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How can I create suspense in this writing?

The Enigmax

Stars… I look at them, dream of them… They are so close, and yet, so far… They sparkle like tiny fireflies on the dark canvas of the bluish sky. The horns of the half-moon have newly vanished out of sight from the horizon, leaving behind them tenebrous ash. It seems the moon is looking at me with its silver-shining beam. I suddenly remember my great-grandfather’s old telescope of which my mother told me about an epoch ago (I might be exaggerating). His death was very enigmatic. Nobody knew how he disappeared. Nobody saw his cadaver.

“Mum? Mum! Do you remember great-granddad’s telescope you told me about?”

“Yes,” she answers slowly while walking down the stairs. “Why?”

“I want it.”

She suddenly becomes very pale. “What for?”

“The moon?” I say.

“Ugh… Now, the moon. You just don’t stop wanting things, do you?”

“Just give it. What could happen?”

“I don’t know where it is.”

I don’t think she doesn’t know. I am going to find that telescope.

I am very bored. And I don’t have one of those fancy PlayStation thingies to entertain me with. So I decide to write.

I throw the pen aside. I look at the blank paper in front of me. I can’t write. Not now. I stare at the starry sky through the window. The moon is beaming down at me, gleaming beautifully among the stars. I let my mind drift away. When will this end?

I open the door. I hear hurried steps coming toward me. It’s Mum.

“Where do you think you’re going at this hour?!”

“I have a … a school affair. It won’t be long.” I say, trying to sound casual.

“School affair? Bill! Where are you, Bill? You hear that? Your son has a school affair at midnight!”

Dad approaches but doesn’t show any sign of objection. I didn’t see him return from work. He and mum exchange significant glances, and then he says:

“Well, if it’s all about school, go on. And don’t be late.”

“Thank you, Dad, for trusting me.” I say, glaring at my mother.

Standing on the threshold, I let the cool breeze welcome my face. Let’s hope that this night I won’t be late, or at least, the late.

I know I don’t have to be here, but I am. I look at the yellowish walls of the hall. There are portraits hanged on both sides of them. Portraits of old principles, maybe. I can feel their eyes upon me. It’s a weird sensation. Everything’s looking at me. I can smell rotten flesh and hear eerie whispers. Do I have to do this? My heart starts thumping madly like a drum. My hands are sweating. My feet feel cold. I can’t move a single muscle. Paralysed at the sight of the dark hallway, I decide to stride down as quickly as I can. Where is my torch? I reach my bag and grasp the torch. It’s the only thing that will light my path…, my destiny. Either dead or alive, I will find what’s on the other end of this hall. I throw a final glance at the stairs leading to the first floor. I never liked these stairs, anyway. Time to move.

I proceed. I hear the muffled echo of my footsteps. From time to time, I stop. And each time I put my feet on the floor, I feel my body get heavier. I start to shiver as I observe the light at the end of the hallway get lower. I move densely, hesitating on my decision. A layer of stress covers me up as I hear the worrying whispers get louder. Suddenly, my torch switches off. Either I am going to swoon, or my head is going to explode. After a state of unconsciousness, I gather myself and move vigorously forward. Destination is unknown, object is none. Just curiosity. “Curiosity kills,” Gran says. I look at my watch. It’s late. The whispers vanish. As I whiff, I feel queasy because of the vile odour. I decide to return. Maybe I’ll do this later.

Today’s a good day because Mum and Dad are invited to the neighbour’s wedding ceremony. I nagged to stay home. This was the perfect chance to find the telescope. But Jared and Arthur call me and tell me that they’d be glad to accompany me to the school’s mysterious basement, where I was yesterday. The same things happen. I hold my breath and accelerate my steps. We heed the creak of the wooden stale parquet. As we advance, we hear the creaks get louder. I notice a small brown shag adorned carpet and feel something underneath as I step on it. I take a step back, and halt.

“Halt!”

“What?” Shouts Arthur.

“There is something underneath this.”

“Hey, you. Stop talking literary English. You’re getting on my nerves.”

“I do not think this is the right time for this.”

“Now figure out what he said.”

I lean to see what that is. I throw the carpet away and notice a square dusty trapdoor. It has two circular knobs attached to it. I try to open the trapdoor by these; my efforts are in vain.

“Man, stop.”

I assemble all my forces and send them to my hands. After several times and tries the trapdoor crashes of a sudden…

“Aaaaaaaa!” And I fall… I fall in an endless abyss.

I can’t feel my body. I haven’t touched the floor yet, if there is one… Time flies, so do I…


The pain in my feet is excruciating. It is merely tolerable. I cannot open my eyes, trying to vanquish the pain. I smell the old, the dust and the mould. I hear annoying scary droplets… Water? Or blood!? What is the aftermath of my thoughts? Should I take this perilous course? Ah, what was I thinking…? What has happened to Jared and Arthur? Finally, I feel myself and try to get up. I cannot stand up. The ground is dragging me down. I am woozy; I see everything foggy. I squint at three arched ebony doors. When I get better, I see engravings on each one of them. Surprisingly, I notice leo on the first door. On the second one, I see mørk. And skjebne on the last door. What do these mean? These doors do look malevolent and vindictive… to me. Shall I open one of them? Or shall I go back? I look up. Oh, no, I don’t see the hole where I fell from! I have no choice. My fate is trapped between these doors. These malicious, spiteful and scary doors! I crawl like a lizard toward the first door, because, obviously, it carries my name on it. I reach my hand to the metallic doorknob and a cold gush sweeps through my body. I open the wooden door. The cold air envelopes my body. I hear loud, whispered, maniacal laughters and high-pitched shuddery intermittent moans. As I enter, I (try to) stand up. The gravity is normal, I suppose. The door slams begrudgingly and hard. I shiver, though ice has replaced my spine. A slimmer of blue light comes from behind. It divides into three. Blue atmospheric ghost lights… What are those? Will-o’-the-wisps? They resemble flickering lamps. They chant, and continuously pronounce leo. They move. Two of them disappear. I try to touch the last one–it disappears too, but appears a little farther from me. I chase it; it goes away. The ground is marshy. Am I walking on a bog? I take another step forward, and feel my feet sink. I try to take off my foot but it’s glued. The bog continues its swallowing process, and I, desperately, give up on my efforts and wait for a consequence.

“Whoa whoa whoa whoa, man,” I hear Arthur’s voice. It can’t be. “We’re gonna getcha.”

It really is he. And there’s Jared here.



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Hi and welcome to Writers. Critique questions here need to have specific questions; more information can be found in our critique guidelines. I'm placing this on hold for now, but please feel free to edit this and we'll consider reopening. –  Monica Cellio May 25 at 17:35
    
@MonicaCellio I edited my post. Can you please say if it will still be on hold? –  Coven Member 6 May 26 at 12:43
    
Thanks, I've reopened. –  Monica Cellio May 26 at 14:07
    
**Thanks :)** –  Coven Member 6 May 27 at 5:27
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2 Answers 2

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I don't always recommend these guys because sometimes they have tips I don't think are great, but Writer's Digest has a pretty good article on this.

The main thing I think you need to do is connect us more to the main character (basically the first point in the Writer's Digest article). The main character seems really rushed. I tried to remember the main character's name without looking... and I don't think I ever learned it. Well, going back I noted that he crawls towards a door that "obviously has his name on it" but we were never told what his name was. Leo was the door. Is the character's name Lionel? Leon? Is he just named Leo? Who is he? Why do I care about him?

The main character says and does a lot of things that I don't particularly understand, but it isn't done in a suspenseful way, per se. Rather, it seems more haphazard than suspenseful. There's a lot of jumping and "mysterious" things happening with no actual substance. For example, something like this...

Stars… I look at them, dream of them… They are so close, and yet, so far… They sparkle like tiny fireflies on the dark canvas of the bluish sky. The horns of the half-moon have newly vanished out of sight from the horizon, leaving behind them tenebrous ash. It seems the moon is looking at me with its silver-shining beam.

...sounds romantic and intriguing. Following this with these lines...

I suddenly remember my great-grandfather’s old telescope of which my mother told me about an epoch ago (I might be exaggerating). His death was very enigmatic. Nobody knew how he disappeared. Nobody saw his cadaver.

...ruins that mood. It's so quick and sudden, it's just jarring. I'm not sure if the main character is a dreamer or just someone who likes stars and the sudden "my great-grandfather owned a telescope and died mysteriously" change of pace doesn't draw me in.

In exchange, keeping the romantic mood but still being able to talk about the great-grandfather and the mystery surrounding him would be easier to digest.

Further, in some places you seem to be rushing to create mysteries without giving us purpose to care, then quickly drop the topic and move to something else. Here is an example:

I don’t think she doesn’t know. I am going to find that telescope.

I am very bored. And I don’t have one of those fancy PlayStation thingies to entertain me with. So I decide to write.

In one sentence, we're talking about a telescope, which was the focus (mostly) of everything that came before it. And then in the next sentence, all of a sudden, for no reason, the character is bored and wants to start writing. Just as quickly, you wheel around to another thing the character is doing.

I throw the pen aside. I look at the blank paper in front of me. I can’t write. Not now. I stare at the starry sky through the window. The moon is beaming down at me, gleaming beautifully among the stars. I let my mind drift away. When will this end?

I open the door. I hear hurried steps coming toward me. It’s Mum.

I do have questions, lots of them, but I'm not in suspense. There's no actual tension in any of the scenes here at all. My questions are like "When will what end? Nothing seems to be happening. Is the character tired of monotony? It seems like he is pretty monotonous himself, so why does it matter to him? Is the monotony strange for his world?" The second point in the Writer's Digest article is helpful here-- When a reader says nothing is happening* it doesn't mean there is no action but rather that no promises are being made.

Right now I am writing something with a lot of horror and gore aspects to it so I kind of get the idea of trying to write suspense with a lot of action in it, but the slow, empty periods where it seems nothing is happening is where suspense is built. If you carefully lay the foundation for the action ahead, you build tension and tension is the essence of suspense. The best way to do that is to make "promises", which more or less is you telling the reader, "Something terrible here/because of this will happen for sure if you read on". For example, the character goes to a school basement. He calls it "mysterious" but to the reader, there is nothing mysterious about it. We don't know anything about the school basement at all, so it's hard for us to think "Oh, this is a place where something might happen". But if you build it up to be mysterious or strange and then the character is dragged into the basement, you pretty much have made it clear that something will happen down there. You've made the readers begin to worry about the main character. Instead of constantly throwing the characters into scenes where they are in immediate danger, let the readers acclimate, even if the process is agonizingly slow, to the atmosphere of your character's world.

The last pointer I would give you is that you need to make sure that you're using all the time you can. What I mean is, there are times when you actually do need to speed up your story, but sometimes it isn't necessary. This...

Today’s a good day because Mum and Dad are invited to the neighbour’s wedding ceremony. I nagged to stay home. This was the perfect chance to find the telescope. But Jared and Arthur call me and tell me that they’d be glad to accompany me to the school’s mysterious basement, where I was yesterday.

...was unnecessary. Firstly, it would have been helpful to know why finding the telescope was at all important. But for whatever reason, the main character is also interested in the school basement-- why? There's no reason for him to be interested in it, but he is. What's the purpose? What got him interested in it? Why do I care about the basement? Secondly, a full day passed and I know nothing about it. The neighbor's wedding came flying out of nowhere-- you'd think the character or their parents might've brought it up earlier. Who are Jared and Arthur-- why do we care about them? There was a whole day to give these loose ends some meaning, but instead of using that time, you jumped forward to the action. These people and these events and all of the things you're talking about are necessary things for a reader to know. To jump from "I went into the school basement and it was weird" to "A day passed and I went into the school basement and it was weird" diffuses tension so it's not suspenseful.

Use your time wisely. Spend the time you have laying the foundation to create truly suspenseful moments. Action alone is not suspenseful. A tense moment between characters or an overwhelmingly heavy atmosphere will make your story more suspenseful.

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** THANK YOU FOR YOUR ADVICE! ** –  Coven Member 6 May 30 at 20:36
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In his book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (by Roy Peter Clark). He mentions a couple of ways that you can add suspense and tension:

  • By delaying the main subject and verb

His example:

Before the prayer warriors massed outside her window, before gavels pounded in six courts, before the Vatican issues a statement, before the president signed a midnight law and the Supreme Court turned its head, Terri Schiavo was just an ordinary girl, with two overweight cats, an unglamorous job and a typical American life.

His other strategy is use of internal cliffhangers, his examples from Dan Brown's work:

Before Sophie and Teabing could respond, a sea of blue police lights and sirens erupted at the bottom of the hill and began snaking up the half-mile driveway

and

As he fell, he thought for a moment he saw a pale ghost hovering over him, clutching a gun. Then everything went black.

It's quite a handy book, though for the cliffnotes you can check this site.

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Thank you :) –  Coven Member 6 May 27 at 5:26
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