Carrie Vaughn read a suspenseful scene from her third book, Kitty Takes a Holiday. She explains the techniques she used:
CV: I use pacing. I like little cliff-hanger chapter breaks. I like to end with a “gunshot moment,” a shocking image or event. Let the reader absorb it. Smell, memory is tied to smell. I try to ask myself “How long can I draw this out?” Very slow. When your worries are actually confirmed, the suspense is over.
Steve Rasnic Tem read from their forthcoming book, The Man on the Ceiling, a metafiction novel about writing. Melanie Tem provided comments regarding the chapter, “Down the Dark Stairs.”
MT: Suspense is in the language. The use of time, as non-linear, non-chronological, even just the verb tense can add suspense. It invites the reader to fill in the gaps. A series of images [starting with crashing planes] moves from things that are scary in real life toward fantasy characters with spoolky elements. Juxtapose a beautiful image with “I want him alive.” The use of detail–observe something closely, then take it into a fantastic or mystery realm.
Writing exercise: Write down something that doesn’t scare you. Find a partner. Now turn that image or situation into something scary.
[I wrote, “Picking out good chocolate at the grocery store.” My partner Carol turned it into a mystery starter–chocolate with which to conceal the taste of poison.
Carol wrote “I look in the mirror, examine my aging face, once again, with dismay.”
I said, “That’s too easy.”
She said, “I’m not happy about it, but it doesn’t frighten me.”
I wrote this:
I look in the mirror, examine my aging face, once again, with dismay.
It doesn’t frighten me anymore, knowing that I will die, watching the
changes in my face, and the accompanying changes in the image behind me:
the old cottonwoods I used to play in as a child are gone, replaced with
an apartment building, hundreds of miles from the ocean, decorated with
an anchor, plastic, painted black. The sky has a quality, a
dis-quality, dull brownness, dust. Bright colors–I’ve grown used to
losing them, replacing htem with a rainbow of browns, tans, beiges.
It’s the mirror. It’s become hazed. Did I always look this way? Do I
really look this way now?]
One of the writers said that the writer needs to make your characters uncomfortable [beforehand] if something terrible is going to happen.