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Taking the P (plot) out of Suspense

by DiAnn Mills

Recently I read a suspense novel that left me wondering what the story was all about. I couldn’t follow the storyline or figure out character motivation. Although many aspects of the novel were outstanding, I couldn’t find the plot (storyline) and that meant I had no stake in the protagonist’s life. In short, I lost interest.

After careful analyzation of story structure and my method of writing suspense, and I don’t always get it right/write, I made a checklist of what was essential to a SSS-Strong Suspense Story instead of a STOP-Suspense Totally Omitting Plot.

At times, a writer neglects a story arc, so the reader stumbles through spine-chilling action without direction. The writer gets ambushed along the way because he forgot his tools of the trade.

How can a writer ensure story has meaning? By taking the time to plot a story with explosive characters. The story has a dynamic beginning and propels toward a culmination of exciting events that burst onto the page.

The following guidelines will help weave story happenings from ground zero to the climax and resolution. Each scene pitches the story forward by revealing new information, twisting subplots, and unraveling character flaws and strengths.

Have you established the following?

1. A sympathetic protagonist who is unique and interesting, one in whom the reader is vested.

2. Selecting only enough POVs to create a suspenseful read. Usually a protagonist and an antagonist.

3. An initial disturbance that shows the protagonist handling a tough situation well. This confirms we have a hero and worth a 400 page investment.

4. A villain who is clever, manipulative, and has a strong chance of overcoming the protagonist.

5. An urgency for the protagonist to jump into the game and give his/her all to achieving the goal.

6. An antagonistic setting that needs a SWAT team to maneuver. This forces the protagonist to stretch and grow.

7. Twists and turns in each scene that have the likelihood to harm the protagonist physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

8. Tension and conflict in every line.

9. A midway revelation or unexpected event that changes the outcome of the story.

10. Dilemmas and critical choices which have a moral outcome.

11. Holding back on providing answers. Make the protagonist work for them.

12. Realistic dialogue written in character, shown through spine-tingling action, and reads like a battlefield.

13. An adventure that allows the reader to experience the story vicariously by being the protagonist.

14. Vivid emotion displayed through body language.

15. Striking symbolism that carries the theme of the story.

16. A satisfying and realistic resolution. Suspense novels are not happily-ever-after.

There are many other techniques to weave intrigue and keep the reader turning pages, but these sixteen will initially elevate the reader’s interest. Once the writer confirms the above details, the following questions will help chronologically outline the story and build a suspenseful plot.

1. What is the POV character’s goal or problem to solve?

2. What will the POV character learn or discover on the
way to attaining the scene goal?

3. What backstory is revealed?

4. How are the stakes raised for the POV character?

Get started on the prep work for your novel. Thrill your readers with a plot that never lets them go!

DiAnn Mills Oct
Bestselling author DiAnn Mills creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the ACFW and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. She is a founding board member of ACFW.

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