Life has been crazy this month. I wrote this as notes to myself awhile ago. It wasn’t too hard to modify into a blog post, because I want to stay close to some kind of schedule.
I love suspense, and am trying to get better at including it in my stories. You should consider this in your own fiction. How do you include an element of suspense? I’ll tell you later. Okay, that was a bad old joke, but true.
Suspense directly relates to plants and payoffs, except it doesn’t payoff; at least at first. It’s hard to resist letting the reader know about the cool thing you have planned, but it’s a must to pull this off. First you have to make the plant. I’ll free write something:
Angela shuffled into the kitchen behind her walker. Her frail, old frame stooped from a lifetime of hard work. She scooped the coffee grounds into her drip maker and switched it on. The furnace made a skittering noise as she opened her paper and sat at the kitchen table.
The furnace noise increased and moved closer. She slid her walker over to her chair and painfully stood. The sound seemed to be coming from the heating vent. With one hand on the walker, she bent down and pulled the register from the duct.
A giant insect-like claw shot from the register and grabbed her around the upper torso. It jerked her to the floor with a hollow thump. It shot back up and jerked down again, this time snapping Angela’s neck back at an unnatural angle.
The claw forced out once more and wrenched back hard. Angela’s brittle collar bones gave way and she disappeared into the ductwork…
Your readers will remember this. The kitchen of Angela’s old house is now a major tension point and you can use it repeatedly throughout the story. Set up an estate sale and have people buy items from this very room. Nothing has to happen. Add all the flickering lights and nuance you like.
Let the Realtor show the house to a young family. One of the adorable children wanders into the kitchen alone to check out the freezer. Drag it out. Nothing has to happen.
Hold a children’s birthday party here. Place the birthday girl in a chair over the duct. Lots of laughing, singing Happy Birthday, and just as they reach the crescendo…Nothing happens.
The duct smells horrible. Mom pulls the register and sprays Febreeze down there. Maybe something skitters away. What are these stains around the register? Scrub, scrub, scrub. Nothing happens.
The parents go out and hire a babysitter. The babysitter always gets it, right? She hears a noise in the kitchen. She tip toes into the kitchen and gingerly approaches the register. The cat jumps from the cupboard and squalls. The babysitter picks up the cat and goes back to the living room. “You naughty kitty.”
Eventually you have to pay this off, but with no more explanation than the scene with Angela, you can milk this for several chapters. Every time someone goes in the kitchen, your readers will be on edge. It’s even better if they’re alone and it’s dark.
There has to be something interesting going on at all times. The whole story can’t be about a flibber from the planet Glorn. Maybe some kind of Scooby club finds a few clues. Maybe they catch the baby chewing on Angela’s old dentures. These same ten chapters need to develop plot and character, but suspense can be a big part of your story.
Resist the temptation of showing the flibber for a few chapters.
So the hero manages to skewer it, what next? “This is just a baby flibber. There could be a whole nest of them nearby. The parents are really nasty” She raised her head and looked out the window at the abandoned colonial on the corner. “How long has the Phelps place been empty?”
Then have the teenage daughter go through an initiation. She has to enter the old Phelps place alone, walk under the dark stairs and take a selfie. Aannndd…nothing happens, just a sound like rustling leaves. The girls run away screaming and laughing. You start the whole cycle over again.
This can’t be the whole story. You still need plot and characters, but it’s a darned good tool for your toolbox.