Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thriller Tension: Killing your Reader with Guest Jordyn Redwood

Are you a lover of suspense novels? I know I am. I read and write them. There are many authors I admire but those I crave and anxiously anticipate their next novels are those that have so much tension on the page, you can barely keep the book in your hands without throwing it aside because you must read but can’t bear to read the next sentence.

That is perfection.

As a debut author myself, I want to create that experience for my readers. Tension. Angst. Worry.

Here are five tips to increase the tension in your suspense manuscripts. How many have you tried?

1. There must be death or danger of death in the first chapter: Recently, I reviewed a manuscript that’s major plot surrounded children being kidnapped. The first chapter had a father and son at an amusement park. The son goes missing for a short amount of time (maybe 1-2 hours) then is found and returned back to the father. Not a scratch on the child to be seen. Video showed an employee took the boy somewhere he shouldn’t have. Hmm—okay. Nothing really too frightening is happening. How do I know it just wasn’t an employee being helpful when the boy lost sight of his father? Too slow. Particularly for suspense, the reader must be worried in the first chapter—first page is best. Most agents/editors make a decision about your ms after reading only the first page.

2. If you’re bored, the reader is falling asleep: If the passage you’re editing bores you as the author, use this as a signal to change the scene. Possibly, it needs to be outright discarded. Another option is to write the chapter in another POV. Bring in a character that can add conflict. Or, as James Scott Bell says—have someone walk in with a weapon.

3. Say what shouldn’t be said: For this, I’m not talking about vulgar language. In my second novel, Poison, I have two characters (Nathan and Lee) that were part of a hostage situation in my first novel, Proof. It was one of my favorite scenes to write and you can find it here (Chapter 2). In the second novel, these two are teamed up working a case. In Proof, Lee disagreed with Nathan about when SWAT should respond and people died. In the original scene, Lee says, “Nathan, I don’t blame you for what happened.” Then I thought, why shouldn’t he blame him? Adds tension. Adds conflict. Adds dimension to their relationship. So—no more Mr. Nice guy and Lee let Nathan have it. Warranted or not. I love dialogue in fiction for this reason—you can say things that in real life you would normally stay mum about or gloss over in a PC way.

4. Use descriptive elements to add spookiness. The challenge of the fiction author is to use your prose to engage all five senses in a way that will add tension for the reader. The master of descriptive, tense prose (in my opinion) is Dean Koontz. Here’s one example of his from The Moonlit Mind. “His breath plumes from him as if he’s exhaling ghosts.” I just love that. Does that not add to the tension? This also speaks to a concept that Donald Maass (his books on writing are a must read) teaches about called microtension. In a suspense novel, there’s the overall story arc of murder and mayhem. Microtension is ensuring that each sentence in the novel propels the reader forward to the point that they cannot set your novel down.

5. Make it look structurally pleasing: There are several techniques you can use in the structure of your novel that will quicken its pace. Short chapters. Good use of sentence fragments. James Patterson is famous for this. But also, long sections of description will make suspense readers eyes gloss over. Shorter paragraphs interspersed with dialogue. Not every sentence of dialogue needs a tag as well.

Who are some of your favorite suspense authors and why? What are some techniques you’ve used to increase the tension of your manuscripts—suspense or otherwise?

Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. She hosts Redwood’s Medical Edge, a blog devoted to helping contemporary and historical authors write medically accurate fiction. Her debut novel, Proof, garnered a starred review from Library Journal and has been endorsed by the likes of Dr. Richard Mabry, Lynette Eason, and Mike Dellosso to name a few. You can connect with Jordyn via her website at www.jordynredwood.net


Proof: Bloodlines Triology 1 (Bloodline Trilogy) by Jordyn Redwood (Kregel Publications)

 Dr. Lilly Reeves is a young, accomplished ER physician with her whole life ahead of her. But that life instantly changes when she becomes the fifth victim of a serial rapist. Believing it's the only way to recover her reputation and secure peace for herself, Lilly sets out to find--and punish--her assailant. Sporting a mysterious tattoo and unusually colored eyes, the rapist should be easy to identify. He even leaves what police would consider solid evidence. But when Lilly believes she has found him, DNA testing clears him as a suspect. How can she prove he is guilty, if science says he is not?

Today Jordyn is giving away THREE copies of Proof to THREE LUCKY commenters. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition. Thank you, Jordyn!!!


  1. I am especially DEEELIGHTED to have Jordyn with us today....she's a nurse!!! She's a writer ...and she lives near me!!!

    I've already started her book and it's wonderful. I know you're going to enjoy it as well!!

    So welcome, Jordyn.

  2. It's a FABULOUS book! I already have one so don't enter me :).

    I sat across from Jordyn when I was in Denver last year. She TOLD ME the plot and I still sat on the edge of my seat... [Okay - so I'd FORGOTTEN but that's a different issue ;)]

    Mary's answer for #2 is to shoot someone.


    Okay - work starts again tomorrow... should probably go to bed... ;)

  3. Hi Jordyn:

    Have you read H. P. Lovecraft? He has the scariest language I’ve ever read in any horror story.

    To add tension I like to:

    Use Deep POV for the most dangerous scenes – but not for the whole book.

    Let the reader see the danger that the POV character does not see.

    Let the danger be something the POV character irrationally fears – like rats.

    Have the POV character unknowingly carry the danger on his person. Like a canteen that is really a bomb or that has a deadly spider inside. This way even innocent movements can cause high tension.

    Have the greatest danger come from the most trusted source (like a friend who may not even know he is the danger.)

    You have a great cover. I’m a big fan of medical romances.


    If your book is available as an eBook, please put me down for a chance to win. (I need the large type of an eBook.) vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  4. Why were you in Denver last year, Carole?

  5. Oops. No e on Carol.

    It's late and Vince is scaring me.

  6. Welcome Jordyn, While I am not a huge suspense reader I do like light suspense and love LIS books. Recently I read Zero Visibility by sharon Dunn, she got me with the very first sentence. the setting is really cold and I could feel the cold (could be it was really cold here at the time). I loved the story and I just could not put the book down and read til 2am. there was no where I could leave it and not know what happened next.

  7. Jordyn,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your tips with us.

    After reading this I wonder if I need to dig deeper into my character's fear of her grandmother dying on page one. At least I got the dying right.

    Thanks again.

    Jackie L.

  8. Jordyn did a big favor to the writing community by starting a medical blog. Thank you!

    I love suspense but thrillers are a genre' I don't think I'll try. I have enough trouble trying to come up with new ways to show visceral fear already.

    Proof sounds quite compelling!

  9. Great post, Jordyn! Definitely a keeper. The first manuscript I ever wrote was a suspense. I think I started it by describing a farmhouse, and not a creepy farmhouse a nice cheery one. NOT the way to begin a suspense. I found that out real quick when I entered a contest. :o)

    Thanks for all the super tips, and I will be grabbing a copy of PROOF for sure.


  10. Jordyn, your book sounds wonderful! I love to read suspense although I've never tried to write it. Great tips about tension and using description.

    Glad you came to Seekerville today!

  11. Jordyn--The scariest book I ever read was Intensity by DK. Oh, and I could never fully read a Stephen King novel--I know, I'm wimpy! ( I was able to watch some of the movies, though.)

  12. love the book cover. hats off to suspense writers - love to read 'em, but i could never hope to write 'em. *heavy sigh* i seem to have a mental block on creating a dangerous world. can't think of a favorite suspense author at the moment. i limit suspense reading a bit for the same reason i avoid "horror" films. my overactive imagination runs with the story long after the film (or book) is finished.

    i do love the list, i think it can be used for other genres as well. i thought of Mary's advice to shoot someone when i read #2 as well. hmmmm, perhaps that means Mary's advice is actually sinking in for me. (yay)

    would LOVE a chance at a book. please count me in.

  13. I LOVE suspense!!!! And I LOVE being introduced to new-to-me suspense authors. Don't know how I missed this debut release...my intrepid library skills must be on vacation!!! Just checked my local Christian bookstore and they have 'Proof' in stock so I'll be heading out there to get me a copy! I'm so excited!!!!

    I just finished reading Debby Giusti's 'The Colonel Lady' and she had me totally bamboozled. I thought I knew who the killer was -- but she proved me wrong in the end. Also loved how she achieved a balance between suspense and romance. That can be hard to do, but she aced it.

    Who else do I read? Hmmmmmm -- Irene Hannon, Lynette Eason, Terri Reed, Sandra Orchard, Dani Pettrey, Nancy Mehl, Marta Perry, Amy Wallace, Vicki Hinze, Margaret Daley, DiAnn Mills, Robin Carroll, Kristen Heitzmann,....LOL, okay I know I'm missing some but I'll stop there.

    Oh -- Dee Henderson who has a new book coming out this fall!!!!

    I love when I don't feel hurried in a suspense read. By that I mean that there's time in the story to develop relationships, get to know the characters...it's a fine balancing act that I don't pretend to know how to do but I LOVE the authors who manage to do it!!! Their books are still page-turners, the suspense still grips me, but there's that added connection with the characters that draws me in further.

    I have a question about the suspense genre if anyone cares to take a stab at it. :-)

    What is the difference between a suspense and a mystery?

  14. Tina -

    DH had a conference in Denver and I got to tag along :D. I mostly saw the inside of the hotel... I know I mentioned it around... didn't realize you were so close or would have pounced ;).

    Kav - I read Dee's new one a couple days ago and really enjoyed it - but it's more... crime drama than suspense. That's fine with me but I've heard through the grapevine that some people were wanting more actual suspense. I'll be reviewing it on my blog this week - probably tomorrow.

    I reviewed Cara's new one yesterday for anyone interested in taking a look :).

    And now... off to the first day of classes...

  15. Jordyn, the books sounds great! Thanks so much for being with us, sharing tips on suspense!

  16. Jordyn, I love your tips. Some of these tips can be used in other genres as well. I added a character to a scene and it brought in some conflict. Snappy dialogue always keeps readers engaged too. :) I love when my characters say things I never would. :)

    I look forward to reading your book. :)

  17. CAROL--hope your first day back is an easy one! :)

    VINCE--what great tips!

    KAV--check my facts on this, but I think part of the difference between a suspense and a mystery has to do with when a dead body shows up in the story. A mystery often begins with one, and in a suspense, there may/may not be one later in the story.

    Can anyone confirm or correct this?

  18. Hi Jordyn!

    (agency-mate extraordinaire!)

    Congratulations on your stellar debut! I can hardly wait to read your book.

    I love reading suspense, but I can't imagine writing it. You included some great tips that writers of other genres can benefit from, though. Even sweet Amish romances benefit from increasing tension.

    And for all you Coloradans - my flight to Dallas next month has me changing planes in Denver. I'll be sure to wave while I'm sitting in the airport!

  19. The difference between mystery and suspense? I don't know, Kav. We'll have to wait for our intrepid guest.

  20. Too bad the airport is so far away Jan! Did you know that the airport road alone is five miles long? Sheesh. It's a day trip to go to DIA.

  21. Hello Jordyn nice to see ya in seekerville today, I have been known to read suspense books sometimes though historical is what I like best. I love to read your blog and learn all the medical things you tell us. thanks for sharing-would love to win one of your books.
    Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

  22. Jordyn, when I'm trying to drive tension, especiallly in action scenes there is a real trick to NOT stopping the action in it's tracks.
    Short sentences. Short, strong minimalist descriptors. NO backstory. Little or no internal monologues.
    It's surprising how going over it, fixing, adjusting, cutting, adding can strengthen a tense scene until it almost howls.

  23. KAV to me the difference between mystery and suspense is that usually in a mystery, the reader doesn't know who the bad guy is and is trying to solve the crime right along with the characters in the book.
    In suspense you can know exactly who's coming for you, but the characters don't know.

  24. Oooh, Mary, I like that description of the difference.

    Very good.

  25. The queen of suspense will always be MHC. Mary Higgins Clark.

  26. Wait. Using Mary's definition she is the queen of mystery.

  27. Tina,

    So glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me!

  28. Thank you, Carol and looking forward to seeing you soon.

  29. Hi, Vince!

    I've not read H.P. Lovecraft but will definitely have to now.

    I love all your suggestions concerning use of POV. Those are awesome!

  30. Jackie,

    Sounds like a good way to also add some depth for your character.

  31. Thank you, Debra. Thanks for the compliments on my blog and I do hope you'll give Proof a try even though it is a thriller!

  32. Kristen,

    Trust me... I've learned the hard way too. One of my first paid critiques ever I thought the coordinator said submit your three BEST chapters-- so I did and they were not the FIRST THREE. Needless to say the person reviewing (who is still an editor at a well known Christian publishing house) was quite confused trying to read through it.

    But-- good tip on the setting. Yes, would at least need to be a creepy farmhouse for sure.

  33. Thank you Cara Lynn for leaving a comment!

  34. Lindi,

    Yes!! Another Koontz fan. So... what was the book?

    I agree, I can't read Stephen King. I tried The Stand many moons ago and just couldn't make the hurdle of those first 100 pages everyone says you need to get through to get to the good stuff.

    But, Mr. Koontz is my all time writing fav.

  35. Lindi,

    Just saw the title-- Intensity.

    Good title for the book, huh?

    If you haven't read Life Expectancy-- give it a try. It's my favorite DK novel.

  36. Hi Kav!!

    That's a great group of authors you listed.

    I think I learned what Christian Suspense/Romance was by reading the O'Malley series by Dee Henderson. Looking forward to her latest release.

    Your question: What the difference between suspense and a mystery.

    Good question-- could be a post all in itself.

    I think a suspense novel always has the constant threat of danger for the protag. A mystery, in my opinion, is about the puzzle to be solved but not so much about the threat of danger. Although, I think a good suspense novel also has mystery at its heart.

  37. Thank you Missy for leaving a comment!

  38. Jeanne,

    Thanks so much for leaving your comment. And you are right, I think these techniques are applicable to other genres, too.

  39. Hi Jan!

    Yes, be sure to wave but mostly I look forward to being able to meet you in person at conference.

  40. Thanks for your comment Paula and I'm glad you're enjoying Redwood's Medical Edge.

  41. Mary C.,

    Wow-- I'm so honored to see you here.

    Great tips on not STOPPING the suspense too. Very important.

    And, looks like we're on the same page as far as the difference between suspense and mystery.

  42. Okay, Tina.

    Good to give a shout out to Mary Higgins Clark. Her novel, The Cradle Will Fall, had to be one of my very first suspense reads and I was hooked.

    That and VC Andrews-- don't know why my mother ever let me read The Flowers in the Attic series in highschool but I have to say-- those novels were much tamer than what some authors are calling YA-- that's for sure.

    Haven't read Mary in a long time. Anyone have thoughts on some of her latest books?

  43. WOW!

    Just mentioning H.P. Lovecraft scares Tina! That’s powerful writing. 

    “Suspense is a ticking time bomb. Mystery is finding out who set the bomb after it goes off.”

  44. Jordyn, you had me at Thriller!!!

    So glad you could be with us in Seekerville today. Your book looks like a must read! Congrats!!!

    I loved James Patterson early on. Haven't read his last few releases. Tess Gerritsen in a favorite author. I really enjoyed Linda Castillo's latest series about the female chief of police who grew up in the local Amish community. Very good writing. Two GRW suspense authors I like are Kate Brady and Leslie Tentler.

    Lynette Eason and Irene Hannon are having wonderful success with their bigger suspense stories. I highly recommend their books.

    Currently, I'm reading one of Karen Rose's stories, which is keeping me up way too late at night.

    I used to love really dark, gritty reads. Now I want some romance added to the mix.

  45. Vince, may I quote you?

    “Suspense is a ticking time bomb. Mystery is finding out who set the bomb after it goes off.”

    Excellent explanation!

  46. Thanks so much,Debby. It's great being here.

    James Patterson is a little bit of a conundrum for me. I LOVE his Alex Cross novels for sure-- hands down.

    But, I wonder about him becoming a fiction factory of sorts and just how much is he actually writing these novels with his co-authors or just breezing by giving his stamp of approval.

    I've seen Ted Dekker do this as well-- co author quite a few novels but I do believe he is still doing the writing. Not sure with James.

    Curious what others think. Are there other genres where co-authoring is popular.

    One story--two authors. Not novella collections.

  47. I do not have this book yet and I am dying to have it! Just had Jordyn as a guest blogger, too, and she is so helpful!

    Hmmm...suspense author. Well, I veer toward mystery more than suspense, and Agatha Christie is my all-time fave. But I do like some psychological suspense, like REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier.

    LOVE these tips, Jordyn. Definitely a great way to open any book--get that reader hooked with action they cannot put down.

    Yes, please please PLEASE enter me for PROOF!

  48. I've had to stop reading Patterson for that very reason, Jordyn. But I will admit I do like his "romances".

  49. MHC just isn't the same anymore, but I will reread her old ones again and again.

    Loves Music, Loves to Dance. FANTASTIC.

    I haven't gotten into Tess Gerritson. BUT the show based on her books with Angie Harmon is really excellent.

  50. So Jordyn, when you get time, tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how you get writing in with a day job.

  51. Heather Day Gilbert? New profile pix? Very pretty!!

  52. I love suspense. Not sure I could write it, but there's nothing like reading a gripping suspense story, the kind of that keeps you up at night--because you can't stop turning the pages and/or because it's so well written, you're too scared to shut your eyes. (Stephen King did that to me years ago with It, but that's another story.)

    I'm reading a good one now, Faithful Unto Death by Stephanie Jaye Evans.

  53. Wow. Your book sounds really great. I can't wait to read it. And congrats on your debut novel with a second one in the works. I love suspense, but I'm not sure I'd be good at writing it. I think i'd get too worried for my characters :)

    I'd love to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of Proof.

  54. Heather,

    I hope you do win because you've been trying SOOO hard to win!

    Glad I am not drawing.

  55. Jordyn,
    I agree about Patterson's more recent books.

    I do like Andrew Gross, who wrote with/for Patterson. I attended his workshop at RWA a couple years ago and liked what he had to say. Plus, his stories always hook me from the beginning.

  56. Kav, you sweet thing, as we say in the South! (Actually, it's more like: you sweet thang.)

    Just saw your kind words about THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER! Thank you!

  57. Tina,

    That's interesting about Tess that you like the TV series but haven't yet read the books because I read the books and don't so much like the TV series. Hmm....

    My journey to publication... a long one.

    I always loved writing from the time I could write sentences. Wanted to not go to college to be a writer/firefighter and my mother nearly died (insert your choice of dramatic mother/daughterconversatoin here)so I went to school for nursing.

    Concentrated on nursing for a long time trying to achieve my goal to be a flight nurse-- which never worked out.

    So, out of frustration, I told God. "Fine, I will write this book that's been on my mind but you have to find a home for it!"

    Insert theological discussion about whether or not you should challenge God here.

    So, ACFW came to Denver in 2009. That's when I FINALLY finished a novel I'd been working on for years. Greg Johnson signed me then. Contract in spring of 2011. Proof released June, 2012.

    How do I write and still work, mother, live life?

    One, it is super hard. Life is busy. I've given up a lot of things I thought I couldn't live without. Sleep. Television. And sadly... some family time.

    I am still working at finding a good balance. I know I can't do both write and work at this pace for a long time. Some say the average of doing both your "real" job and writing for publication is three years before the writing will be able offer enough income to quit or cutback the "sure" thing.

    I dream of a day I can just write, and teach...

  58. Hi Patricia,

    Just so everyone knows-- I am writing down these books to read!

    Rebecca and Faithful Unto Death are on my wish list!

    Have you ever read Dean Koontz?

  59. Annie,

    Thanks for your comment and you'll have to let me know what you think of Proof if you get a chance to read it.

  60. Debby,

    I think I may have read Andrew Gross a long time ago. Can't remember :(...

    May have to check him out again.

  61. Wow you signed at that conference. Greg apparently lives where I do. In Highlands Ranch, though I have been too busy to stalk him.

  62. I am pretty convinced there is no balance. That is a an unreachable dream.

    Sleep is the first one we give up. why is that????

  63. Tina,

    No, not at the conference. But a few months later. It was my Christmas present in 2009.

    First, I had to show him I could write a book proposal.

    Wasn't quite that lucky.

  64. And I definitely would not recommend stalking as a way to get signed :)!!

  65. I keep forgetting to mention. I have another Jordan (different spelling) friend. You are my friend, right? New friend :). Jordan Dane who writer ABA suspense for Avon and YA suspense for Harlequin.

    Wouldn't you two have a chat fest@!!!

  66. Tina,

    Yes, the Jodan/yn's should have a chat fest.

    And yes, you are absolutely a friend:)!!

  67. I'm with Tina. The pace is always rush, rush, rush for a writer, IMHO. And the house never gets a thorough clean. It's always a "this will have to do for now."

    PS: I sometimes watch Rizzoli and Isles, if the fam is watching, but it's not a must see. Gerritsen's books are better by far.

  68. Sorry I'm late! Jordyn, Jordyn, Jordyn, the premise for that first novel has me WANTING IT....

    And that's a perfect thing for a premise to do! What a great and scary concept.

    Thank you for this because you nailed what suspense writers need: edge of the seat suspense.


  69. Deb, yes, I must go to Jordyn's medical blog...

    Jordyn, bless you for that!

  70. Oops -- I just realized I said that Debby's book was The Colonel's Lady when it's the Colonel's Daughter -- sorry about that. Colonel's Lady was Laura Frantz's book last year, right? Oy. And why is Colonel spelt that way when it's pronounced kernel?!

    And thanks for the input about mystery vs. suspense. I can still think of a few titles that I can't accurately place in either or...I guess it's the librarian in me trying to over-organize. I

  71. Okay, I can see I am going to have to read the BOOKs re Tess Gerritson.

    This is good. New authors for my list.

  72. Hi Jordyn,

    I really enjoyed your tips on suspense writing. I have a lot to learn about the craft of fiction and you helped so much -- and medical suspense is one of my favorite fiction genres. Please do enter me in the drawing -- I would be honored to win your book. If I wrote suspense fiction about my job, it would go something like this:
    Dr.Codone strode bravely into the classroom. Kenneth was missing! Always on the front row, he was a presence in class. The back classroom door was ajar, and everyone was quiet. The mood was somber.

    Oh, Kenneth left his textbook in his car. Now he's back.

    So to add some suspense, I would then have to yell "Pop Quiz"! There just is no suspense in my job!

  73. Ruth,

    Excellent! Please let me know your thoughts when you're done reading Proof

  74. Susan,

    I tell you... hearing the words "Pop Quiz" in school WAS very suspenseful for me!!

  75. Jordyn, thank you so much for spending the day with us. I look forward to meeting you LIVE at ACFW or running into you at King Sooper's LOL.

  76. Hi Debby:

    Just checking back tonight.

    I’d be delighted if you quote me! Being quoted is the next best thing to being published. Thanks.


  77. You guys crack me up. ... Jordyn's novel sounds really intriguing.

  78. I am printing this one Jordyn. This is great information. To add tension I like to get inside the villains head. When the reader knows who the villain is but not the 'players', this can make for great tension.
    I would very much like to read your book & am putting you on my list.

  79. Enter me!
    God Bless!
    Sarah Richmond

  80. Thank you so much Seekerville for hosting me today. I really enjoyed being here and looking forward to visiting again somday.

    Janet, glad you found the piece helpful and excellent point about villains.

  81. Would love to win your book

  82. this book sounds like a great read. enter me! pinkbonnie93@yahoo.com