Elements of a novel

Folks often ask me: How to write a suspense novel?

Being an author of three novels (published and pending publication) I do not feel competent to answer this question definitively. I doubt I will have a definitive answer even with 10 books under my belt. As someone once said: When a writer begins to think that he knows how to write – he will never write anything worth reading again. I do not pretend to know how to write, however, being also an avid reader, I can at least attempt to describe my combined writer/reader observations.

When you pick up any novel, be it a thriller or a mainstream story, you will notice that it starts off with some sort of a crisis. To cut it short: the rest of the story deals with solving the crisis.

In more detail: the crisis is where something happens, and where the main characters are introduced. This must grab the readers’ attention or else the novel is a bomb.

Next major step is required to keep the tension growing, and that step is called a twist. It involves some kind of trouble, or a turn in development of the plot that is surprising to the main character and readers.

Most authors of suspense and thriller novels will add a second twist, to keep the tension boiling, but also, and just as importantly so the reader doesn’t think she already solved the mystery. This is where the protagonist’s efforts at figuring out the first twist are shattered.

I think that readers are often way ahead of the writer in terms of figuring our where the story leads, and after the second twist they can usually tell the outcome, sometimes staying with the novel to the end, but often fingering through or outright dumping it. Yeah, I am that reader. So, as a writer I like to add a third twist, where any readers’ notions of figuring out the plot are shattered into pieces. 

The twists should be constructed and presented in such a way that the buildup of tension leads to the climax, that point in the novel, not too far from- and not too close from the end where it is very difficult to put it down, whether or not one figured out what is about to happen.

Then the climax brings the resolution, that point where all the twists become clear, and lead to the only natural closing. The closing is the most difficult stage. It depends entirely on the previous stages. It is here that many authors fail their readers – where readers just shake their heads and say – It’s ridiculous! Keep in mind that closing also means open end, if that is what comes as a natural result of everything that happened.

Of course the above treats the subject in the most shallow way -perhaps I will find the time to expand on it some day…


2 responses to “Elements of a novel

  1. Evan Paul

    Too bad I completed my manuscript so late in life… I guess I was having way too good a time writing it , sporadically, over thirty five years…. Now that my health is failing and a very qualified reader I offered it to said, “this is the best book I’ve ever read.” Getting it into print and on the market might just make it my grandkids inheritance… But you have renewed my faith a bit…thanks!

  2. Nancy Jane

    Thank You–I found this useful. Short, sweet, and to the point. I like things told, “In a nutshell”. The rest is the creative process of the author’s imagination.

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