Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thursday Review—Conflict & Suspense

My fingernails are gone…every last one of them.

I haven’t been watching horror flicks or reading thrillers.
What I have been doing is reading the latest book on the craft from James Scott Bell (@JamesScottBell), Conflict & Suspense.

Unfortunately for my manicure, Bell uses multiple examples from books and movies that—frankly—I have avoided up to this point.
And because Bell doesn’t want to give it all away, I’m now conflicted.
Do I go ahead and read The Silence of the Lambs? Is it worth never being able to take a shower again to see Psycho?

(I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is NO).

But don’t misunderstand. I’m not complaining.

Conflict & Suspense lived up to my high expectations. The good stuff begins in the Introduction. Don’t skip it. He makes a strong case for “making trouble” for your characters and concludes that no matter what your genre is, “trouble is your business. And conflict and suspense are the tools of the craft that will take your business to the readers.” (p. 2)

He then dives into fourteen chapters on Conflict. He covers inner conflict, ways to lace your dialogue with conflict, methods for structuring your novel with conflict in mind, how to brainstorm for conflict, and much more.

In Chapter 15, he turns his attention to Suspense. (This is where my nails lost the battle). We’re talking cliff hangers, stretching the tension, using your setting to add suspense, and how to include instant suspense in some of your low tension scenes. There’s advice on coming up with twists and how to style your dialogue to heighten the suspense.

The final chapter is only four pages—and those four pages alone are worth the price of the book. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they say. You’ll have to buy the book to find out. My copy is dog-eared and highlighted with particular emphasis on the “Do This” exercises. So if you see me in a Panera with 3x5 cards scattered all over the table, please don’t offer to help clean up the mess.
It’s just me—making some trouble.

Care to join me?

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. She blogs about faith, family, and her writing journey on her blog Out of the Boat. Lynn is a member of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and the Word Weavers, Greenville. She lives in South Carolina where she hangs out with three lively children, one fabulous man, and a cast of imaginary characters who find their way onto the pages of her still unpublished novels. She drinks a lot of coffee.


  1. I loved your blog. I understand about the Silence of the Lamb and Psycho. I do love suspense just maybe not that much suspense. Thank you for sharing.
    Glenda Parker

  2. I guess this means I have to get this book! I just finished a class with thriller writer Josh Corin. We had to read several thrillers. I'm guess I'm getting desensitized--they didn't bother me at all, except for the profanity. I saw Silence of the Lamb and all the Hitchcock movies. I've been searching this past year for my voice and I think I found it. I love thriller/suspense/mystery! Thanks for your enticing review.

  3. I love this post! I do. I think the trick to suspense is not giving the reader all the information at once, always keeping something from them to reveal it later on as a plot twist or a game changer. I also love adding more to a scene to make things even more suspenseful (like a rope ready to untangle, a door ready to unhinge or a clock ready to buzz)!

  4. Thanks everyone! Glenda - I'm with you...I like *some* suspense. But not too much :-). Karen - Congrats on finding your voice! Let us know your thoughts after you read Conflict & Suspense.
    Jack - Thanks for the kind words. There are several chapters on revising for conflict - little ways to add a bit more suspense and intensity, just like you're talking about!

  5. As usual you either make me cry or laugh...this one was a hoot!! Love the post

  6. Thanks Lynn! Now I have another craft book to add to my "Must Buy and Read" list. I just finished "Plot and Structure." I love Mr. Bell's teaching/writing style. Can't wait to read this one!

  7. Lynn, I do think you should change jobs and be a marketer. I have just come home from B&N with 2 books not in budget (is there one for books?) and now this--and I'm not even a fiction writer! Good review as always.

  8. Oh, sounds like another must-have book for me! I'm working through Plot and Structure right now. Very good so far!

  9. Sandra - Thanks!
    Alycia & Lindsay - Plot & Structure is another favorite! He has a couple of chapters in Conflict & Suspense that cover the LOCK system from a "conflict" perspective. The two books will go great together!
    Marcia - Thanks! I've never bothered with a book budget. I lump them in with groceries :-).