Monday, October 10, 2016

Suspense: Figments of Your (Character’s) Imagination

By Marcia Thornton Jones

The summer of 1977 was the summer from hell, especially if you lived in Manhattan. The city was broke, a heat wave held everyone captive, and a serial killer was picking off young lovers in parked cars.  Nora, the main character in Meg Medina’s novel BURN BABY BURN, lives everyday wondering if she might be the next victim in the cross hairs of the killer’s gun.

BURN BABY BURN is not a typical oh-my-gawd-we’re-going-to-die suspense novel, and it’s not about an axe-wielding masked killer bludgeoning his way through a slumber party with blood-in -your-face gore. Instead, Medina uses the character’s imagination based on primal fear to build suspense. Is the killer in the car parked across the street? Is he waiting in the shadows between work and home? Is he peeking in the windows?

I believe one of the best ways to learn about writing is to read books and ask what the author did to make the work successful. The lesson from Medina’s novel is that suspense is heightened using the characters’ imaginations and worries that prey on primal fears and insecurities.

Medina’s main character, Nora, sums this type of suspense up in her own words after the serial killer is caught:

“Is it crazy to be disappointed by a monster? He’s nothing like what we’ve imagined…
I wonder if everything we fear is somehow the same as the unmasking of Son of Sam. Maybe the things that scare us seem more powerful than they truly are when we keep them secret.”

(BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina, Candlewick Press, 2016, page 287)

1 comment:

  1. Ooh! I love the idea of relying on imagination for suspense!