Revising My WIP
Changing Suspense Scenes
What’s a suspense scene, anyway?
In suspense scenes, external circumstances for my POV into a course of action they never even got to pick. Things happened and, wham, they’re off to something new.
But, you say, this sounds like she’s caught up in circumstances she can’t control. Doesn’t that make her a victim? Only in the sense that she doesn’t control the scene’s outcome.
Think of scenes Alfred Hitchcock did, where something happens beyond the MC’s control. Remember North By Northwest where that airplane is trying to kill Cary? Helpless, he runs around trying to hide. And it only ends when the airplane hits the truck and blows up. And we all breathed a sigh of relief? That’s suspense at it’s very best. (The scene I really wanted to see was what was going through her head when she wouldn’t go to bed with Cary, two or three different times. What will power. Yikes.)
So that we understand, I’m using Jordan Rosenfeld’s template for suspense scenes, as she wrote about them in Make A Scene. When I planned my revision, I thought I was going to turn eight scenes into Suspense. But I counted wrong, and only had to fix five scenes. I’ve got to be better organized. My fear is I will get all the way to the end of this and find I’ve overlooked a scene.
What am I trying to do in a suspense scene?
I am changing my story arc by forcing my POV character into an unexpected plot change she wasn’t looking for. She is going to resist it, maybe become emotional, but will get through it in the end. I very much want readers to worry greatly about her, just like screaming to the blonde bimbo not to go down the stairs into the cellar. Only, my MC is not blonde. And she most definitely is not a bimbo.
So, what does a dramatic scene look like?
Every scene has an opening.
My POV character either starts out in danger, or winds up there pretty quickly. I need to get her to UH OH! just as soon as I can. It’s even better if the reader knows she is in UH OH! but she doesn’t.
Then we move into the middle of the scene.
Once my POV character realizes she is in trouble, she’s going to try to avoid it while still trying to reach her scene goal. But I start throwing in complications, pushing her not only further from her goal, but toward some peril.
As I get further into the scene, I start slowing the pace down, adding in details or inner monolog, and provoking emotional responses from the POV character. All this subconsciously builds up reader tension. Make the reader shout for the character to get out of there!
I also tried to mix in mood to add to the feeling that things were wrong or dangerous. Nothing like a few cob webs or creepy crawly things slithering in the darkness.
But most of all, I tried to delay the outcome as long as possible. And then the really bad thing happens, and we scream.
We take a deep breath, and end the scene.
Let the POV character pause and take a deep breath, thinking they are out of danger.
How did I do in creating suspense in my scenes
Once again, I had two things helping me. I already had scenes written. And I knew how I wanted my reworked scene to help my story.
Using my coloring book, I took notes on what I already had in my scene, and how it applied. In every case, I needed to understand what threatened my POV character, and how they would react to it. All my scenes seemed to be closer to the mark for suspense than my exercise to create dramatic scenes. Alas, once again, most of my scenes grew.
But I think I came away with stronger, tighter scenes that clearly advanced my story. I didn’t force my characters to change, just get out alive.
Did I do that?
I think so.
I will revisit these scenes, along with all others, when I work on character arcs.
I have 81 scenes that I think are the types I want. I hope to go through each scene type, make sure I still want them to be that type, and then strengthen them. I’m tired of dramatic and suspense scenes, so I will probably go after a smaller group, like action scenes, of which I only have five.