I love a good mystery or thriller. Throw in the FBI, CIA and a few Navy Seals and I’m a happy camper. The genre of my current series is Romantic Suspense, and one of the challenges of this genre is building suspense and keeping the story moving without giving too much away.
The allure of the mystery/suspense story is trying to solve the puzzle before the characters in the story. When I was young, I was always trying to out-sleuth Trixie Belden or Hercule Poirot. A writer’s task involves dropping some hints and using dialogue and plot points to advance the story. Just when the reader is positive they know who the villain is — insert a plot twist.
“What is it?”
“It’s a tracker. Someone placed it on your vehicle, so they could follow your movements…” ~ Dave Cartwright to Clare in Exodus
Don’t you love the feeling you get when you’re at a critical juncture in a scene? The suspense has been building and building. I know something major is about to happen. My heart starts to beat a little faster, and my eyes fly over the words reading rapidly. I am anticipating what the next scene will reveal. Boom! Your theories just got blown out of the water. One of the best compliments I have received from readers is “I thought I had it figured out, but you had me second-guessing myself through the whole book”.
Secrets can be revealed along the way to advance the plot and to throw some red herrings into the mix. But the final solution or climax should remain a mystery until the last couple of chapters; otherwise, you lose your readers once they solved it.
Here’s a caveat — some thrillers and mysteries use the antagonist’s point of view to unveil their plot. These stories build suspense through the unpredictability of the villain’s next actions. The key is to have certain elements of the story remain in the dark.
I like to give my characters some flaws. Is the “good guy” telling the truth or acting out of character? The writer instills doubt with an unexpected action or a sudden change in temperament, for example.
A good story brings the reader along for the ride. A book is an alternate universe and the reader is wanting to immerse themselves in it. Whether it’s falling in love with the handsome detective or holding their breath during a chase scene, the reader needs to feel the tenderness and the heartache along with the fear and confusion. If the writer can involve the reader and get an emotional response from them, you’ve done your job.