Q&A with Brenda Novak!
Q: What makes for a thrilling suspense novel?
A: The most important element in any story is characterization. We have to care about the characters, identify with them, before we care about what happens to them. But second to that is conflict. A suspense novel is typically not a subtle kind of book. The best way to write a page-turner is to make the conflict very personal to the characters, thereby creating emotionally intense situations. There must be tension on EVERY page. The type of tension has to change (or even that will get tiresome), but without it there is nothing to compel the reader to read on.
I often use the analogy of a sporting event. The more we worry, the more we fear, the more we enjoy the resolution. If the team you’re supporting has it too easy, if they sail through the whole game without any real challenge, you’re tempted to leave in the third quarter. It just doesn’t hold your interest, even though you’re getting what you wanted (a win). But a come-from-behind, one-point win in overtime is considered a great game. Those who come to watch wait until the last second to leave. They talk about the game and remember it far longer. It’s the same with a book. We, as authors, can’t be afraid to pit our characters against very challenging situations, maybe even painful ones, because it makes the overcoming of those problems so much more satisfying—even inspiring—when they conquer in the end.