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DEXTER WEEK DAY THREE: Suspense and Tips For Writing It

Building suspense and tension in a novel, short story, or even a 100 character piece of fiction is difficult, aggravating, and also fulfilling if done correctly.  While not all types of books need this tension within them, I can assure you that tension will rear its head at some point in your character interactions.  While Agatha Christie remains Queen of Suspense and Tension–she did invent the “killer in the room” idea after all–there are authors out there today who have mastered it as well.

Here are some tips on creating and keeping suspense alive in your writings.

ONE: Draw out the scene.  I don’t mean get out your pen and paper here.  rather, lengthen the time spent on this one scene.  If you are telling the story from first person, have your main character begin to notice the other person doing little things.  “I saw him brush his hair out of his eyes with his hands before staring out the window.  His eyes were closed, but his breathing was harsh, rough.  it was clear that something was wrong, but for the life of me, I wasn’t sure what it was.”  Paint a picture of what is going on, exactly, and tension will build, especially if the Main Character has no idea what is going on either.

TWO: Direct from Dexter, have a character keep a secret about his life that no one can no.  And now, have an event happen that gives the chance for this secret to come out.  The character needs to deal with this while still acting normal and nothing is wrong.  For best results: think on how you would act in the situation and write that into your tale.

THREE: If you’re writing Fantasy or sci-fi (or any, I guess, but especially these two), throw in a fight that is breaking out right now.  Characters need to fight for their lives, and by using Tip One as well in this situation, any reader is going to be on the edge of their seat, trying to read faster to know who survives.

So, those are my three tips.  What ones do you have?


DEXTER WEEK DAY TWO: Books, Movies, TV Shows, Oh My!

It seems that Hollywood has no good ideas of late.  They take the ideas of authors and turn them into best-selling movies and top-rated TV shows.  But does this help or hinder the writers who spent years trying to create a world and a story that people would enjoy?

In the long run, it does seem to help.  If the screen-visualization of the books is good enough, people will be interested in the books they are based off of and try to find them.  This brings the authors more readers and the networks new viewers when those who had the book first find the show.

When Dexter first aired on CBS, I was at college, living with my grandmother.  We watched the “toned down” versions together, cheering for a serial murderer and having discussions over dinner on the best way to hide a body (I think consensus came to planting a tree over it or using the microwave just to say we had).  Yes, my grandmother and I are strange.  And yes, when the new seasons come out in DVD, I buy them, go visit her, and we hide behind our blankets eating ice cream while watching.

But when we found out this was based on a book?!  My grandma made me take her to the bookstore the next day so we could buy it and read it.  With the first book being the basis for the first season of Dexter, we knew a lot of the story already.  But the book had nuances in it that made the story more enjoyable and an engaging read. From then on, when she saw the newest Dexter book in her magazine, she would get it, read it, then pass it off to me so I could read it.  Even once the TV show started pulling away from the books, we would enjoy both of the tales told.

And while there are some cases of TV shows based off of books that have gone badly (*cough*Dresdenfiles*cough*), the outcome of such exposure, I feel, has never been a cause of pain.  If anything, these “bad adaptations” have brought more fans in as they want to find out if the books are as bad as the TV show.

….and no, I’m not touching Twilight and analyzing that with a fifty-foot pole.

DEXTER WEEK DAY ONE: Know Your Setting

A good setting can be hard to build.  Some think the world of fantasy is easier to work in as you can make everything up. But such a fantastical world still needs to make sense, not to mention the fact that if there are books later, expect to go back through what you wrote earlier in order to make sure it is all the same (or pray that you haven’t lost your notes on it).

Writing in the “real world” is perhaps a bit easier.  Streets, landmarks, even the local gas station is already there, all you need to do is change names to “protect the innocent”.  There is no lee-way here though either.  If Avenue A has been under construction in the time period you are writing your story in, expect to have readers dive-bomb you if you make Avenue A easy to drive around on and wide open with four lanes of traffic.

This is where research is your friend.

Learn all that you can about a place before you start writing your story in it.  Have a map open on the background of your computer of the important streets and locations that you can refer to when your main character is chasing after the man who just robbed him (or is running away from the cops).  It’s a bonus if you have lived there for any length of time and have walked the streets.  The added realism truly helps to bring the reader closer to believing that what they are reading is real.

If you can’t live there, visit the city of your choice at least once to experience it.  And, if that’s not possible, build a network of people who live there that you can call and ask them “Hey, can you drive past here today and tell me what you see?”

The Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay are really wonderful examples of this.  The world is fleshed out, the setting of Miami remaining as close to possible to the “real world” during writing.  Current events are mentioned in the books, including the effects of the economic downturn, wars, crimes, even the daily flow of traffic from Miami to the Keys.  Boating marinas, islands, and, in the newest book Double Dexter, the local “color” as seen in the form of sharks and people, are all included.  This well-rounded environment is a world that is believable even in its fiction.

Look around you.  You have a setting that you know well right there.  Try writing a few hundred words describing that place to get a feel for setting creation.  And if it’s a fantasy world you want to write…well…  Go get out your D&D books and plan a “game”.  By the end of that, you’ll have a fully fleshed out setting that you can steal pieces and parts from to create something you and your readers will enjoy.

For more information on setting creation, check out these links: