Follow by Email

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Suspense: It's All in the Timing

I was reading a suspense this weekend that had me on the edge of my seat. There was a series of arsons being set and the suspense was ramping up. It took place in a rural area before the invention of electricity so when night fell and darkness descended, each family was left to their own devices as some evil force was roaming the hills and the valleys, torching thatch roofs and burning the crops that would mean life or death to a starving population...

Then I reached this sentence:

Months passed. And in the darkness, there were eyes...


Months passed?

You have me on the edge of my seat, not knowing whether the evil forces will strike tonight - who they will strike - whether they will destroy everything the villagers work for and live for - whether they will rip apart two lovers - who will die and who will live and whose lives will be destroyed because of them --

And then months passed?


This author lost me with those two words.

You see, suspense is all in the timing. Three Days of the Condor was originally Seven Days of the Condor - but it was shortened to three action-packed days because suspense heightens when time shortens.

Out of Time is masterful at showing what can happen in the briefest of periods; how the suspense can have the reader literally on the edge of their seats, afraid to fall asleep, and not wanting to set the book aside.

When the author wrote "months passed" it had the effect of saying "nothing happened... for MONTHS." The suspense died. Then the next sentence, "And in the darkness, there were eyes..." just wasn't creepy anymore. It wasn't frightening. The whole edge-of-my-seat experience had to start all over again, months later.

A good editor would have caught that. A good editor would have tightened up that book into a shorter time frame so the readers would be on a roller coaster ride the whole way.

If you're an author reading this, the lesson should be: suspense heightens when time shortens.

If you're a reader, have you ever encountered an experience like mine?