Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mystery and Suspense

Someone (I can't remember who) once said that you don't need a bomb to go off on your first page. But you had to at least hint at it. The thing that starts my book off is at the end of my second chapter. But my world is complicated, and I needed readers to understand both what is normal for this world, and my characters mental state. So I started four pages before major inciting incident.
So I've had major hints towards an impending bomb. (This bomb thing is not literal, mind you. Just a metaphor). Overhead conversations, weird people showing up - all very good and fine.

There is just one problem. My MC. Given a chance, she will ignore what is going on around her. She doesn't want to know. Her mother has just died, she has a hard time relating to people normally, and she just wants the world to leave her alone.

After the end of the second chapter, she becomes less passive. She has a very definite reason to start paying attention - she is literally dragged into the plot.

I think I should be doing this earlier.

The whole idea was that the mystery of what the heck was going on would make readers interested. Fine. good. But that still leaves me with a passive main character for most of the first chapter. She has her reasons, but I need to make her care.

But if I make her care, than the mystery will be lost. My inciting event at the end of chapter two won't have the "slam" that it had before.
But then I realised that there is more than one way to keep a reader interested. Not only mystery, but suspense.

The difference between the two is simple: where is the reveal? In suspense, you know there's a bomb in the room, and you're watching to see how the characters deal with it. In mystery, there are hints that there's a bomb in the room, but you're watching to see if the characters figure out that there's a bomb even there. You, as a reader, don't even know that there's a bomb there. You just get hints or clues.

The only problem is that my MC is in the mood to plain out ignore any such hints or clues. So I have to show her there's a bomb there earlier, so she does something. Anything - even if that's just agreeing to go to a place she hates. At the moment, her grandfather makes that decision. She should make it.

And so the first chapter gets a makeover. Again.

No comments: