Tag Archives: suspense

Where’d That Come From?


“Where’d you ever come up with the idea for your book?”

I get asked that question at least once a week.

Why would a sweet little old lady write about an evil, delusional man who thinks he has met the re-incarnation of the girl he loved, but murdered?

My answer: I came up with my story idea years and years ago after I read a news article about a teenaged girl who had been abducted by a crazy guy, and taken into the wilderness.

At the time, I was about the same age as this girl, and I kept thinking, “What would I do if this happened to me? How would I survive? Would I be able to keep my wits about me even if I were terrified?

Gradually, over the years, a suspenseful but adventurous story began to percolate through my mind. Bits of my own experiences, scary imaginings, dark dreams, things I have read, suspenseful movies I’ve seen: these all contributed to the formulation of Haven’s Flight.

Can you imagine being lost in the densely forested Cascade Mountains, being injured, running from a man with murder on his mind? He’s got all the odds in his favor. He knows the woods, he’s an expert hunter and tracker, he’s big and strong, and he never seems to tire.

But Haven has more in her favor than she thinks.

She’s got a big, strong God who has promised never to leave her or forsake her.

Find out more about Haven here:

Have you ever doubted God’s ability, or willingness to come to your rescue?

Remember this: “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him.” (Psalm 91:14, 15)






Antelopes and Suspense

32nd wedding anniv 225

One of my favorite things to do while traveling through Wyoming is to search for and keep a tally of the pronghorn antelope that graze near the highway.

Pronghorn antelope spend most of their days in a leisurely stroll from one delectable sage bush to another. Mothers keep their babies close by. I’ve often spotted them lying  in small groups, and at other times, drinking from streams. But one of the group is always watching for danger. They don’t laze among trees, but are always out in the open where they can quickly spot a predator.

Their pace is unhurried. But I suspect that God has built into the little antelope the wisdom of conserving energy for times of threat or danger. When I’ve seen the critters actually run, its pretty thrilling, for pronghorn are the fastest land animals in North America, reaching speeds close to 60 miles per hours.

But if the pronghorn was always running, I’m sure it’s speed would one day fail to wow me.

Because of its conserving of energy, the pronghorn makes me think about the writerly craft of building and sustaining suspense in stories.

I once read a suspense novel where every scene was so packed with action that I grew annoyed. Has that ever happened to you, too? Each new chapter dunked me into the dark water of crisis— assaults, break-ins, phone threats, chase scenes— and gave me no time in which to process the high action of the preceding scene.

I’ve had some well-meaning writer friends advise me to keep each chapter “hopping” and to never let the reader catch her breath. This is advice I fully plan not to take.

The most effective suspense and thriller stories weave back story and relationships and motivations into a strong braid in order to build fascination and tension. This takes time. Just like the antelope who doesn’t always run. Oh, the speedy little antelope might run a few yards at the clap of thunder or the shadow of a hawk, but he saves his biggest race for the biggest danger.

In a delectable and suspenseful read we need some down-time. Not every scene has to give the reader a heart attack. Here’s what I love:

  • It’s the writer’s dropping of what seems inconsequential bits of information during a relaxed conversation. Later in the story you—the reader—smack your forehead and say, “Oh, that’s why he mentioned the snake!”
  • It’s the setting-up of a seemingly decent relationship between friend and friend, or business associates, or girl and boy, but with little expressions or movements or phrases between the two that clue you in to, “Something’s not quite right, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
  • It’s letting the reader know that the threat is real and it’s coming, but when?
  • It’s delving into each character’s history so we gain empathy.
  • It’s the occasional scary scene that makes us think, “This is it.” But it’s not. Yet.

And when the threat turns into imminent danger, the characters—like the antelope—begin their real run for their lives.

But if everything—for the antelope and the writer—is a race?

Ho hum.

Why I Like Suspense

I write suspense, and I frequently get asked, “How come you like suspense?”

The first time someone asked me that I had to think for a minute.

I think it starts in childhood. As a little kid, it was wondering when would be the next time that my older sister would put a spider on my shoulder, or jump out of the closet. Or it was fearing that maybe, just maybe, those spine-tingling scenarios on The Twilight Zone really could happen.

  • What if giant ants could invade your neighborhood and eat children?
  • What if seeds from outer space could land on earth, germinate, and take over a person’s mind?
  • What if there really was a fourth dimension—right next to your bed—that you could fall into and never get out of?

I guess I’ve always wondered if there is an area in space and time where reality and unreality meet. The space where they meld might be very small, but perhaps it does exist. And the possibility that I might have stepped into that area for only a second gives me goosebumps.

It’s a deliciously nerve-wracking realization. Like the time my husband “disappeared” from our house during a snowstorm. The car was still in the garage. There were no tracks leading away from our house. For over an hour, I searched every inch of the house. Even the crawl-space. Gone.

I began to imagine all sorts of scenarios. Because I’d already exhausted all logical explanations for his disappearance, my frenzied mind stumbled into other-worldly imaginings:

  • The Rapture happened and I was left behind.
  • Aliens abducted him.
  • He slipped into the fourth dimension.
  • Spontaneous combustion. (Nah, couldn’t be ’cause there was no smoke.)

I did finally find my husband. He’d been hiding from me by slipping behind the mattress of our boys’ upper bunk bed. (too bad he hadn’t fallen into the fourth dimension!)

My husband’s practical joke was scary. But the experience showed me how far the human mind—my mind—will go to answer its questions. Once emotionally and mentally invested in an uncertain future, we need closure.

IMG_2589That’s why I love suspense. How will it end? Will good triumph?