Ever read a book that kept you hanging on till the last page, unable to put it down? Ever read one that didn’t?
What made the difference? Why did you lose interest in that one book? Why did you forget about everything else while you read the other?
Suspense. Even if it isn’t a “suspense” novel, every good book has some measure of suspense. Every gripping novel keeps you guessing, wondering, hoping, fearing – right until the last page. (And maybe beyond)
I’ve heard this phenomenon called “breadcrumbs”. Like Hansel and Gretel’s ill-fated trail through the forest, these breadcrumbs are supposed to lead the reader on a journey. In this case, it’s a journey of discovery. You might be discovering a mystery, or a relationship, or a dark secret, or the culmination of a quest. But a good author knows how to reel out just enough information to keep the reader journeying.
How do we as authors cultivate that sense of suspense?
Don’t Let the Cat out of the Bag.
Is there some big secret at the heart of your novel? Don’t blurt it out all at once. This is the death of suspense.
Dole out information in small doses. Think of it as a “need-to-know” basis. The reader has to earn their security clearance before they can be privy to new intel.
Don’t Withhold Crucial Information.
On the other hand, an author can easily lose a reader’s interest by not sharing enough. The reader needs to know why this promised culmination is important to wait for. They need to care about what happens. Think of each little “breadcrumb” as a small reward for waiting, an incentive to keep going. Put each reveal in a pivotal place – try to get a gasp out of your reader every time.
Make the Secret Worth Waiting For.
Ever spend an entire book or movie waiting for a big reveal, only to watch pages of build-up fall flat? If you’ve strung a reader along, promising them it will be worthwhile, make sure you deliver.
Now as you write or read through your work, hopefully you’ll be able to keep your eyes open for the breadcrumbs. 🙂