Effective Use of Suspense

Suspense. (Photo credit: practicalowl)

A visit to Dictionary.com reveals that the word suspense can be defined at least four ways. We’ll devote particular attention to the first definition at the site. Suspense, the site intimates, is “a state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.”

The element of suspense is present to an extent in all successful works of fiction. The degree to which a particular writer will utilize the element of suspense effectively will depend upon a number of factors, including:

(1) the author’s command of the subtleties of the language utilized in the narrative;

(2) the writer’s facility with plot, characterization, point of view, foreshadowing, back story, pacing, technique and the like; and

(3) the overall level of maturity the scribe has reached in the genre in which she aspires to write.

Why, you may ask, is the genre of the work  so important? Except in extraordinary circumstances, the assignment of genre will dictate the prospective reader’s expectations for the journey through the work. The historical romance devotee, for instance, may delight in a vivid description of the sensations the novel’s heroine experiences as she sets off on a wild coach chase through the forest, but she will be equally enamored with the picturesque advance over the quaint bridge leading from the manor house into the neighboring village.

The contemporary romantic suspense connoisseur, on the other hand, may revel in the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching narrative pace inspired by an unexpected late night pursuit of the serial killer’s van, but the reader will probably balk if the novel’s heroine spends an inordinate amount of time mulling over the ideal dress or pair of heels to wear to a traffic court appearance a few days after the chase.

So, tell us… Have you read a work of inspirational fiction in which the author utilized the wrong dosage of suspense for the genre? If so, what was the effect of the oversight? (Please refrain from utilizing a particular writer’s name or fiction work title in your response.)  Have you—on the other hand—read Christian fiction works that reflected an author’s exceptional facility with the pacing techniques required to build suspense effectively? (Feel free to reference those authors/works, if you wish.)

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