Listen up, people who write suspenseful stories!Posted: August 17, 2011
In the past week (I think; it might have been a little longer), I have been very disappointed by the payout in two suspenseful stories I was reading. They were both graphic novels, and I don’t think that has much to do with it, but actually now that I think about it, I remember that I was disappointed by the big reveal in another graphic novel I read a couple years ago. But anyway, I have some advice for you.
Don’t build up a secret identity/plot/piece of information/whatever very much. Having a secret and a bit of suspense around it is okay, but if you make it too big, my experience tells me that the reveal will suck for one of two reasons. The first is that it won’t be as spectacular as you made it out to be, and I’ll be annoyed that you manipulated me into feeling invested. The second is that you’ll make it such an intricate and spectacular identity/plot/piece of information/whatever that it will seem fairly ridiculous. Neither of those outcomes makes me a happy reader.
It’s possible for stories to keep me in suspense without pissing me off. (I’m not sure it’s possible for real people to do this, however.) A few examples of books that did this, that I can think of pretty easily, are the Harry Potter books, Game of Thrones (I’ve only read that one so I can’t comment on the rest of the series), the Hunger Games trilogy, and Jitterbug Perfume. Actually, I think I figured out at least part of the reveal of Jitterbug Perfume before the book revealed it, and I still wanted to keep reading to see what happened. I think the trick is to not have the entire story, or even most of it, revolving around a big secret. That’s probably the easiest way to make a story compelling, but it frustrates me and makes me think you might be lazy. So, writers of this kind of fiction, because I know you want me to like your work, please stop doing that.
Also, on a very related note, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics turned one of my favourite characters into a snore. I think there was something really special on the screen that just didn’t translate very well to written word and drawn image, but I’m disappointed.