No matter what genre, a book can always seduce a reader with the titillation of mystery. A suspense or thriller plot can race towards the end with its escalating stakes, but the lure of an underline mystery teases the reader and holds them tight as the storyline unfolds to reveal its fleshy curves and tantalizing secrets. The seduction is made more complete and satisfying.
Alfred Hitchcock knew this.
Hitchcock believed suspense didn’t have much to do with fear, but was more the anticipation of something about to happen. When I read this, it was a huge epiphany for me. The idea changed how I thought about scenes and chapter endings, but I was recently reminded of the importance of anticipation in other ways when someone in my local writers’ group asked me when and how to use back story. In a seduction, back story is the equivalent of smoking a cigarette after. At some point, you want it to happen, but it’s anticipation that drives you to turn those pages all night long. There’s no faking that.
If you’re a writer, anticipation doesn’t have to ONLY be about big plot movements. Don’t forget the voyeur in all of us, readers and writers alike. Relationships need a story arc too. Conflict and tension make them more delectable. Our main characters are tested, tortured, pushed to the limits to justify their starring role in our books. And when a man and woman are involved in a personal relationship, a writer makes them pay for wanting to be together. That’s how a writer knows when they have the right balance of emotion to suspense. If the emotional human story can be stripped out and the book no longer makes sense, then the right balance is achieved. One is integral to the other.
A high octane Bruce Willis movie—with its special stunts and computer generated action sequences—may not stick in moviegoers heads if there weren’t the emotional elements, the drama of his estranged wife in danger. Only his love for her puts him in harm’s way from the beginning and keeps him taking risks for her. It’s not just about saving her life. It becomes—will they get back together? A suspense/thriller plot escalates the stakes and ramps up tension as the pages turn, but something as simple as unanswered questions or a mounting attraction between two characters that you care about—while they are on a perilous journey—adds palpable heat that can sustain the rush to a gratifying end.
On my current project, I had a choice to make. I could have unfolded the story by relying on the suspense plot to be the main driver—or I could present my characters by their actions, without explaining the reason for their behavior until I absolutely had to. I chose to make my character’s back stories a strong mystery component where the plot will eventually force them into revealing themselves to each other and the reader. I’m orchestrating a seduction, one garment at a time, like a voyeur. With some elements, for key secondary characters, I layer the mystery without even knowing the answers myself. What an incredible rush! I can’t wait to see what happens.
Please share a book that seduced you completely with the right heady balance of compelling characters to intriguing plot—that unforgettable read that has stayed with you—maybe a guilty pleasure that you’ve read more than once.