Jan 28, 2008

writing suspense like Stephen King

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I don’t create suspense well because I like to blurt it out right from the start. I never was any good at keeping a secret, and I may not be that good at keeping people reading. Stephen King is definitely a master of suspense; he hooks readers from the first sentence.

Writing quotation: “This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last,” said Oscar Wilde.

Another writing quotation about suspense: “To create suspense, what you do is withhold information. You don’t need a crime or a violent death in the lead to hook your reader, to get your reader to read on,” says Ted Kooser and Steve Cox in Writing Brave & Free.

Writing tip: Suspense is exciting, even if it goes away in a few words – such as in a newspaper or magazine article. Even a low level of suspense can keep people reading.

Simple ways to create suspense include:
  • Describing an action, but not explaining it right away.
  • Triggering curiosity by withholding information.
  • Setting up a controversy that you don’t immediately resolve.
For example, in the January 2008 issue of Oprah Magazine, Emily Yoffee wrote, “Sandra Blakeslee reentered her body one afternoon about 15 years ago.” That’s low level suspense. Was Sandra dead for 15 years? Where was her body? How did she reenter it? What makes this article even more suspenseful is its title: "Can You Think Yourself Fat?" You wouldn't think an article about size and shape would begin with "reentered her body" - this in itself is suspenseful.

Your readers love suspense because it keeps them curious. Your editors love suspense because it keeps people reading. You may already love writing suspense because it's easy and fun for you -- or perhaps you're like me, and you find it difficult and cumbersome. Either way, try to steep your work in suspense and your readers will clamor for more.

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