Thursday, June 24, 2010

Suspense in the Night

"If you want to hold your readers, give them something to worry about." --Ayn Rand

One of the highlights of our recent trip (next to seeing the new grandbaby, of course!) was a hike in the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park in the foothills of California's San Gabriel Mountains. There were five of us adults and baby Nicholas snuggled securely in his mommy's carrier-wrap.

The climb was moderate at first, but soon twists, turns, and sharp drop-offs made things more complicated. Still, we were having fun. Other hikers greeted us, joggers nodded, and those with dogs on leashes peeked over at the sleeping baby.

After a time, though, conflict arose. Trail signs proved confusing. The "loop" we thought we were on never looped back. Did we miss the turn? How much farther should we go? How long before nightfall?

And then the baby cried.

In the diminished evening light, it became more and more difficult to see things: dog doo-doo, ankle-twisting ruts, how close we were to the edge. Fewer travelers passed by. The bushes rustled with the sounds of unknown animals. A supplemental bottle for hungry baby emptied all too quickly.

Subplot: a man going up the mountain pushed a stroller, young child strapped in. Where in the world was he going in the quickening darkness?

Crisis. Baby's needs could no longer be ignored--but there was no place along the way to stop. Alone on the mountain, there was only one way out--and that was to keep walking. With the night's curtain dropping lower and lower, Mommy Suzan nursed baby as she cautiously stepped along on the shadowy trail.

Resolution? All downhill from there! We finally emerged in a parking lot bathed in moonlight.

Several vital elements in a good story--complications, conflict, subplot, crisis, resolution--entered into our hike that night. For us, it was suspenseful to say the least!

Suspense, says Tina Morgan at Fiction Factor, is one of the most crucial ingredients in our books. "Without it, there is no reason to continue reading or to continue watching a movie or play." And suspense is vital, she adds, to all genres.

Ironically, my "fun" reading on the plane both coming and going were books by Mary Higgins Clark--an author billed as the "Queen of Suspense."

Suspense. In our hike, it led to a memory that will go down in family archives. In stories, it's what keeps readers reading. How important is suspense to you?


  1. It's pretty important to me. I love to be kept on the edge of my seat :) Great post!

  2. Suspense is important, moreso than I probably realize. Without it, I believe my reading would lack a lot of personality.
    Have a wonderful weekend,
    Karen :)

  3. Sounds like an interesting trip! I agree about the suspense. Love a page turner! The family and I are going on vacation this week, thankfully the park is pretty straightforward! LoL Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow, Mom T!!!! What a wonderful way you described our adventure!!!! You know, I wanna go back there and finish the loop... but maybe I'll leave baby Nicholas with daddy!

  5. I like how you wove all of that together! Fun to read about...the "subplot": yeah why were they going up?! The good thing about the "crisis" is that it had a resolution (apart from getting downhill quickly with the help of some moonlight..) : mama's milk is always available! I enjoyed this...