Among the events for writers at the Crime Bake conference are the master classes — listening to successful writers talk about the craft is a great opportunity for those who are yet to be published get ideas on how to refine their work and become better writers.
These sessions always offer lots of good, specific instruction about writing.
Joseph Finder’s class on writing suspense was no exception. Finder, the best selling writer of thrillers such as “Paranoia,” “High Crimes,” “Killer Instinct” and more took the class through some scenes from the best thrillers around, including “Marathon Man” and “Silence of the Lambs.”
Besides some really good writing, the examples had the basics of suspense that take any mystery from mundane to hold-your-breath tense: timing, voice, a lot more showing than telling, sentence length and rhythm and some spare but graceful writing (in other words, lay off the adjectives and adverbs).
Tips — well, more than tips actually, guidelines for better suspense writing — included:
- Don’t speed through a moment of extreme tension. Slow it down.
- Use dramatic irony and juxtapose what’s in the narrator’s mind with what is happening in the scene. Allow the reader to know more than the protagonist.
- Make your protagonist vulnerable, give her some denial about what’s going on.
- Don’t diminish your protagonist, though. She may not be discovering the truth at this point in the book, but don’t make her an idiot.
- Used heightened awareness, juxtaposing small details against the horror of the big picture.
It’s great when writers can come away from a master class with solid ideas on how to improve their own writing. Finder’s engaging, entertaining and informative class did just that.