Suspense is born of the compelling need for resolution of the unknown. It best describes the moments between a question asked and an answer given. Who’s that knocking at the door? Who would do that at eleven o’clock at night? It wasn’t a desperate knock, followed by a plea for help, it was a gentle, almost reluctant knock. Your heart races a little. Should you answer or pretend you’re not there? Curiosity wins and you dare to twitch a curtain – nothing.
You creep toward the door – the barrier between you and an answer you may not be prepared for – the barrier between the safety of your home and the unknown that lurks beyond. You engage the safety chain, ease the latch and dare to open the door. The chain is far from fully taut, when …
When what? you ask. Precisely, I would answer. Suspense brings tension and the need for resolution, and it’s exactly that which make a book become a real page-turner. One of the best examples I can offer is JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord Of The Rings”. Not just because the reader wants to know how everything pans out, but because you are following the trail of various characters as they make they individual journeys into the unknown.
There’s suspense right there, but when the writer throws characters into some intense moment and then leaves them hanging there, while the writer moves on to some other group that you were left desperate to know more about just a couple of chapters ago, the author offers the reader a double dose – one of exasperation and the other of relief as readers rejoins those they cared most about not that long before.
The same is true for Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. Tension and suspense are created as the writer throws the reader out of one situation and into another at moments of high drama. Both books are much longer than most, Tolkien’s becoming three of course, but the reader cares less about the length of the journey and more about the need for all those tantalizing answers.
Suspense and the fear of the unknown can easily climb to the dizzy heights of torment, anxiety and even horror as tensions reach a fever-pitch of desperation and urgency to know if the plight of the sufferer will be resolved.
In Dean Zoontz’s ‘Odd Thomas’ the central character battles with an invasion of his home town by spirits both good and evil. Only he has the psychic connection that allows him awareness of the early, unfolding situation and as the story progresses the reader is tormented by his need to sift the good from the bad, perception from reality, the living from the dead.
The beautiful irony then being that in such powerful books of pure invention, when all is finally reconciled and we, the readers, have our answer as to what it is that lies beyond that door, the facts remain pure fiction in the end.
John D. Moulton’s debut suspense novel, ‘White Ashes’ is available in print and eBook formats. Find details at White-Ashes.com