How To Know You Should Write Suspense

by Ronie Kendig

Years ago (we won’t mention how many decades I’m referring to) when I first got serious about writing, I explored many different genres. One of my favorites back then was historicals. But I quickly shifted into romantic suspense/military suspense and speculative fiction with suspense. In an interview recently, I was asked how I started writing suspense. Admittedly, that simply made me shrug. I’ve always been writing suspense in some form or fashion. But I wondered how other authors would answer that. 

So, I asked some of my suspense-writing friends how they knew they should write suspense. Here are their responses: 

When you’re walking through a hotel at a theme park thinking, “A terrorist could hide out here for years…” 

I knew I needed to write suspense because I’d been doing it in my head since I was about 15. Twenty years later, I decided it was stupid to waste all these exciting stories on an audience of one (me) and started writing them down! 

So . . . I take a road trip to ‘get away from writing’ and fall into a Stephen King like scenario that is screaming ‘write me!’ I am writing it now.

I have no idea how to know if you should write suspense. It’s just what sticks in your brain. Funny story. Diann Hunt was writing RV There Yet and was going to have a moose poke its head in the RV. I said, “Di, moose are dangerous! They kill a lot of people every year.” She was thinking of Bullwinkle, and I was thinking of a person trampled to a bloody pulp, probably egged on by a killer. 

You look at your hot tub cover folded halfway open and think how you could hide a body in the water under the remaining half. 

and/or

Nothing excites you more than learning the man standing next to you at your kid’s soccer game is an experienced homicide profiler.
and/or
You hear of a poisonous plant and wonder who you could kill with it.
and/or
You guess the twists in all suspense books and movies.
and/or
You greet your young daughter’s new boyfriend (whom you immediately know is a weasel) by saying, “I’m her mother—and I kill people for a living.”

I’ve always been partial to suspense, but I knew I’d found my calling when I woke up the middle of the night and saw a man standing in my bedroom…or rather the silhouette of a man. I froze, immediately awake, wondering if I could be quick enough to reach my gun before he pounced on me. We were at a stalemate for what seemed like an eternity before I dared move. I flipped on the lamp and realized what I’d thought was a man was actually the dark outline of several pairs of shoes hanging on my over-the-door shoe hanger against my white closet door. I laughed at myself, but it took a long time to be able to go back to sleep. 

If you’re a criminal at heart but don’t have the guts to actually do the deed. Or, you’r quite the hero in your own imagination. You know, those who can’t do. . . uh, write. 

You quickly survey the best escape plan in case someone with deadly intent shows up—EVERYWHERE YOU GO! (TRUE for me!)
When you can’t stop reading it. 
Let me tell you, I can keep people in suspenders for days! OH! You mean suspense! Well, ever since I was a child, I loved telling stories, beginning with writing in my dream journal. I took classes and refined my craft. In 1984, I had a sci-fi dream that I wrote out and decided to make into a full story. Thus, the “Da Guv” was created and began the “Tales of the Interverse Faire” series. 

Ronie Kendig 

How do I know? Because I fall asleep writing romance. Seriously. And no matter where I went, I worked out tactical plans for safe ingress/egress, and what could go wrong. I say I don’t like theme parks, but it’s really the crowds and the innumerable scenarios that hit me while trapped in hour-long queues. 

When you have a brain that wonders what would have happened if Anne Shirley arrived in Avonlea and found a dead body en route to Green Gables. (Thereafter she launches Carrots Investigations and ropes in Gilbert Blythe as her Watson)
When a writer realizes the world is a dangerous place, and you want to show readers there is hope.
Everywhere you look you think about everything that could go wrong. 
There’s a kidnapping or murder happening behind every bush. 
From the days of Nancy Drew I’ve loved reading suspense and mysteries, so it was natural I’d write them. It’s the only way I get to be part of frightening situations that would paralyze me in real life. 

When you take notes while watching every true crime drama on the Investigation Discovery network.
I realized I should write suspense when I took a hard look at my life. Thoughts that every white conversion van contained a kidnapped child…or a dead body. A good look at my bookshelf loaded with books on “how to poison” or “how to murder someone and get away with it” was also a clue. 
No choice, with my background. :0 
[Carrie has an extensive background in forensic art and instruction.]

Are you a suspense writer? Or do you have a quip regarding How to Know You Should Write Suspense? Share it with us in the comments! 
TWEETABLE



Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. She grew up an Army brat and seeks to honor our military heroes through her stories. Now, she and her husband, an Army veteran, have an adventurous life in Northern Virginia with their children and a retired military working dog, VVolt N629. 

Her newest release, Conspiracy of Silence (12/6), is receiving rave reviews. 

Kendig keeps the tensions high and the pace lightning fast, with military action scenes worthy of Vince Flynn.–Publishers Weekly


“… fast-moving, roller-coaster thriller…”–Booklist

“… an explosive, action-packed global journey …. Kendig has pulled out all the stops in this highly entertaining read that has plot elements of a Tom Clancy or Dan Brown novel. … Kendig has out done herself.”–RT Book Reviews Top Pick

Micro-Tools of Suspense

By Ronie Kendig

Microscopic. Micro-changes. Micro-expressions. They’re little pieces that cumulatively make a big difference. That is true of writing and of suspense as well—we have micro-tools for fine-tuning suspense (a scene or a whole novel). 

Suspense is not merely someone or some city in danger. There is more involved in creating suspense than putting a weapon in a villain’s hand or having the heroine fighting for her life. Outside the plot and your characters, suspense is nuanced throughout a story using many techniques, but we’ll focus on two: word choice & placement, sentence/paragraph length and pacing. 

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite. ~C. S. Lewis 

The point? Be intentional with your words. Word choices should: 

  1. Reflect the pace – the more general the word, the more benign the impact. Make them matter!
  2. Reflect your character – your characters should not all sound alike
  3. Reflect the mood – use more intentional words to mirror what your character is feeling of what’s being done to them. Our word choices change when we’re frustrated or angry; so should your character’s words. 

Consider word choice placement. In my “Mind Magic” workshop, we talk about “white/negative space,” a marketing/design concept that capitalizes on the negative (white) space of a design, letting the audience’s brain naturally fill in the rest. Also, speed readers are often taught to read the beginning and end of a sentence, and the beginning/end of a paragraph and then let their brains fill in the rest.

Negative Space forms face

By being intentional with word placement, writers can use the white/negative space concept to capitalize on what readers’ brains do naturally—fill in the rest—to create hooks. We’re taught to do this at scene and chapter breaks, but we should also be more intentional with word placement throughout our scenes and chapters. We have stronger words now that we don’t want to bury in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. If you have to, rearrange so the stronger words are more easily detected and a quick (often unconscious) first impression of what’s coming is engaging. 

Another topic in the “Mind Magic” workshop is length, which applies to blogs, articles (ahem), books, speeches, and so on. Ultimately, no matter if it’s a sentence or a paragraph, length determines viability and interest. Think about Twitter, which restricts tweets to 140 characters. Today’s society wants things faster, and we need to keep that in mind when writing scenes. Here are a few tips for brevity in writing:  

  1. Monitor Sentence/Paragraph Length – Make it as simple as possible for a reader to move through and enjoy your story. Sentences should be a natural length and there should be a variety of lengths as well. It’s a good idea to break narrative passages into smaller chunks and ensure that each is vital to the story.
  2. Fragments Are Our Friends (Sometimes) – it’s okay to cut a sentence short if it fits the character, pacing of a scene or chapter, or the mood (more suspenseful). Fragments are wonderful for creating a jarring presence, which is perfect for action or surprise. 
  3. Shorter Sentences Create Movement – Shorter sentences are read faster (obvious, huh?) paragraph and a sentence are great ways to increase the reading speed, giving the reader a sense of faster movement with the characters. 
  4. Longer Sentences Allow for Breathing – if you’ve amped up a scene and sliced/diced sentences, then draw it back down after with longer sentences that allow your readers’ breathing to slow. Think of it as the giddy (or nervous) exhale of relief after a roller-coaster ride.
Suspense nuances really ratchet up the tension and your reader’s heart rate! Were these tips helpful for you? Do you have a question for Ronie to address about writing suspense? Comment below! 

TWEETABLES

Micro Tools of Suspense by Ronie Kendig (Click to Tweet)

Be intentional with your words~ Ronie Kendig (Click to Tweet)

* * * * * 

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. Ronie can be found at:
     Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction)
     Twitter (@roniekendig)
     Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/RonieK)
     Instagram (@kendigronie)
     Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/roniek/)!

DOWNLOAD Ronie’s newest release–the FREE digital prequel novella, THE WARRIOR’S SEAL! 

CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE (Tox Files #1) releases Dec 6th and was given 4.5 stars & named a TOP PICK by RT BookReviews!

“…fast-moving, roller-coaster thriller…” ~Booklist

Kendig keeps the tensions high and the pace lightning fast, with military action scenes worthy of Vince Flynn.” ~Publishers Weekly

Writers As Champions

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author of over a dozen novels. She grew up an Army brat, and now she and her husband, an Army veteran, have an adventurous life in Northern Virginia with their children and retired military working dog, VVolt N629. Ronie’s degree in Psychology has helped her pen novels of intense, raw characters. She can be found at:
     www.roniekendig.com
     Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction)
     Twitter (@roniekendig)
     Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/RonieK)
     Instagram (@kendigronie)
     Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/roniek/)!

* * * * * 

I’ve been mulling the concept of champions lately as I prepare for my keynotes at Oregon Christian Writers’ Fall Conference, and it brings me back to a striking comparison between the writing life and training for tae kwon do that my family and I have been immersed in for the last four years. Soon, our family will test for our second degree black
belts. 

I confess a painful truth—I’m not getting any younger. And
training is tough. I’ve injured myself a lot in the last six months (my back,
bruised the bone of my elbow, jammed my toe breaking boards). But we love it. And we know
that the hard work will pay off—we’ll be stronger and in better shape.

Kendig’s 1st Degree Black Belt Ceremony

Oddly (or
may not), the same is true of writing. Our “writing” training program—learning
the craft of writing—can be grueling. There is a lot to learn and many opportunities
to make mistakes. It’s easy to become discouraged or daunted—because sometimes,
when we learn one thing, we realize just how much we don’t know. At times, writing
may even leave us exhausted and depleted,
physically and emotionally.

My tae kwon do
instructors are world champions. The best. They are sixth and seventh-degree black belts, which amounts to decades of experience. Yet, they are the most humble people I’ve met. I’m struck by how hard this career is, how
isolating it can be…yet, how “easy” it is to be a champion to someone. Each
night in TKD, we get on the mat, leaving behind our insecurities, the weight of
a long day, and the all-too-real life that plagues us. We’re geared up and
ready to spar, train, and do our forms. These students and our instructors have
become our family. We cheer each other on and challenge each other.

And again,
the same is true of the writing community. We have champions around us who are actively
championing other writers. And I think that’s what we should all be doing.
After all, we are surrounded by like-minded individuals, writing and working
toward similar goals—publication, representation.

Over the
last 10 years, as I’ve honed my writing craft and fought to develop my career,
I have battled discouragement. It’s always there, bouncing on its toes as I
edge closer to the “ring” of life. Daring me. Taunting me. Ridiculing me.
Discouraging me. It’s a ready foe, anxious to nail a sidekick into our guts and
bring us to our knees.

Let’s face
it, writing isn’t easy. Often, it’s just plain hard. It demands a lot of us as
artists. St. Francis of Assisi said, “He who works with
his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and head is a craftsman. He
who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist.”

Being an artist requires us to create, to draw from a
deep well of emotional content, and pour onto the page. Sometimes, when we do,
it depletes our emotional and mental reserves. We have to refuel. But how?
Where?

It’s important to surround yourself with supportive writing friends who
will lift you up during the rough patches instead of belittling or comparing as
often happens in our competitive industry. We should
be champions for each other. Come alongside someone who is struggling and be
their champion.

 We must get on the mat, be willing to train with
each other, and cheer one another on. See someone flagging in their courage? Be
encouragement to them. See a friend struggling through life? Find a way to
champion their cause. Is someone working hard yet battling discouragement? Be
their champion.

* * * * * 
The Warrior’s Seal (Tox Files #0.5) is a FREE novella prequel! 

A Special Forces team is thrust into a war with the past to save the president after an artifact unleashes a deadly toxin. 

Special Forces operative Cole “Tox” Russell and his team are tasked in a search-and-rescue–the U.S. president has been kidnapped during a goodwill tour. The mission nosedives when an ancient biblical artifact and a deadly toxin wipe out villages. Tox must stop the terrorists and the toxin to save the president.

The First Draft – Guest Post by S.D. Grimm

S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction—everything from urban fantasy to superheroes. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her and her upcoming books at www.sdgrimm.com and @SDGrimmAuthor

* * * * * 

Recently, some writers friends and I were discussing the pains of writing first drafts. I think if we’re honest, most of us, in that first draft stage, hit a moment when we believe the story we loved yesterday is now awful.

I tend to think this happens because we start writing with a tank full of excitement. We’re excited about this new plot, these new characters, and all the shiny ideas. And then we forget to refill our tanks when we need to. That’s when our baby swan of a story becomes a duckling. And it’s ugly.

But it’s really not.

First drafts are raw, and real, and so very malleable, and to me, that’s a lot of inner beauty—beauty that I would argue is essential to making the final draft shine.

Three things that can shine like polished diamonds in your first draft are passion, emotion, and creativity. The key is to let them all run wild in the first draft so you can keep fueling your initial excitement.

Your passion is alive in this draft because your heart is pumping the words out. Not your analytical inner editor. Because the reason you chose this plot point, these character flaws, this theme is embedded in passion. Don’t hold it back. Reining things in is for later drafts. This draft is for breathing life into the story. If your passion is embedded from the beginning, deep and real, your readers will sense it.

And the thing about real passion? It’s contagious.

Your emotions are safe in this draft, but you have to let them in. You have to be brave. Let yourself write about your fears. They’re safe here. Open your heart and pour it on the page. As exposed as you like. No one will read it; it’s the first draft.

When it comes time to edit, that raw emotion will be there. Sure, you can choose to take it out, but why? That raw emotion will move your inner editor from its typical emotionless kill-your-darlings preset. And you’ll keep it in. And your readers will thank you.

Your creativity is unbridled in this draft. You can go wherever you want. Explore a little. See what works. Don’t hold back on your ideas. If you’re like me, you think of a good idea and want to save it for a different book. Don’t. Use it now. New books get the new ideas. Be untamed. Let the story run free. This draft doesn’t have to be perfect. (Isn’t that freeing?)

Right now the story is new and innocent. After the first draft is complete, the inner editor can take it and refine. Let it take the malleable draft and work its magic. But write draft one with your heart so you can bask in the beauty that it’s meant to have. Let that beauty reignite your initial excitement. And write on.

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children, a Maltese Menace, and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. She can be found at:
     www.roniekendig.com
     Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction)
     Twitter (@roniekendig)
     Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/RonieK)
     Instagram (@kendigronie)
     Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/roniek/)!

Reviewers call Ronie’s newest release, EMBERS, “Simply amazing!”