SuspenseWritten by Jeff Heisler
He had never killed a man before. Looking down at lifeless body at his feet, Harold wondered if it would be last time. Want to know more? Good. That’s point. So how do you create this suspense? It’s easier than you think. Just keep two things in mind when you construct your story- conflict, and question. Conflict drives all fiction. There’s no story without it. Let me show you an example of writing devoid of conflict. Helen sat comfortably in her easy chair. She had a bowl of warm popcorn in her lap and a soda on end table. A few yards away her television flickered as she surfed channels looking for something interesting to watch. She settled on a documentary about Amazon. She’d always like documentaries. As evening passed popcorn ran out and soda can emptied- but she didn’t mind. She was comfortable. After a few hours she stood up, stretched, and gathered her popcorn bowl and empty soda can. She set them both in kitchen sink and slunk off to bed.
So, do you want to read 300 pages of this? I didn’t think so. Now watch this.
She didn’t know he was there. While microwave rattled, heating a bag of popcorn, man moved furtively down hallway. Helen waited for popping to slow. She opened microwave, and emptied warm bag of popcorn in a large plastic bowl. She grabbed a soda from fridge and walked to living room. She didn’t suspect anything was wrong when she picked up remote and surfed dial for something interesting to watch. There were no suspicious rustles or creaks. No shadows moving in distance. Just her house, empty and neat- just like always. On tube a documentary on Amazon flashed into view. Helen put remote down and settled deeper in her chair. Just another Sunday night. Another cozy, uneventful Sunday night.
From Helen’s point of view- it’s same scene. From reader’s point of view there’s a big difference. The second scene is loaded with conflict. Notice that conflict doesn’t have to be visible to characters, but it must always be visible to reader. In second example, reader knows that Helen is in danger. As they read, voice in their mind screams at Helen- “There’s a man in house! Look out!” The conflict is felt by reader even if it’s not felt by character. Keeping reader in grips of this conflict creates a “page-turner.”
Character CreationWritten by Jeff Heisler
Creating believable characters is an essential element of fiction. The story rest on your characters shoulders. If they don't hold up then your story collapses. So how do you make believable characters? First recognize that different genres of fiction have different needs. A tightly plotted action or suspense thriller may not need characters fleshed out in detail as much as a literary novel. Also be aware that more outlandish your plot is, more important character believability becomes. Read any Steven King book and you'll see this. The reason he can take us on these journeys through strange and unusual events is his power to create realistic characters. When we believe character, we believe what's happening to them. The process of creating characters is so varied I suspect there are as many methods as there are authors. As always, take these tips as guidelines- not law. Every writer must do what works for him or her. These ideas will hopefully serve as a springboard to get you on your way. Here's how I create my characters: Step 1- Consider story. In general more my emphasis rest on plot of book, more my characters need to serve that plot. If story focus is more character based then my plot needs to serve character. If I need a character that will chase down a killer then I better design someone who’s able to do that. Everything from their build to their psychology must help them get to killer. Now it's important not to make character a perfect fit. No one is perfect, that's what makes life interesting. Your characters should have flaws that make it uncomfortable for them to reach their goal. For example character chasing killer might have a wife and family that worry about his safety. This creates tension- tension drives story. When constructing a more literary work then character should be in mind already, and plot forms around them. For example- a coming of age story requires a young character who will experience events that will shape their life. If you don't have those elements you don't have a coming of age story- so your plot must support your character. Step 2- Get to know your character. I like to use a form that looks like an extensive dossier when I create my characters. For supporting characters dossier is smaller, but still quite detailed. Design one for yourself and be sure to include details about: • The character's appearance. • Their habits and mannerisms. • Their motivations. • Their past. • How character will change in course of story. Don't make mistake of assuming bad guys don't need as much character detail- they do, particularly in motivation. Sure a story about a killer is suspenseful and scary, but if you have a killer who murders because he sees his abusive father in every victim, well- that's a little richer. Remember- bad guys have motivations that seem good to them. Hitler thought he was a nice guy- your bad guy should too.