Monday, June 14, 2010

Part I What is a suspense novel?

Since suspense is a popular genre, often coupled with romance, I have created a seven part blog to share some of the important things to know about suspense. Wanting the perfect explanation, I searched online for a definition of a suspense novel and have found none that works for me. I’ve written a few romantic suspense novels that follows the suspense genre with romance added so here’s how I define a suspense novel.

A suspense is a novel that increases intensity as the main character faces deception and danger as he devises a means to overcome the threat from the villain. Suspense is made up of choices, twists, and clues. Readers experience of apprehension, anxiety and fear as they follow the main character. Suspense connects with readers when they identify with the plight of the main characters, and the suspense grows the more the are engaged by the choices of the main characters, the degree of good vs. bad, and an outcome that allows the villain receives his punishment.

Reading a suspense has common elements of a TV commercial breaks and chapter endings in fiction. Expectation. “What’s going to happen next?”

Suspense is edge of the seat questions: Who did it? Why? Is this a clue? How will the culprit be stopped? They are what readers call page-turners. Readers have a difficult time putting the novel down to go to bed, prepare dinner or leave for an appointment. And why? Because the story is a threat. . . to a person, a group or the world.

How do you create page-turner?
Through conflict with a prolonged solution creating tension and crisis. The longer it takes to resolution the situation, the greater the tension and suspense. Think: conflict, suspense, drama, surprise, resolution.

People often ask the difference between a mystery and a suspense, and writers will provide varying answers. This comparison of mystery and suspense offers information that helps define them both very well. Although some of the elements found in mystery can also be part of a suspense, this does provide good information. Follow these points to best understand writing suspense

Sixteen Differences between Mystery and Suspense
by Carolyn Wheat

A mystery concerns itself with a puzzle. Suspense presents the reader with a nightmare.

A mystery is a power fantasy; we identify with the detective. Suspense is a victim fantasy; we identify with someone at the mercy of others.

A mystery can be likened to a myth. Suspense is more like a fairy tale.

In a mystery the hero or heroine already has the skills he or she needs to solve the puzzle. In suspense, he or she must learn new skills to survive.

In a mystery, thinking is paramount. In suspense, feeling is paramount.

The most important action in a mystery takes place offstage. In suspense, the important action happens onstage.

A mystery usually takes place within a small circle of friends. The hero or heroine of a suspense novel often finds him or herself thrust into a larger world.

Readers of mysteries are looking for clues. Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.

In a mystery, information is withheld. In suspense novels, information is provided.

The ideal reader of mysteries remains one step behind the hero or heroine. Those who read suspense should be one step ahead of the hero or heroine.

Mystery readers expect a series. Those who read suspense know a book can be a one shot.

The hero or heroine in a mystery is looking for suspects. The hero or heroine in suspense looks for betrayers.

A mystery hero or heroine must confront a series of red herrings. The suspense novel hero or heroine faces a cycle of distrust.

Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying. Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction.

Mysteries are usually three hundred manuscript pages. Suspense novels can be longer.

Taken from: Skillman, Trish MacDonald. Writing the Thriller. Writers Digest Books. 2000.

Next week:  Part II:  What is the structure of suspense.


Uchenna said...

You give very insightful explanations. I really need help with my writing. I used to write frequently when I was a child and every time I looked back at it, I thought it was pretty good. But now, I am very conscious about my writing, and because of the many rejection I have recieved, I get so worried about making it good enough. And then it becomes stressful, and then I give up.
I don't know what to do, but it seems like my tact in writing is dissipating slowly. What can I do? Thanks.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Uchenna - Writing is a lonely business and is not easy. Although we might have talent, to be published, we must polish the talent and hone it until it's as close to perfect as we can get it. This means a lot of study. When I began writing, I purchased books and magazines about writing. I joined a writers group and a professional organization. I went to conferences for writers and talked with published authors. I got involved in a critique group where I could send others my work and they would comment and make suggestions. This is how I learned to be a writer. By doing these things, you connect with published authors and can learn. This is why I began this blog. I had nothing like this when I began to write fiction in 1997. This month my 44th novel has been released. It's an amazing career, but it has taken sacrifice and tremendous effort with my nose to the computer all day long sometimes 7 days a week. I love to share what I've learned about writing. It's even better when you can attend workshops and conferences and hear first hand what writers have to say. Wishing you blessings.


Barbara Parentini said...

Gail, I really appreciate your blog. I have been following your helpful posts for quite some time. Your abilities as an educator and expert writer prove invaluable for aspiring novelists. Thanks for your encouragement!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Barbara - Thanks so very much for your kind words. I was an educator for years and loved teaching. . .but writing is in my blood and that means so much to me. So putting the two together--teaching writing--is amazing and when I add the third cord, my faith, then it's perfect.

Wishing you many blessings and thanks again.


AZCAWriter said...

I just read this first part and as an aspiring suspense writer I found yours was the best definition I've read so far! Thanks.

I'd like to ask a question. Some writers make no distinction between suspense and thrillers. Do you see a difference?

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi AZCAWriter - You asked: " Some writers make no distinction between suspense and thrillers. Do you see a difference?"

Certainly a thriller is a form of suspensr, but suspense depends on the unexpected and not on action. Suspense can be psychological (think of Hannable Lector) while a thriller depends on continual action with little time to take a breath. One thing is nagging the protagonist and another dramatic incident falls on him too. It's an unending dramatic move from one problem to another - and often the stakes are extrtemely high -- not just a person involved by a large city, a nation or the world. To me that's one of the biggest differences.


Fiona said...

Thank you so much for this! I have been struggling to categorise my book and after reading this explanation realise that it is a suspense. I really appreciate you providing this material. Thanks again.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

You're welcome, Fiona. I'm glad you found this article helpful.


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