LECTURE: "Danger - Keep Out!"
"DANGER - KEEP OUT!"
Here's a quick trickfor increasing the suspense: Let your protagonist walk through adoorway on her way to danger.
A PSYCHOLOGICAL TRICK
Film makers use thistechnique frequently. Next time you watch a thriller, cop drama orhorror movie, observe how the camera lingers on the door before thehero enters. Subconsciously, the viewer perceives the door as abarrier: if the protagonist crosses it, she is entering a dangerzone. The viewer screams inwardly “Don't open that door!” Ofcourse, the protagonist opens it and enters. By now, the viewer issitting on the edge of her chair, frightened on the hero's behalf,needing to find out what happens next.
You can use the sametrick in your writing: put a door between your protagonist and thedanger, and linger for a moment before she or he enters. Any kind ofdoor serves: a front door, a garden gate, a gatehouse, a trap door, astile, a cave mouth, even a gap in a hedge. This works whether yourheroine is a police officer on her way to confront a serial killer,or a governess tempted to explore the mansion cellar's secrets,whether your hero accidentally stumbles into a lair of werewolves orwhether he gets dragged into the torture dungeon.
Slow the story's pacefor a moment and linger at the door. Describe the door: Is it darkoak, grimy glass, gleaming steel, or splintering hardwood withpeeling paint? Are there any danger clues, such as knife marks,smashed glass, ominous stains, thorny plants, perhaps even a sign“Visitors Unwelcome” or “Keep Out” nailed to the centre?
Describe the sound ofthe doorbell, or the weight of the keys in her hand. Finally,describe how the door opens: Does it creak open or screech open? Doesit rattle or whisper? Does it whine inwards on its hinges?
By the time yourprotagonist steps through the door, the reader's suspense is turnedto high volume, intensely anticipating what happens next.
HEIGHTENING THESUSPENSE FURTHER
If you want to increasethe suspense further still, describe the sound of the door as itcloses behind her.
The door snappedshut.
Behind her, the doorgroaned shut.
The door thuddedclosed.
The door clankedinto its lock.
This suggests to thereader that the protagonist has just walked into a trap, and that herescape route is blocked.
EXAMPLES FROM BOOKS
Many famous works inliterature use the “door effect”. Think of Lucy walking throughthe wardrobe in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, or thebride opening the forbidden door in the fairy tale of Bluebeard.
Modern masters also usethe technique. Here are four examples:
Alicia Scott (akaLisa Gardner): Marrying Mike - Again
The huge brass doorsloomed ahead of her, the last barrier between her and the press. Shecould hear the dull roar of news vans and screeching microphones.This was it.
Sandra took a deepbreath. She'd run dozens of meetings more important than this; she'dhandled situations more critical. She was capable, she was efficient.She would get the job done. And yet her hand was shaking on the largebrass handle
Sandra pushed openthe yawning brass doors, and the light bulbs exploded in her face.
Rebecca Levene: ColdWarriors
Raphael raised aneyebrow at him. “In a hurry? Don't worry - we've arrived.” Heunlocked the steel door in front of him with a rusty key, then swungit open into blackness, stepping aside to beckon Morgan through.
“In there?”Morgan asked dubiously.
Raphael smiled,wrinkling his face into a thousand shallow crevices. “We are verysecurity conscious here - some of our books are worth a great deal ofmoney. After you, Morgan.”
It was only when heheard the door slam shut behind him that Morgan remembered he'd nevertold the professor his name.
Barbara Nadel:Belshezzar's Daughter
He mounted the stepsup to the front door. He looked down into the litter-filled well ofthe basement. Two pairs of rodent eyes stared back at him. He tappedthe heavy metal knocker twice and waited.
For at least thirtyseconds nothing happened. The rats continued to stare; the silenceclosed about him like a straitjacket and Robert Cornelius felt thefirst stirrings of despair, followed quickly by anger.
Then, suddenly andwithout the usual warning noise of approaching footsteps, the doorswung open. “Efendim?”
Harlan Coben: Caught
I knew opening thatred door would destroy my life.
Yes, that soundsmelodramatic and full of foreboding and I'm not big on either, andtrue, there was nothing menacing about the red door. In fact, thedoor was beyond ordinary, wood and fourpaneled, the kind of door yousee standing guard in front of three out of every four suburbanhomes, with faded paint and a knocker at chest level no one ever usedand a faux brass knob.
Angela Carter: TheLady Of The House Of Love
He could almost haveregretted accepting the crone's unspoken invitation; but now,standing before the door of time-eroded oak while she selected a hugeiron key from the clanking ringful at her waist, he knew it was toolate to turn back and brusquely reminded himself he was no child,now, to be frightened of his own fancies.
The old ladyunlocked the door, which swung back on melodramatically creakinghinges, and fussily took charge of his bicycle, in spite of hisprotests.
But, in for a pennyin for a pound - in his youth and strength and blond beauty, in theinvisible, even unacknowledged pentacle of his virginity, the youngman stepped over the threshold of Nosferatu's castle and did notshiver in the blast of cold air, as from the mouth of a grave thatemanated from the lightless, cavernous interior.
Nicole Young:Love Me If You Must
He walked toward thecellar door.
“Wait,” Ihollered when I realized his intentions. “That door stays locked.There's no reason to go down there.”
He paused with hishand on the knob. “Let me do my job, Tish. I want to get some sleeptonight.”
I crossed my arms.“Fine. I'll wait up here.”
“No problem.” Heturned the latch and stepped into the gloom beyond.
The master key wason his belt. He slid it into the lock and jerked open the door toWarren's cell. The hinge squeaked from the weight of the door.
Kristine KathyrnRusch: Five Mystery Stories
Apartment 14A had acrooked metal sign and an open presswood door, the outside of whichhad once seen the backside of someone's foot. The breaks in the woodweren't new and they weren't clean, and all they left was a thinlayer of really cheap oak covering between the inhabitants - orformer inhabitants as the case might be - and the rest of the world.
You can use thistechnique several times in a novel, as long as you choose differenttypes of doors, and write each section differently. However, don't betempted to start every scene in your novel with the protagonistwalking through a door: this would be tedious.
The technique worksonly if something exciting happens once the protagonist has entered.There's no point building suspense by describing how the heroineopens the kitchen door, if all she does is make a cup of tea and thenshe leaves again. The readers will feel disappointed if you raisetheir expectations and then don't deliver the promised threat. Somake sure there is real danger waiting behind that door.