Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Keys to Writing a Great Suspense Novel with Rachelle Dekker


Keys to Writing a Great Suspense Novel


Hey, Seekervillians! Melanie here to introduce the beautiful and talented Rachelle Dekker as our guest today! 
Storytelling obviously runs in her family, as evidenced by her "Seer" trilogy, published by Tyndale House. And maybe you've heard of her father, Ted? Well, he's also written a few books. She will be sharing with us today and answering your questions! Without further ado, here's Rachelle.

Taking a swing at writing a suspense novel and diverting from the fantasy/dystopian genre was a terrifying process for me. My saving grace was that I didn’t really know what I had signed up for until I was too far in to back out. Because although all great stories have some major elements that are similar, genre did change the way I had to approach crafting my recent novel.
            So what did I learn? The easier question would probably be what didn’t I learn. But I’ll try to simplify here and just give the major threads I discovered in suspense storytelling.
            1.) First and foremost, pacing, pacing, pacing! Truth be told, pacing is important to the progression of any story, but suspense pacing has its own unique flow. It’s about dropping hints without giving too much away, but also giving enough “meat” that it pulls the reader onto the next page. Mystery is an important element in any great suspense novel. Why is this happening? Who is doing it? What do they gain?
            2.) That leads me to my next point: Your antagonist better sing! When you read a novel, you want the villain’s song throughout that novel to be as intriguing and interesting as possible. They need layers, dimensions. A strong antagonist results in a stronger protagonist. They are the obstacle—or provide the obstacles—that your hero is forced to overcome in order to win. So make them dynamic and amp them up through the storyline. I always try to make my villain three things: smart, determined, and relatable. If you can get a reader to say, “Wait, what they are saying makes sense,” then you really get the reader thinking and invested.



             3.) Speaking of characters: they are everything. Now this can be said for almost all novels, regardless of genre, but when you are dealing with suspenseful themes, I think it is extra important to really explore and expose all your characters. A strong protagonist and antagonist are a given, but those secondary characters elevate a novel. So beside the hero and villain, what characters did I really focus on? Well, I’m so glad you asked.
            Sidekick: The character who roots for the protagonist from the very beginning, the Han Solo to your Luke Skywalker. So strong they could have their own story (as it just so happens, Han now does J). Their own quirks and motivations and struggles. Although they fight for the hero, make them have moments of doubt. Nothing is more relatable than doubt. They should have questions, even if only expressed to the protagonist. NO ONE always blindly follows, so make them real.



            Reality Check: Otherwise known as the limiting character. They act as almost a second villain in most stories and are usually deeply connected to the protagonist. Their motivation may be wholesome—they usually believe they are doing what is best for the protagonist—but they serve as a constant boundary for the hero to overcome. This is BY FAR my favorite character to write. Make them cringeworthy but also honest. In a way that, as a reader, you can’t help but think, I might have suggested the same thing. Or I can see their point. A great example of this character is a parent figure. If you’ve read some of my novels, then you know I love a well-meaning but often evil mother.
            **Disclaimer: I love my own mother dearly and apologize to her for this often. J
            Sage: Finally, the hero’s voice of reason. Your Yoda (continuing with the Star Wars theme I’ve got going—who doesn’t love Star Wars?). This character is always interesting and probably carries a heavy layer of mystery into a suspense novel.  They need to be believable, likeable, and I find they’re most fun to write if they add some comic relief as well. They see the big picture before anyone else, but they can’t just lead the protagonist to the water and drown them immediately. They offer truth in doses, small digestible chunks. One lesson at a time until the big reveal at the end.



            4.) Finally, motivations: why, what, when, and who. Again, true of all genres, motivations are a key element to any great novel. But when trying to pull off mystery and suspense, it really better all tie together. Why is the antagonist doing this? Why now, and with this protagonist? What does everyone gain or lose if things play out a certain way? And most importantly—does the reader close the book and think, Oh yeah, that made sense. I buy it. Because if not, then there is a problem somewhere along the line that needs adjusting.
            All in all, writing suspense ended up being my greatest struggle as a writer yet, but also incredibly rewarding. It’s always good to step out of your comfort zone and attempt something different. This is my first go at it, and I’d love to hear what you all have to say. So I pose the question: What do you think every great suspense novel should have? As a reader or a writer, what suspenseful qualities do you love in a novel?

Melanie again: Rachelle's publisher is giving away TWO copies of her new book! Be sure to leave a comment to get your name in the drawing!!!


About the Author

The oldest daughter of New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker, Rachelle Dekker was inspired early on to discover truth through storytelling. She won a Christy Award for her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Choosing, which was followed by two more books in the Seer series: The Calling and The Returning. Rachelle graduated with a degree in communications and spent several years in marketing and corporate recruiting before making the transition to write full-time. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Daniel, and their diva cat, Blair. Visit her online at www.rachelledekker.com.

Alicen McCaffrey finally has the life her mother always dreamed for her: beautiful home in Santa Monica, successful husband, adorable daughter. Then tragedy blows her carefully assembled fa├žade to pieces. Worse yet—Alicen feels solely responsible. At rock bottom, she decides to accompany a childhood friend back to Red Lodge, Montana, where they spent summers together as kids.

The peaceful mountain landscape, accented with lush forests and small-town charm, brings back happy memories of time spent with her beloved, eccentric Grandma Josephine. Alicen begins to hope that perhaps things could be different here. Perhaps the oppressive guilt will lift—if only for a moment.

But when Alicen starts hearing voices and seeing mysterious figures near the river in the woods, she begins to fear she’s completely lost her sanity, as it’s rumored her grandmother did. Or might there be more to Red Lodge than meets the eye? Could the voices and visions be real—and her only means of finding the healing she so desperately needs? Or will they prove to be her final undoing?

33 comments:

  1. Hi Rachelle:

    What I find most important in a suspense novel is that I must always be feeling the danger while caring about what happens to the characters. In a romance I want to feel the love while in a mystery I want to feel challenged to discover the solution before it is revealed. I also want to be constantly rewarded for reading along the way with any genre or non-fiction that I am reading.

    That's all. :)

    Vince

    P.S. Is your photo up against a brick wall meant to show you as a pantser with writer's block?

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    1. Hey Vince, no one has ever asked about my photo representing writer's block! But I wish I could say it did, haha, that would have been a great idea.

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  2. Rachelle, what a fabulous discussion. I'm not a suspense writer, so I really enjoy your perspective on writing that genre and how it's the same--but different. Now I'm eager to see how you did all that in When Through Deep Waters. Thanks for the mini workshop here. :)

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  3. Thanks for being here, Rachelle, and thanks for the tips! I'm working on a romantic suspense manuscript and I think it's got problems in all those areas--pacing, character, and motivation LOL! These are great ideas to give me places to start working on edits. Congratulations on what looks like another fantastic book!

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    1. Thanks Glynis. And good luck with edits!

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    2. Glynis, I'm sure it's not as bad as you think! :) Do you have a critique partner? Someone to give you objective feedback?

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    3. No, Missy, I don't have a critique partner. I need to do a little editing before I feel ready to let someone see it, but that will be a next step soon.

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  4. Rachelle, a good tutorial and helpful to me. While I don't write straight suspense (yet), most of my inspirational romances have some suspense element, i.e. my antagonists don't just assault the protagonist verbally and there's usually a gun pulled at some point. Mystery and suspense are two genres I'm hoping to try after I'm established in contemporary and historical romance. Whew, so many books, so little time -- to read AND write.
    Having a badly-needed catch-up day. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
    KB

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    1. SO MANY BOOKS, so little time! This is my constant state, haha.

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    2. Kathy, enjoy your writing day!!

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  5. Interesting post, Rachelle. I don't think I could write suspense, but I love to read it. I look for action that keeps me on the edge of my seat until it is finally resolved. This book looks good!

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    1. Thanks Sandy, I can't wait to hear what you think!

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  6. Good morning, Rachelle and good morning, Seekerville. Coffee and tea are on and there are some blueberry muffins with your name on 'em. Help yourselves.

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  7. Rachelle, welcome back! We're so glad you're here today.

    I know from experience how it can be a bit scary to write in a new genre! It sounds as if you ended up enjoying it. I think it's important to challenge ourselves, and worth it once we get through the angst. :)

    As for suspense... I think it's important to keep the reader guessing. I love when an author can fool me!

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  8. Good morning, Rachelle!

    This is a wonderful post, and your tips can be used across the genres! Even though I write historical romance, I love inserting a bit of suspense in some of my stories to keep the pages turning. I'll be referring to your advice as I work on my next book!

    Congratulations on your new release! I'm looking forward to reading it.

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    1. Jan, I do that too. I think it's the Mary Connealy influence, someone in my story climax is always pulling a gun. Or a knife.
      Or a can opener.

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    2. LOL! You made me laugh, Kathy!

      But you might have something there... ;-)

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  9. Oh dear! I forgot to mention that Rachelle is giving away two copies of her new book! So leave a comment to get your name in the drawing!!!

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  10. And thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, Rachelle! I'm kind of scattered when I write. My books are romances, but I throw in suspense, sometimes mystery, a little adventure. To write a straight suspense, or a straight mystery, would be scary to me! Thanks for sharing your experience!
    As a reader, I like to worry about the hero and/or heroine, but also to be impressed with how they handle themselves. They have to struggle, but overcome in a cool way. :-) I like the danger to be real, not just in their heads. The stakes need to be high, but too much gore or edginess is not my cup of tea. If you know what I mean. ;-)

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  11. Hi Rachelle. Mystery and suspense are two of my favorite genres and I am thrilled that there are more being written for the Christian/Inspirational market. I would appreciate being entered into your drawing.

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  12. Hi Rachelle
    I enjoy the mystery and suspense genres. My pet peeve is when red herrings or odd aspects are presented, but what they mean to the story never comes to light. Don't leave me dangling or holding onto a detail that never gets resolved.
    I've written one romantic suspense manuscript where the editor astutely remarked that I got lost along the way. Yep. I agreed wholeheartedly because I'd already known I'd been lost - but since I was writing for a contest, I didn't have time to fix. Still, it was cool to see how smart editors are and that they could point out things to help me create a better story.
    Congrats on pushing out the edges of your comfort zone. Not an easy thing to do.

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    1. Deb, editors are amazing, how they can see the story from a "big picture" point of view and point out all the the things that were nagging at us, even though we didn't want to work on them. And also point out things we never thought about! Good luck with your story, Deb!

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  13. Welcome, Rachelle! Although I don't write suspense, your post was very interesting to me and your new book sounds fascinating. Thank you for taking time to join us today! And I must add that I'm happy to learn you have a cat! ;)
    Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

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  14. What a very interesting read on how to craft a suspense novel. Thank you!

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  15. Rachelle, I loved this post! I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to venture into suspense story writing, the way you shared the various characters needed for a good suspense is enlightening! You've got me thinking about my genre and wondering if some of these kinds of characters need to be in my stories. Probably. :)

    Your book sounds fascinating. I'd love to be in the draw for it.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom here today!

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  16. I love suspense...my favorite genre! Great blog, Rachelle. Your pic is fantastic. Love that brick wall that stretches so far with you below on the couch. Brilliant!

    Yes to everything you said today about suspense, especially pacing, which is so important. I like to add secrets to my stories. They always intrigue me and hopefully make the reader want to keep turning those pages.

    Do you have another suspense story in the works?

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  17. Rachelle this are great solid guidelines. Thank you for being on.

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  18. Hi, I like your list of characters. The one I hadn't thought about is the reality check person who acts as a limiting character, almost a second villain - it's a valuable character, and sadly we all have a few of those in our everyday lives. Kudos to you for your book. I pray it does well and impacts many lives.

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  19. Great article! I enjoyed reading about how to write a suspense novel, even though I'm quite sure I wouldn't be good at it! :-D Your book sounds so fascinating, Rachelle! I'd love to be in the drawing for a copy.

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  20. Fantastic article, Rachelle! Thank you for sharing with us at Seekerville!

    I am sorry to say I hadn't heard of you before reading this article but I loved it so much I immediately went and requested your books from my library :) If I love them as much as I expect to I will leave amazon reviews after reading them.

    I'd love to be entered in your drawing.

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

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  21. Hi Rachelle, as an editor, I can say your points are right on! I typically have to do these kind of substantive edits on books (I mostly edit Christian suspense). Thank you for the concise and clear help--this is a great checklist for writers. I look forward to reading your books!

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