• Shannon Aardsma


One element of writing that makes for a great novel that will keep readers reading is suspense. I'm not great at writing suspense, but I'm hoping to get better, and one way to get better at writing something is to read it. I recently read a book series -- you may have noticed me ranting about it last post -- in which suspense was written masterfully. The series was...you guessed it! The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor. As stated last post, so much about this series was amazing and it instantly became my favorite series to date, but what stood out most was the suspense, so that's what I'll touch on today.

I'll compare how I *used* to write suspense with how Laini Taylor wrote suspense, particularly in the first book. In "Here's to the Underdogs!" I tried to add some suspense, but it usually looked like this: there's a question in a chapter that someone wants answered or something unexplained that happens, and it's solved in the next chapter, generally at the beginning of the next chapter. That's not suspense. That's a cliffhanger. I'm great at cliffhangers (generally), but when I read "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" (book one of the series), I realized that I had no clue how to write suspense. I wanted to answer my readers' questions quickly. Laini Taylor does not do that, and it can honestly be very aggravating at times. Here's how Laini writes suspense: a character has a question that needs answering that is brought up often throughout the book, many chapters into the book you learn that another character has the answer, many many more chapters later it is finally answered. That is the simplest way to explain her suspense. It is so much more involved than that! Ok, I'm going to spell it out a little better.

Before character A even voices the question to the readers, you're already asking it yourself! Of course, you figure character A is going to answer it for you soon enough. Then you learn that character A has the same question. Well, there goes that idea. For several chapters, character A keeps asking the question, but there's no one to answer it. THEN something happens and it seems that finally you're going to learn the answer! But...no. Something else happens and the character you thought could tell her isn't able to. (This is probably one of the first times that I closed the book and had a little breakdown and screamed in my head because I was so frustrated, but I also appreciated Taylor's writing. It was...annoying. Anywho, back to the suspense.) Ok, so character A can't tell us, and character B can't tell us, so...where's the character who can tell us? Enter character C (I'm going to interject again here to clarify that the letters are simply to keep everyone straight and mean nothing more than that; they aren't necessarily for the order in which the characters appear in the book, and there were many more characters between). Now, character C brings his own questions that Laini Taylor again takes forever to answer, but they do get answered before the main question, so back to that. We finally learn that character C can answer character A's question, but that's only step one. We need the question to actually be answered, which still doesn't happen for many chapters! Every time you think character C is going to answer the question, something happens and he can't, or Taylor switches perspectives so that there's at least a chapter in between. What's even worse is when she does both. Character C is about to tell character A, a new chapter starts from another character's perspective, this perspective lasts several chapters, we finally get back to characters A and C, and then something interrupts them! (Another time I put the book down to internally scream.) It was incredibly aggravating, but also spectacularly well-done.

So. The takeaway is this: if you want to write suspense, take a hint from Laini Taylor and make your readers scream with aggravation. ;) But in all seriousness, I again highly recommend this series, especially if you're looking to learn good writing techniques such as suspense, deaths that serve a purpose, and truly well-written characters that you will love and hate.

And that's this week's blog post! Maybe next week I'll tackle good character deaths. Or...post a snippet. We'll see. :) Now go and be productive!

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