Wait For It...Waaaait For It: The Nuance of Suspense by Joan Swan

Welcome to genre specialist Monday! :) Today I'm excited to introduce you to one of our new regular columnists--Joan Swan, who is a romantic suspense author who debuts in February 2012! Today she's going to talk to us about...

The Nuance of Suspense by Joan Swan


Wait for it... Waaaaait foooor it...

The whole point to suspense is drama development within a story. To have suspenseful drama, you must have:

  • Stakes--what will the character win or lose in the situation
  • Character--do I connect enough with this person to care whether they win or lose
  • Conflict--someone must want one thing while another (even if that is an natural force) wants another. 

And these elements must be utilized in a delicate balance.

Suspense is about proposing a story question, then making the reader wait for the answer. How long? It depends...usually on the question itself.  Some are big, some are small, but regardless of the size (or relative importance) every time an answer is revealed, another continues to linger. Like that childhood game leapfrog, some question that the reader needs answered is always in place, which creates a need-to-know atmosphere: hence, suspense.  When done well, the story skips along, with answers coming at intervals and new questions popping up.

Timing is everything, and it's a skill I believe develops on a gut level.  There are "rules of thumb" that can be applied, but in my opinion the development of your sixth sense is more valuable. If you're bored...the reader will be bored. If the scenario feels off to you...it will feel off to the reader. If your attention is scattered between three different story lines...the reader will also be distracted. And if you allow the suspense to linger, making the reader wait too long for answers, they will get exasperated and put the book down. 

There are different types of suspense a writer can employ to keep the pace moving in creative, thought-provoking ways:  the dark, slowly-twining-around-your-throat suspense, the emotional, life-altering-twisting-your-stomach suspense, and the well-known and loved physical-threat-to life-and-limb suspense.  And because I write romantic suspense, I'm also twining in the romantic conflict along the way. It's fun and challenging and when it all comes together, the result is priceless.

Joan's recommended read for August:

MARKED, by Elisabeth Naughton
THERON – Dark haired, duty bound and deceptively deadly. He’s the leader of the Argonauts, an elite group of guardians that defends the immortal realm from threats of the Underworld.
From the moment he walked into the club, Casey knew this guy was different. Men like that just didn’t exist in real life—silky shoulder-length hair, chest impossibly broad, and a predatory manner that just screamed dark and dangerous. He was looking for something. Her.


She was the one. She had the mark. Casey had to die so his kind could live, and it was Theron’s duty to bring her in. But even as a 200-year-old descendant of Hercules, he wasn’t strong enough to resist the pull in her fathomless eyes, to tear himself away from the heat of her body.

As war with the Underworld nears, someone will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Pick up MARKED here:

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Joan Swan is a triple RWA® Golden Heart finalist. She writes sexy romantic suspense with a paranormal twist, and her debut novel, FEVER, with Kensington Brava releases February 28, 2012. A second in the series, BLAZE, releases October, 2012. You can find Joan at her blog, One Word At A Time, her website or Twitter.

What do you think creates a suspenseful read?