the reader. Sounds grim, or does it sound glib? Either way, it works—unexpected death, especially of likable character, creates an aura of danger and menace. In Two Lethal Lies, I begin with the murder of a dog. And not just any dog. I went out of my way to create a dog that was loveable and heroic. Of course neither the readers or the characters know for sure how the dog died. Survival of the fittest or something more sinister? I hint at the answer but withhold anything definitive.
Throwing bodies at a story also helps keep the stakes high. I start with a dog but the next murder is of a secondary character. The stakes automatically rise. And, of course, the fear is that the killer will strike again, even closer to the characters we’ve come to love.
Atmosphere is another way to create suspense. The master of this is Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca. Although I wouldn’t put myself in the same class as du Maurier, I do use setting to heighten suspense. Hanover House, the ancestral home of Mitch and his brother, Dutch, gave me a chance to create a weirdly gothic New York mansion. As the heroine, Neesy Brown, explores it, she finds dark back hallways and empty rooms, a spider-infested attic, and other horrors. But she’s never threatened outright—until it’s too late.