Tag Archives: child-like imagination

What If?: Writing Suspense

I have an imagination that seems to be suited for suspense. Maybe it comes from being the youngest child in my family and having to sort out when my bigger siblings were joke-threatening, or when they really meant it.

Disclaimer: I love my brothers and sisters and our sibling disagreements never amounted to more than squabbles. Nothing serious.

For example, when I annoyed my older sister too much, she’d say, “You’re going to get it.”

And I’d say, “Yeah? Well, what are you gonna do to me?”

“Just wait and see.”

She’d make a sudden move toward me—which might start as a wrestle to the floor, followed by an awful tickling session—and I’d squeal and run away.

My older brother left me with worse angst. The kind that comes from not having things fully explained. For a child too young for much abstract thought, my brother’s stories about the horrors of getting a cavity and having a “giant drill” blasting away inside my mouth sent me running to my dad for confirmation. Naturally, I’d pictured the dentist wielding a jackhammer.

And then there was the other story he told me about giant ants who ate people. This was loosely based on a newspaper article about swarms of giant ants attacking villagers in the Amazon. But I didn’t know where the Amazon jungle was when I was five. And my brother didn’t bother to explain that “giant” might have been one inch long, not six feet long. He joked about the ants coming up from my grandmother’s kitchen cabinets to get us at night. I was really scared of cabinets for several years.

Like earlier generations of children fed a nightly story-time of Grimm’s fairy tales, I learned to fear the dark, and what’s around the corner or inside certain cabinets, and to wonder if that horse in the pasture down the road is really just a horse, or an enchanted prince.

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Suspense—whether I’m writing a scene or a chapter or an entire novel— is all about unanswered questions. Now that I’m not wondering about the tall tales my brothers and sisters told me, here are the suspenseful questions I mused about this week. (I particularly like number 5)

  1. Is that religious gal I met at the bookstore for real? What’s behind her smile? Am I a new friend to her, or a potential cult follower?
  2. Do I know my friends well enough to trust them with a secret that means life or death for me?
  3. What if I woke up to find my family has disappeared and everyone insisted I never had a family?
  4. What if my husband were a foreign agent and he only told me this on his deathbed? But he left me with a post office key.
  5. What if anyone you were touching could not die? What if the wrong sort of people found out about your gift? What if they kidnapped you?

 

Do you like to read suspense? Some people read for escape. Is that why you read? What did you wonder about this week?