Suspense; or Raising The Stakes

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

I must admit, I’m in a certain amount of suspense at the moment.

You see, I watch one television show on a regular basis (Supernatural), and because I had plans that kept me out past 8:00 pm last Friday, I missed it last week.

Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be so bad. But this week was a double-header–two episodes–AND the season finale.

I. Missed. The. Finale.

Fortunately, these days, we have the Internet, so I won’t have to wait until the episodes are re-run in August, or until the DVDs come out in September. But my Beloved Husband and I still have not yet had the chance to sit down and watch the episodes. So we are still in suspense.

As with most television series these days, there needs to be suspense within each episode, but there also needs to be suspense involved in the season’s arc. The shorter-term suspense is often, “Will our heroes solve their current case?”, but the overarching suspense often involves things that affect the characters more deeply and directly: “Will Jane and John hook up?” “Will Sally get pregnant?” “Will Tom keep his job?” Grave consequences, or at least significant ones, will result for the characters as a result of the answers to these questions, possibly changing their lives.

The trick is that if you want to lure watchers–or readers–into watching more episodes (or reading more chapters), you can’t tie things up too neatly at the end of each episode/chapter. You need to leave a few questions unanswered, or at least, have the answers be sufficiently ambiguous that people want to keep turning pages/clicking the remote.

Thanks to my on-line critique group, I’ve come to see that I don’t do that as well as I could. I have a tendency to want to introduce a conflict, and then tie it neatly up before I move on to the next chapter/conflict. And yet, when I don’t, the story becomes more interesting. Characters interact less predictably, scenes become more loaded with subtext and subtle meanings, and the pages turn more quickly. The stakes are higher for the characters, and readers are consequently more invested in the outcome.

So that’s something I’m working on: trying to keep from draining all of the suspense out of my story at the end of each chapter. How do other people manage suspense in their stories?

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About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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