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To Be Or Not To Be Continued...

Since we all read last week how I write with passion, now you have a chance to learn how I add spice to my novel.  Yes, I call suspense/conflict the flavor ingredients, because they are integral parts of your book's recipe. We all know the four parts of a book: The set-up, the response, the attack (I call it rising action!), and the resolution. For movies with three acts, the response and the attack are combined, and this second act is called the confrontation. (You could read more about this on Storyfix.)

I love reading and learning my craft. Writing romance is so exhilarating, but sometimes I like to research another genre so I could improve my own writing and add a little flavor. I think when you look outside the box, you experience another perspective you might not have noticed before. In my most recent works, you'll notice how I sprinkle just enough suspense in to keep my readers interested.

Here are 5 ways you can add suspense in your novel:

Probably one of the most iconic suspense tactics.
1) Use time to your advantage. When I say time, I'm not talking about how long it takes you to write. What I mean is utilize the time in the story for the benefit of the reader. A protagonist shouldn't succeed at his goal in the specific time-frame you gave him, because if he did accomplish the goal, the story would be over. In my work in progress, The Earl's Son, Lord William has less than 24 hours to reach London in order to get his son back from his captor. If he achieved that goal in the beginning of the book, I would have to come up with something else to keep the reader interested. Which means more work for the writer. Just let the story work for you instead. That makes more sense, right?
2) Raise the stakes and keep them high. Life gives us good/bad consequences no matter if we make wrong or right decisions. This also works for your hero/heroine. Without a crisis, or something causing them not to reach their goal, our books would be boring indeed. This is one of my favorite ways to add suspense, because in a way you as the writer are calling the shots. In my novel, there is a carriage crash, a fist-fight, a carriage chase, and a shooting to name a few instances where the tension is raised, but the plot is slowed down when this happens thus causing a complication. Don't hold back on your writing, readers could tell the difference.
3) Include many complications. I know stakes could count as complications, but don't confuse them with the pointy, wooden weapons we use on vampires! Use your antagonist to the greatest advantage. Not only is time against your hero/heroine, but the choices he or she made can create a dilemma. Ex: Alex grinned. All talk, no play, makes the bandits run away. Now that he was free and the woman was favorably shaken, he had two options: Escape, or free her from her controlling brother. From this example we see my hero has a complication. Whether he truly cares about the woman he wanted to free or not, his choice is not going to be easy, because he still has "her controlling brother" (the villain) to overcome first.  
4) Create a memorable villain. Don't make your villain so awful that you'd want him to die off in the first or second chapter. At least, not yet. Drinking, gambling, and bedding wenches is a very mediocre way of describing him in a way where you are disgusted in his habits, but he is worth keeping around. Of course, other genres have different ways of showing their antagonist. Mysteries use a transparent villain to hide who they are until later, while an actual suspense wants you to know who he is right now. I think romance tends to mix the two or at least use either to the greatest advantage in the novel. No matter what you do with the villain, he has to be a worthy enough contender against the hero/heroine. In my work in progress, you find out fairly soon that the antagonist, Oliver Attwood, is the heroine's brother and has a firm dislike for the hero's family. These are givens. Although you know his ties with the hero/heroine, this does not set him apart from anyone else. You learn his intelligence and motivation later on. This makes him memorable. (Don't worry, women can be villains, too!)  
5) Create a memorable hero/heroine. Make sure he or she is believable. Their cause has to be just or at least redeemable by the end of the story. I try to make my characters as real as possible. Every one experiences death in their life, some lost love or heartbreak, and others have a pension for not experiencing the best childhood. Not everyone is born to fame nor walked through life without facing problems. As compassionate human beings, we tend to feel more sorry for those with hurdles to cross over than those who have it easy. After all, they reflect ourselves. My protagonist(s) inadvertently reflect me. From my work in progress, the heroine's, Rosalind's, past is filled with painful memories of loss. She needs to accept the choices she's made, put away her prejudices against men and the aristocracy, and move on with her life. I'm sure we all hope she'll fall in love with Alex and live happily ever after! But that is another given. What really matters is if she overcomes her problems and grows as a person, right?

Most readers care about the characters' journeys above all. We know a romance will end with a happy ending, we know the villain in a mystery will be discovered at the end, etc. The most important part of a story is how they got there.

Of course, mystery and suspense writers will give you more ways and an even broader insight into suspense, because that is what they thrive upon, but these are the ways I incorporate conflict into my romance. Many of the examples I give you are from my current work in progress, The Earl's Son. You may think I'm giving away pertinent information about the plot, but what I'm actually doing is showing you the spices I use for my recipe, not the main ingredients. ^_~ For more suspense topics not covered here and to read someone else's perspective, please visit: Writers Digest: 9 Tricks To Writing Suspense

When you think you can't, you can. When you think you can, you will. Never give up!
Do you use conflict/suspense in your novels? If so, please feel free to share some of your tips with the rest of us. I do love learning new tricks of the trade. :)

Happy writing!
Diva J.
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Alexa said...

Great ideas, Diva! I find I often use time in my stories. In the short story I just turned in, the hero has 3 days to convince the heroine she still loves him or he'll sign the divorce papers.

Alexa said...

Oooh, and the best advice I heard for writing villains- they are the heroes of their own story. When I sarted thinking of my villains in those terms, I was able to give my villains more depth.

Diva Jefferson said...

Yeah. Time is great for a lot of things. Setting, plot, and of course suspense! :)

Diva Jefferson said...

You're right. Villains think they are doing the right thing sometimes. If they are proved wrong, they are not happy and sometimes they change their ways. I will definitely start using your advice. Thanks! :)

Firetulip said...

These are some good pointers, Diva. You can also create conflict within the character. By giving them the choice. Take it or leave it. He knows he is free to go on his way, but something nudges him to stay. He knows the right thing is to just forget it, but ... what if he stayed? I love those kind of stories. Though in my wip, the heroine must figure out what's her role in the alternate life and she thinks she must help the man she found in her house who claims to be her husband -- win the court trial. IF she succeeds she'll be returned to her "normal" life. But as time passes she'll find herself in love with the guy and won't want to leave. But ... higher beings are pulling the strings of life.

Diva Jefferson said...

Yes, Zrinka, choices are a great way to help with tension and don't forget how well they show us what kind of a character your hero/heroine/villain is through their decisions and actions. Your WIP sounds interesting. It reminds me of an alternate reality. Thank you for your comment. :)

-Diva J.

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