My friend Thomas, arguably one of my closest friends from high school (and the only friend from high school in my wedding), sent me this great article by Lee Child. The title: “A Simple Way to Create Suspense“.
Well, with a title like that, how could I resist? I mean, that’s like the Holy Grail of writing! Keep the reader interested long enough to move the story forward. So, of course I have to read it.
And I’ll be damned, but Mr. Child is absolutely right! Creating suspense really is that simple. Offer the promise of resolution and come up with dozens of reasons the reader can’t get that promise fulfilled until the very end. Delay gratification.
Trusting such a simple system feels cheap and meretricious while you’re doing it. But it works. It’s all you need. Of course, attractive and sympathetic characters are nice to have; and elaborate and sinister entanglements are satisfying; and impossible-to-escape pits of despair are great. But they’re all luxuries. The basic narrative fuel is always the slow unveiling of the final answer. – Lee Child
Of course, whenever I read something like this from a renowned published author whose work I enjoy, I take a step back and think of my own work and wonder, “Did I delay gratification properly? Am I answering the questions I set forth too quickly? Do I give my readers a reason to keep turning the pages and stay up into the wee hours of the morning?”
I’ll be honest: I have no idea. What I think is suspenseful and keeps me motivated to keep going may be completely different for the preteen/early teenage girl in the audience. Or it may not be. This is my first book, and I haven’t even shopped it around to agents.
But I’ll say this: my friend’s 11-year-old daughter was interested enough in my characters and the story to ask daily for new chapters. She just wanted to see how the story ended.
So to that effect, maybe I succeeded in delaying gratification. Maybe creating suspense really is that simple.