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Thriller, Thriller Nights

Tis The Season Of Suspense!

It’s that time of year again, when the tilt of the earth shifts the sunlight into a mysterious soft glow. Leaves are dropping, squirrels are gathering, and the air and entertainment are spine-chilling. It's the perfect time for thrillers.

So pull out your favorite soft throw, cozy up with a warm drink and lose yourself in the layers of a page-turning suspense novel. Or, if you’re of the story-telling sort, write one of your own! The imagination is a wondrous thing, and spending these transitional autumn days building tension and suspense in your own book only adds to the delight of the harvest season.

Thriller master Sierra Kay had a bit to say about the season of suspense, tension and crafting stories that keep readers on the edge of their seats.

So what is about autumn that makes thrillers more prevalent on the entertainment radar?

“The days are shorter and the joy and energy from the summer sunlight is fading. There’s less light and more darkness, lending more opportunity for the nefarious to occur,” says Kay.

It's hard to see in the dark and difficult to predict the next step when there is a mystery unfolding. This sense of unknowing is how authors build suspense. They lead the reader through the dark forest to the house made of gingerbread, but will they be eaten alive?

This is the question that builds suspense.

Thriller writing is a special genre that requires a mind adept at puzzle-working. There are typically a lot of moving pieces. To Kay, this is part of the draw.

“I like the complexity of thrillers and the thought behind all the layers that you have to weave into a cohesive story,” Kay said. “There’s an art to the bread crumbs you leave for the reader.”

A strategy Hansel and Gretel would no doubt be proud of, as they know leaving bread crumbs will eventually lead them and the reader back home and to the culmination of the story.

To Kay, the bread crumbs, or the building of suspense, is a foundation of thriller writing.

“I build suspense by embracing the unknown. You know something is going to happen, but you don’t know what,” Kay said.

Using emotion to build Tension is A go-to tactic for getting the reader to care and feel.

“If no one cares about the unknown then you are just on an island writing for yourself,” Kay said. “If the character knows the killer is after them, they have an emotional reaction to that. There is tension in their every movement. They can’t eat, they can’t sleep and you as a reader {or writer} feel that tension with them.”

One of Kay’s favorite moments of tension were in 30 Days of Pleasure when main character Alicia Mitchell is having an amorous dream about her new love interest, NBA star Dallas Avery. Suddenly, in her dream, she hears the words Hey Sugar… but it’s not Dallas and she’s triggered and we soon learn it's the voice of her stalker haunting her sleep.

"Hey Sugar....

...Those two words should have been innocuous, but because of who they came from, they were terrifying,” Kay said. “The reader wants to know what this guy has done to her.”

Will the stalker catch up with Alicia? Has he already? She checks all four corners of the hotel room...

One bread crumb leads to another and another, creating anticipation and thrilling the reader as they make their way home to the climax.

Kay's advice to those entering the dark forest of suspense writing is to read.

“Focus on your genre, read it and expand your mind,” Kay said. “And don’t be afraid. Be a little bit crazy and ignore the people who would look at you oddly. Be fearless.

Save the fear for your characters and your readers.

your Sierra Kay Takeaways:

  1. Embrace the season - Use the autumn ambience as a catalyst to writing. Notice the shadows, the temperature and sounds that go bump in the night.

  2. The Hansel + Gretel Approach - Build suspense through uncertainty. The use of bread crumbs is leading the reader home, but they don't know what danger they'll encounter on the way there. Leave impossible questions and shocking answers as you lead your reader to the climax.

  3. Create Tension - Create tension through emotion. This is a show not tell technique that draws the reader in by detailing the characters reactions to their situation. Do not underestimate the power of emotion in building tension.

  4. Be Fearless - Read and write fearlessly. Ignore the outside world and let your Hansel and Gretel guide you through the story.

What Sierra Kay Take Away are you ready to implement?

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Click the hashtag for more #writingtips

Follow Sierra Kay down the modern fairy tale rabbit hole by visiting her book library here.

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