Let’s continue our review of Carolyn Wheat’s How to Write Killer Fiction. I must say, I am impressed with this book. Carolyn delves into history of both the mystery and suspense genres. A couple of weeks back, I share a bit about the mystery novel, so this time we’ll look at the suspense novel.
With the mystery novel, the reader follows along with the hero/heroine and gathers clues to solve the crime/murder. However, with the suspense novel the reader is often two steps ahead, and cringing at the danger that the hero/heroine is unknowingly about to step in.
Carolyn Wheat refers to this with an example from the great mystery master, Alfred Hitchcock and his famous story about a bomb under the table. He said that the way to create suspense is to show a bomb under a card table and then show four men playing cards. The game can be the dullest thing imaginable, the dialogue flat, the scenery boring, but the audience is on the edge of their seats because they know what the cards players don’t: there’s a bomb under the table.
In her book, Carolyn also compares several suspense novels to that of our much loved childhood fairy tales. From Snow White to Cinderella. She even tied one of my favorite thriller suspense stories, Silence of the Lambs to the classic, Beauty and the Beast.
What do children’s fairy tales have in common with suspense? Carolyn gives us a closer look at Snow White whose father married a woman who is jealous of her beauty. This evil stepmother tries several times to get rid of Snow White and finally sends her out into the woods with a huntsman who has orders to kill Snow White and then bring her heart back to the Wicked Queen.
Talk about suspense. Will the huntsman kill her? No, he doesn’t. Instead, he kills a deer and takes its heart to the Queen.
Part 2 of How to Write Killer Fiction also includes short descriptions of the many sub-genres of the suspense novel. You’ll find references to Romantic Suspense, Relationship Suspense, Personal Jeopardy and even Spy Fiction, plus much more. This treasure trove of knowledge includes which endings work, which one don’t, and why.
Part 3 raps it all up with tips on the writing process. I believe anyone wanting to write mystery or suspense would do well to study this book and many of the novels that Carolyn Wheat recommends. It has certainly wet my appetite for more.