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quote on plot and suspense

7 Ways of Suspense

Readers should keep turning the pages and will not put the book down. That’s what novelists have to create: novels that are natural page-turners that critics will rave.

Writing a novel requires constant forward movement to get the readers excited to move on the next page. In order to sustain that forward movement, writers need to create suspense. But in order to make a novel suspenseful, we have to use strategies that inspire curiosity. If curiosity can kill a cat, these tips could be worth practicing.

1. Keep secrets

Secrets make us wonder who, what, and why? Hiding something within the chapters can solicit intrigue. If the secret is fairly minor, you may withhold it for the time required to turn the page. But if it’s intriguing though, you can hide it for several chapters, taking advantage of the forward movement created by the readers’ curiosity. This way, you can keep the wonder flowing by occasionally referring back to the mystery. If you introduce a secret in a prominent position, make sure the question the readers will form inside their head is thematically relevant. The question should not be a mere device to prod readers forward. Remember, we want to manipulate the readers without making them feel manipulated.

2. Make plans

A character’s plans are future-oriented and inherently suspenseful. When you force your character to announce what he wants, you guide the readers’ attention to his motives and how he plans to achieve it. Readers will keep asking if the character will succeed or not.

3. Announce arrivals

New characters create complications. When you introduce them at the chapter’s end, you give the character a big entrance, followed by a detailed introduction on the next chapter. This indicates his importance and contributes to the forward movement of the story.

4. Schedule departures

Just as arrivals predict change, so do departures. When something leaves or ends, life changes, too. Emphasizing ends and conclusions compels us to think about the possible consequences in the following chapters. Often, some stories start with something leaving, closure, or ending. Not only because it introduces a change in the character’s life, but also because it opens an opportunity for conflict.

Plots may be simple or complex, but suspense, and climactic progress from one incident to another, are essential.H.P. Lovecraft

5. Reverse expectations

When characters fail to behave as we expect, they surprise us and the readers, too. Having said that there are only a few basic stories to tell, we begin to expect possible endings as well. Plot twists are great, but when you reverse expectations, take care to maintain credibility.

6. Ask a question

Usually these questions are implied, but they don’t have to be in your story. You as the narrator should pose a powerful question by phrasing it as an interrogative statement. Readers don’t have the answer yet but you are forcing them to respond inquisitively.

7. Introduce a new problem

Creating fiction requires giving characters goals and flinging obstacles at them. New problems stimulate forward movement. You want readers to take heed, to anticipate the conflict this problem is bound to cause. One of my mentors told us in our scriptwriting workshop to push the character in one corner until he or she couldn’t do anything but to fight back.

There you have it, seven ways to keep your novel suspenseful. But take note, there will be times that you need to slow down, too. Vary your movements. Good books require both fast pace and slow moments.

 

Number One Fan deleted prologue

Deleted Prologue: An Exclusive Peek

Here’s the deleted prologue from my novel Number One Fan which you can only read exclusively here on this site.

During NaNoWriMo last November 2012, I wrote a prologue to start my story. I thought it would be a good idea to explain a certain backstory of the main character. There are some novels that used this technique and it worked for them in the past.

At that time, my working title was Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star which I had taken from the nursery rhyme clue in the story. Since I decided to use the first person point of view, I wanted to establish Regine’s character as a journalist and how she came to present the story.

However, times have changed. Authors and editors don’t recommend the use of prologues anymore. So sometime in April 2013, during the revision process, I decided to delete the prologue, went straight to chapter 2, and started the story from there.

The Deleted Prologue

A WORD FROM REGINE STA. MARIA

BEFORE WE TOOK our Christmas break during Grade 4, our English teacher instructed us to keep a diary and start writing on it by New Year.

I excitedly told my mother about our assignment when I got home. I asked her to buy me a diary.

A few days later, my mother was stabbed to death. I didn’t witness the actual crime, but I saw the killer went out of her room carrying a bloody knife that fateful day. I don’t know why the scene was still vivid in my memory except for the killer’s face. I was ten years old then and that memory haunted me only until recently when I came to terms with it.

Christmas morning, my aunt handed me my mother’s last gift. It was a Hello Kitty diary with a small lock and key on the side and a matching ballpoint pen. I couldn’t wait to start writing on it, referring to the diary as “Kitty” just like how Anne Frank called hers.

Writing on it for the first time felt like talking to a friendly cat that silently licked my wounds to heal. I felt Kitty reciprocated my writing with filial devotion and affection every time I poured out my feelings with words. I’m not a pet person, but Kitty the diary became my virtual pet, my form of catharsis, my form of therapy, and my intimate friend.

Mae West once said, “Keep a diary and it’ll keep you.” Right now I have lots of journals stacked in my drawer.

My journal writing has evolved into different forms — unsent letters, dialogues, lists, idea maps, doodles, sketches, or a combination of two or more forms. It kept on evolving.

The story you’re about to read was taken mainly from my diary. In fact, it helped me decide what college course and career to take. I took up A.B. Journalism because I wanted to be a newscaster just like my idol, Alma Perez. I wished to be famous like her. But no one warned me to be careful on what I wished for.

Although this story could possibly happen to anyone, I never thought that it would actually happen to me. I took the poetic license to write the story like fiction to include Number One Fan’s side. I could vouch for the authenticity of his story based on the audio file he sent me and some accounts from reliable sources.

To distinguish the difference, I would tell my story in the first person point of view and his in the third person (and written in italics, too).

Let me know what you think. If you haven’t read Number One Fan, please download a copy now.

Reasons Why I Write Crime

The Reasons Why I Write Crime

I started seriously reading books when I was 9 when I got interested borrowing books from our school library. There was something in the word “mystery” in “Nancy Drew in The Spider Sapphire Mystery” that made me borrow it. Since then I was hooked with the series, always looking for those Grosset & Dunlap hardbound books with yellow sides and has numbers on them. I don’t remember how many have I read out of the more than fifty in their list but something made me crave for more.

I was even more fascinated when while browsing inside a bookstore, I found a book that says “The world’s most popular mystery writer of all time…” That description pertained to Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. Why was she described as that made me research and found out who she was. I was 10 years old then, but I read my first Christie, Ordeal By Innocence two years later.

I, like everyone else, am curious about unsolved mysteries and whodunnits.

Who isn’t? I love coming up with conspiracy theories about things I thought I know more about. It’s easy for me to jump into conclusions. I love to pry on someone’s secrets. I don’t want things hidden from me. Spies, assassins, and undercover agents fascinate me. The bottom line: I always ask the how and why of things.

There is a feeling of affirmation that the Earth is still a good place to live in and life goes on.

These are some of what crime/mystery thrillers are made of. The story that begins with a crime and keeps me in suspense as I guess who did it every time I turn the page. I anticipate that the villain will get caught in the end. Cathartic in some ways, yet I ask for more; a good form of escapist entertainment.

I want to write something that can cross with other genres

That’s the main reason why I write crime fiction.  I can mix it with romance, drama, historical, comedy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc. It may require me to include police procedures, legal and medical facts, interviews with investigators and forensic experts, which could be a learning experience for me as well. I wish I could meet an actual spy or assassin for an interview.

Mystery/Crime fiction appeals to all genders, therefore it could reach wider audience.

There is something in pulp fiction that it still sells until today. Stories that thrill are most likely to be translated into film, TV, play, or other entertainment forms.

And speaking of translation, my first English novel, Number One Fan, was offered to be translated to Turkish by Altin Bilek Yayinlari for their 2014-2015 book season. However, it never happened. Now, here’s wishing for an offer to have it translated into film or television… 🙂

number one fan

Number One Fan

In 2002, I planned to write a trilogy about three newscasters, each having a story to tell. Inspired by The Bestseller by Lila Ramsey and The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie, I challenged myself to write a mystery-thriller using the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as a clue.

It is about a newscaster who receives a bouquet of flowers and a phone call from someone who calls himself her Number One Fan. His message was to make him number one or else, someone will die. She dismissed it as a mere prank.

After a week, the police found her journalism professor dead. She then realized that it was not just a joke. With only the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as her clue, she has to guess who Number One Fan is and who will be the next victim as journalists around her start to die one by one.

I wrote the first part of the Filipino trilogy, The Ratings Game in April 2002. However, while writing the second part, News Scam, writer’s block set in. I was stuck. I felt there was something missing but I could not figure it out. Therefore, I put it aside, hoping to find an answer in the future.

I never thought that “future” would take years. However, the idea still holds in my mind, wanting release. By the way, the third part was supposed to be entitled, Breaking News.

In 2011, while sorting out old files, I found the original manuscript, typewritten from a manual typewriter. Nine years have passed, and typewriters no longer exist. I re-typed the manuscript in my computer hoping to find a new stimulus while retyping and revising just to finish the Filipino novel. However, I felt something was still missing.

In 2012, I decided to join the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. I used the original concept and wrote everything from scratch this time in English. The characters and plot have changed since then. Although short of 50,000 words by the end of November, I continued revising the story after NaNoWriMo. I finished the manuscript with 51,907 words, 40 chapters, and 208 pages on 27 May 2013.

On 6 June 2013, Foboko released Number One Fan, the novel I conceptualized in 2002. I felt relieved that the concept has finally found its way in publishing. Talk about being patient for eleven years. It was a long wait worth it. A few days after that, Free-eBooks.net released Number One Fan on its website. It is available online in .pdf, .txt, ePub, Mobipocket and a variety of formats compatible with Kindle, Sony, iPad, and other readers.

Since then, every November, I join NaNoWriMo to write a novel. Not necessarily the sequel, although I have plans of writing one.

That same year, I entered the novel in a contest. One of the judges in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Award said that,

This has a really unusual and interesting setting for a mystery novel. This reader does not recall ever reading a book set in newscasting, or in the Philippines, which lends a really original cast to the whole story. Regine is clearly is a strong and capable woman, and her sense of family and responsibility as well as ambition keep the reader on her side. Overall it is a strong idea for a story and a setting that could support sequels.

This comment inspired me to go on writing. Until now, I am still not giving up on my trilogy.

To celebrate the success of my first NaNoWriMo novel, Number One Fan, you can download it here for FREE.