Monday, February 21, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Thrills, chills and other scary tips

Okay, so you want to write a scary or suspenseful scene for your short story or even your novel. What should you do? Fill it with blood? Violence? An axe wielding psychopath? Maybe. If – and only if – it suits your storyline. After all, who wants a machete wielding Jason jumping out smack in the middle of a historical romance? It’s important to be appropriate with your villains and the emotions surrounding them. Believability is vital to a suspenseful scene.
Remember to use the five senses. Draw your reader in with the coppery scent of blood underlying the cloying sweetness of spilled perfume. Make their eyes see the shine on the blade, the flat black of the gun, the tremor of a hand. Have them taste the dust floating through an old barn, the sour, bitter bile rising to choke them, the salt from warm tears. Compose a symphony of sound, the lightest footfall, the shallowest breath of air, the sudden snap of a broken branch. Delve into physical sensations, the skip of a heartbeat, the texture of rough hands on tender skin, the cold slice of wind cutting deep into marrow.
If you have engaged all five senses and still find your nail biting scene is meandering along the slowest trail, try shortening your sentences. You control the speed of the action by lengthening or shortening your sentences. Longer sentences slow a scene down. The shorter ones speed it up. Like the shower scene in the Psycho movie. Stab. Stab. Stab! Quick punches of information will fill a readers senses with the tension you want to convey.
There is one more thing. It’s a small thing, but can take your scary scene and change it into something verging on ridiculous. Exclamation points! Yes! They really can be overused! Abused! And will distract a reader from the tension you wish to create! Can you hear me yelling at you yet? Please be oh so sparing with the humble exclamation point, he’s rather shy and doesn’t like to come out all that often.
So there you have it, engage the senses, shorten your sentences, and only judicious use of exclamation points. (Wow, I sure did a lot of babbling for something that could be summed up in one sentence!) Now that you have some basics for the suspenseful scene, go write something that will make your heart pound.



Ian Ayris said...

Great post, Rain. Especially regarding the use of exclamation points and short sentences. Understated fear is always more pervasive than fear dressed up in a Halloween costume dribbling fake blood. It's a bit like dialogue tags. Show the manner in which the character is speaking in the dialogue, and you need no other dialogue tag than 'said'. Show the fear, and you can do away with exclamation points forever.

Wench Writers said...

It took me a while to get this stuff integrated into my own writing. For some reason I didn't want to let go of the idea that everything had to be BIG! and DRAMATIC! But what a difference once these lessons finally became incorporated into my own writing style. Thanks for popping in for a read and leaving your thoughts, Ian.

Rain Wench ;)

PS. In my latest historical romance the hero's name is Iain... just a little fyi, lol ;)

Joanie said...

I really like your descriptions of the "coppery scent of blood," and "the cloying sweetness of spilled perfume." What a great reminder -- not to forget about the five senses. I often find my writing turning into "and then he said and then she said...". I will definitely keep this topic in mind. Thanks!

Wench Writers said...

Hi Joanie,

Sometimes it is so easy to forget as you are writing along that people reading can't see the movie playing in your head. LOL

Thanks for the wonderful comments :)
Take care,
Rain Wench

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