View Full Version : Suspense 101 - It was a dark and stormy night

March 1st, 2011, 04:51 PM
Hello Everyone, I am so glad you are here! Sorry for the late post, I tried earlier and somehow didnít hit the right mark. If there were a parking spot that said technology impaired out front of Coffeetime International Headquarters my SUV would be in it. Sorry guys!

Welcome to Class! My name is Linn Random, and I write and read romantic suspense and all sorts of mysteries. I first fell in love with the genre when I was a little girl in a dark theater where I watched a beautiful young woman run from a woodcutter into the arms of a handsome Prince. No story delighted me more than Snow White and I was hooked!

I thought I start the class of with a bang, if you pardon the pun. Todayís class is all about hooking the reader. Tomorrow, Iím going to share with you my popular Plot Book.

Thursday, we will be discussing your Main Characters-the Hero and Heroine and wrap up this week with the Villain. Iíll be posting Mondays through Fridays through March 25.
The last week, we will be discussing how to market and sell your mystery.

This is an interactive class so you are welcome to sit back and enjoy or jump in with your books or your work-in-progress. Iím glad you are here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the game is afoot!

ďThe really good detective story is a kind of literary game. It is more---it is a sporting event. And the author must play fair with the readerĒ S.S. Van Dine

Whether you are writing a detective novel, a cozy, a mystery, classic whodunit or thriller, your job is to capture the reader with the first word and keep them breathless until the very last page.

Writing suspense is much like taking your readers on a carnival thrill ride. With each click-click-click as the ride rises higher and higher in anticipation, the suspense novelist must balance the downward fall with equally paralyzing terror. So onward you go, around turns, spinning almost out of control, clutching tight to the handrail until at last coming to a safe and complete stop. The reader and the hero/heroine must experience personal jeopardy; though the reader from the safety of their favorite armchair.

First, last and always, your suspense novel must be a highly charged emotional experience for the reader.

Today, there are a wide variety of mysteries genres to choose from. Medical, Political, Crime and Legal Thrillers to Cozies, Romantic Suspense and Gothic just to name a few. And if you are writing the straight boy-girl romance, youíll also want to include red herrings and many of the same elements that make any book a good read.

Youíll of course want to build strong characters. Add flaws to your hero/heroine, fears, phobias, as well as a mix of personal demons and natural weaknesses. Perhaps she has a fear of heights; give your readers a breath taking moment by letting her find herself on the edge of a cliff.

Use time, magnify sounds, feelings and exploit foreshadowing to build your plot. Make ordinary moments frightening. Use weather conditions to build suspense but donít forget traffic, silence, and the dreaded teapot whistle and remember to always heighten your suspense. Here are more tips to keep them hooked.

When you are writing mystery, suspense, you have to begin with a powerful, dynamic hook that immediately jumps out at the reader and commands their attention.

The first line of your novel should reach out and grab the reader, fill your reader with insatiable questions, and an irresistible urge to read the next sentence, and the next and the next. Your first sentence should be written to excite and hook your reader until their questions and are satisfied.

This is the first line of Lights, Camera. Murder!

Sage McCall looked around the television production set and tried to focus her attention anywhere except at the dead man lying at her feet.

In my first line, I have established the heroine, the setting and the mystery. I have set for the Who, What, Where, Why and When. Who is Sage McCall? What is happening? Why is she on the television production set? Another who-who is the dead man at her feet. Iíve given the reader the where are they? When will be in the next sentence and Iíve laid out the ground work for the mystery. I have put my heroine in danger, and if Iíve done my job correctly, the reader will want to read more.

Here are other great examples of dramatic first sentences:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

The telephone was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse. War in Heaven by Charles Williams

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin and I was off on the greatest adventure of my life! Sleep Till Noon by Max Shulman

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

The first line in your novel is commonly referred to as The Hook. The hook is the moment of excitement and interest and then your first scene in your book should pull the reader in deeper.

In the original scene of, Lights, Camera. Murder, I started with a vivid description of the setting-a television production set. I worked on it for weeks and it was filled with such beautiful prose it made me cry. It was my best writing ever! I was hopelessly in love with it! However, and to my great fortune, it landed in the hands of a very wise agent, who said, delete your first page and half and recommended that I start with my heroine finding the dead body. So, after my usual whining to her, box of tissues and anger over the horror of it, I cut the scene and came up with the following first sentence and first scene that wound up being the perfect, attention grabbing hook reader would want.

This is my first sentence and my first scene: LIGHTS, CAMERA. MURDER!

Sage McCall looked around the television production set and tried to focus her attention anywhere except at the dead man lying at her feet.

Long after midnight, the familiar shapes of television cameras, sound booms and dollies were obscured in the darkness. Their outlines took on strange silhouettes in the half-lit room.

Overhead lights hung from the dark shadows and the studio cameras pointed toward the empty set, which sat obscured in complete darkness. No actors, no contestants, no cheery host to startle the contestants with new surprises.

To her left, an empty director's chair sat surrounded by dark monitors. To her right, an odd assortment of heavy crates and boxes were stacked high.

It was all so quiet, too quiet.

Sage took a long breath and looked down at the lifeless body of Evan Davis, the lighting gaffer.

"He's dead," Double K said staring down at the corpse.

"I can see that," Sage replied in a voice void of emotion. She bent down and pressed her index and middle finger to the dead man's neck. No pulse, confirming what she already knew was true.

"He was shot with an arrow," Double K said as if she didn't notice the two foot arrow protruding out of the man's chest.

"Thanks," Sage said without humor, "I can see that too."

Ken Kendrick, 'Double K' stood looking twice his 6'5" height. If he fashioned his hair into a Mohawk style, he could have easily passed for a younger Mr. T. He slowly folded his arms across his massive chest. "What are we going to do now?"

Sage slowly rose to her feet and took a backward step away from the corpse. A real life murder was not in the script.

So, I want you all to look at your first sentence and your first scene.

You want to grab your readers with a powerful opening.

Your first sentence and first scene sets in motion your mystery and invites your reader into your book to help solve the crime. If you can, start in the middle of your first action scene.

The back story can wait. The description of the heroine and hero can wait, at least until page two to five and more. The first sentence and scene set the wheels in motion and will drive the reader to want more.

Give your readersí questions but donít give them the answers. Not yet.

This class is meant to be interactive, so Iíd like as many of you to share your first sentences and first scenes of your books or your works in progress.

See you online at Coffeetime! Linn
For more information on Linn Random, visit www.LinnRandom.com.
Lights, Camera. Murder! Pirates in Paradise are on sale this month at Coffeetime Romance

Red Dragon
March 2nd, 2011, 10:46 AM
Hello Lin,
This is very generous of you to share the finer points of building suspense. I really appreciate it. Maybe your lessons will help me structure my 2010 NaNo novel 'Motive for Murder'. At the moment it is in a very raw state.

Here is my 1st sentence:
Sirens blasted the pre dawn darkness in the tiny harbour village.

Opening scene:
Sirens blasted the pre dawn darkness in the tiny harbour village.
Were they ambulance or police? Suzy wasn't sure. She threw back the bedclothes and ran to the balcony door.
<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p> </o:p>
In the street below lights flashed red and blue. People in hastily donned dressing gowns, ran from downstairs doorways. Others appeared on the balconies beside her. Mrs Cleary, who owned the grocer shop below, glanced at Suz and pulled her dressing gown edges together at her chest.<o:p> </o:p>ďWhat's happening!"

Harriet, the hairdresser, looked up from the street."I think its old Tom. One of the ambos said they are answering a 000 call from the butcher."
<o:p> </o:p>
As they watched, more police cars arrived. Suz saw the tall, dark Irishman get out and enter the butcher shop. That's the copper with the bad reputation, Mr Gorgeous. She smiled to herself but stifled the smile when she remembered the seriousness of the call. Heíd be going though the door leading to the apartment above the butcher shop.

A woman screamed, an ear piercing whale of shock and horror. It tore through Suzy like a knife.

March 2nd, 2011, 12:24 PM
I love the start of your novel, and you have a terrific first scene.

Please stay with the class as in the weeks that follow, we will be discussing, plots, subplots, how to build multilayered characters, and I'll be sharing some tips and information on how to keep your readers on edge and turning the page.

Thanks for your comments and sharing. You have a great hook!



March 2nd, 2011, 01:06 PM
Hi Linn, my name is Gloria and I'mlooking forward to working with and I feel sure I will benefit from this short course - many thanks for giving us your time and expertise.

March 2nd, 2011, 04:40 PM
I haven't got any books published or any works in progress that fall in the suspense genre but I'm willing to give it a shot. I'll piece something together shortly and post it.

March 2nd, 2011, 05:10 PM
Charmed, whether you are writing a comedy, paranormal or any other genre, you still want that element of reader interest, you want the reader to keep turning the page. So whatever you write, its okay....and post that opening sentence. You don't have to write romantic suspense to enjoy this class. I'd delighted to have you join us and am looking forward to your posts! Thanks so much, Deadlock looks fantastic, I'm going to check it out! Linn (and I'm sorry you are sick........sending you some Florida Sunshine to make you feel better!)

March 2nd, 2011, 05:12 PM
Make sure to read the first two in the series first Linn. Deadlock is by Moira Rogers and can be found at Samhain Publishing.

March 2nd, 2011, 05:13 PM
Gloria, I'm delighted to find you here. Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas, you are so very welcome! Linn

March 2nd, 2011, 05:14 PM
Will do Charmed! Thanks for the tip! Linn

March 2nd, 2011, 06:25 PM
1st line:
Cassidy Jones stared down at the pale nude body at her feet.

Opening scene:
Cassidy Jones stared down at the pale nude body at her feet. Her eyes roaming over the impressive rack jutting from the chest, and the neat thatch of blonde curls covering the nether region. The body was definitely a young woman, early twenties if she had to hazard a guess. But that was about as much she could confirm to the press, because for once, the dead wasn't talking to her.

"Makes it hard for you, doesn't it Cassidy?" My partner commented as he tipped his head towards the top of the body.

"Yeah it sure does. Our victim has no head."

"And no head means no mouth."

"And no mouth means she can speak no evil."

March 2nd, 2011, 07:43 PM
This is excellent, beautiful Charmed One! Good Job!!!!!!!!!!!!
I want to read more!!!!!!!!!! Linn

March 2nd, 2011, 07:58 PM
Thanks so much for the wonderful words Linn. I do have a little bit more to add, so I will.

Red Dragon
March 2nd, 2011, 08:50 PM
Lin, I tried to post my reply to the day 2 thread about the plot book but it is closed. I hope it is okay to post it here.

This Plot book is certainly helpful. It helped me to distinguish 3 sub plots.
But -- I balked at 'timeline'. Why? Perhaps my lazy gene kicked in.
Iíll have to go through the story and sort that one out. It will take a long time.

Nevertheless, I discovered 2 problems
In the second half of the first scene, which I didnít submit earlier, I have the store owners rushing about trying to find out what has happened to the butcher (I had to change him to a fish monger when I saw where the story was headed). The problem is the second half reads like a list of characters even though they are acting in short bursts.

And the major problem is
My Villain drives the story. She is centre stage most of the time.
My Heroine is sidelined, in fact I realized that I have kept her out of the story altogether. Ė locked her in a fishermanís shed ( she had to be rescued)
- put her in hospital
- -put her in jail.

Red Dragon
March 2nd, 2011, 08:55 PM
:gemini:Hi CharmedGirl

March 2nd, 2011, 09:21 PM
ďNor see or hear any evil even though she would have witnessed plenty of it.Ē Christian teased, as if the deceased had been the three wise monkeys, a woman of good mind, speech and action. A woman that if they knew the exact identify of, would lead to any easy arrest. Only things werenít that simple. Not with any case.<O:p</O:p

ďThat as it may be, it looks like the two of us will have to start at square one.Ē Cassidy glanced over at the medical examiner, Calamity Griggs. A feisty woman in her late forties that had worked her way up slowly through the ranks and into the top job, infuriating the many men who thought they were better suited for the position. ďTake her fingerprints. I want to know who she is by the end of the day.Ē<O:p</O:p

ďAnything for you, detective.Ē Calamity said as she crouched down beside the body, and slid the black bag from her shoulder that held all her equipment. "Just let me get some gloves and I'll get started."

She unzipped the bag, reached inside, and within moments pulled out a pair of gloves. She slipped them on with ease, like she'd done it a million times before. Which Cassidy was certain she had.

Calamity delved back into her bag, rummaging through it until she dragged out a tiny contraption of some sort. She held it towards Cassidy for her to see. Cassidy's eyes piqued with interest.

"What's that for?"

"I'll take an impression of one of our victim's fingers with it. Most likely her thumb or forefinger."

"Can you show us how it works?"

"Just like this." Calamity pressed her thumb into the middle of the tiny gadget. "Then I'll press a few buttons and her prints will be uploaded to the national database."

"Sounds impressive."

"Yeah thank goodness for technology. It makes my life just that little bit easier."

March 6th, 2011, 11:30 PM
Hi Lynn,
I'm a little late to the party but here is my first line and first scene of a story I hope to make a humorous mystery:
First line:
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Scene: Shrill screams of panic echoed around the room and kept going and going like the damn Energizer Bunny as I struggled to free myself. I hit the floor hard, certain my shoulder dented the wood. Sudden silenceóand I realized the panicked screams had merely been the ringing telephone.
I lay there, blinking for a moment, dripping sweat, breathing hard, and wondered for the forty-seventh time where I was.
Iíd run as far from Los Angeles as I could after Laura's murder. There's only so much a man can take of big city murder and mayhem before he either turns into a cold-hearted jerk or a quivering bowl of pudding. I'd noticed the tremors already starting in my gut at the sound of a siren. It was time to regroup or get out.

Still, I hadnít imagined Iíd run through the Twilight Zone in the process. The little hamlet of Puddyville seemed happily stuck in a time warp of the heyday of Andy Griffith, when no one locked their doors and the worst thing to ever happen involved drinking too much and urinating on someoneís lawn.

March 7th, 2011, 05:11 PM
The cold metal bar, bit into Michaela Winters' shoulder as the balcony she lay on shuddered and groaned. A shriek eased past her lips as it tilted forward and she was wedged even tighter against the railing. Another scream, this one more terrified came from below.
"Please," Michaela said, inching backwards using her toes. Pain burned in her arms and back, straining with the effort of maintaining her grip on the figure dangling below.
The balcony gave another ominous creak as heavy footsteps approached. Michaela glanced over her shoulder. She had one thought...friend or foe?

That's about as far as I've gotten.

March 7th, 2011, 08:03 PM
Telly, this is excellent. Great job on the show don't tell. I like what you have written and hope you continue. This is absolutely wonderful! Good Job! Linn

March 7th, 2011, 08:14 PM
Jude what a wonderful start! Bravo! The only small change I would suggest is to shorten your first sentence. In a future class I will be talking about creating suspense.

If you don't mind, and I humbly beg your pardon, may I suggest.

"The cold metal bar bit into Michaela Winters. Beneath her, the balcony she lay on shuddered and groaned. A shriek eased past her lips as it tilted forward. With care she was wedged even tighter against the railing. Another scream, this one more terrified came from below."

Short sentences cause the reader to read faster, and your first sentence should spike anyone's blood pressure (it did mine). Excellent job. And when you want the action to slow....make your sentences longer.

Now my good friend Mammy from Gone With the Wind, is at my shoulder reminding me that "This is her story, Scarlett." So I will politely blush and hope you don't mind my humble suggestion. Write it the way you want to write it....but shorter sentences read faster and add to the suspense. I'll be giving you more tips on this later.

Really great start, I love your hook, and am looking forward to reading more. You've got a winner! Linn

March 7th, 2011, 09:26 PM
Not a problem. :) I've worked on that line and knew it wasn't QUITE right. I want to learn all I can. Thanks for offering your time and comments.

March 7th, 2011, 09:31 PM
Oh no, Miz Linn, I don't mind, 'cause I don' know nuthin' 'bout birthin' no mysteries. (Badly paraphrased, wasn't it?) lol

No, seriously, I'm here to learn, so any and all suggestions are what I'm looking forward to!


March 7th, 2011, 09:47 PM
Oh, I love this. wonderful Charmed!!!!!!!!! You really do have the magic in you!

March 7th, 2011, 09:51 PM
Ah Jude! LOL, another GWTW fan......love it!!!!!!!!

Again, Telly, your first line is terrific. Just somethig to consider!

So much talent in this room! I am just awestruck. Way to go everyone! Linn

March 7th, 2011, 10:53 PM
Linn, i love the start of your book.

I think I just figure out how to get into your class. I'm writing an m/m erotica romance paranormal mystery with vampires. i'm a late starter here so what do i do now.

March 7th, 2011, 11:12 PM
Hi again Linn, I know this lesson is late, but here's 1st line in the Prologue of my m/m erotica paranormal mystery vampires story. Btw the story conflict is a vampire who tracks a renegade vampire who is killing cops.

1st line Portland, Oregon Summer, 2009//
Hunger roiled through his belly while the vampire squatted on the roof. A reddish hue glowed in front of him as his eyes scanned the quiet neighborhood. So far no mortal nor animal stirred.

March 8th, 2011, 07:58 AM
JerryR, you are never too late to post in this class and I'm so glad you could join us.

Regards your first sentence, the hook.......one word--YIKES!!!!!!!!! Oh my goodness what a great start. I love the conflict/storyline of your book.

Now, is it morning or night? Do your vamps move in both? Outside of True Blood, Moonlight and Twilight...and some old movies, I'm not an expert on vampires but I understand it can be both or just night. But very interesting, none the less!

But fantastic start........I hope the class will see more, you are definately moving in the right direction. Good Job! Linn