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Point of View and Creating Suspense in Your Writing, by Jeff Nelson

Jack opened the bedroom door, walking into the room beyond. The fugitive, hidden behind the door, stepped out and shot him in the back.

Poor Jack. While the reader is likely to be surprised at his potential demise, where is the suspense that will capture the reader and draw them into the story? Particularly if the story is all about Jack and told from his point of view (POV).

Try using a different character POV – say that of the fugitive. I’ll call him Harry.

Harry nervously waited behind the door, his hands sweating, his heart pounding, as he could hear the cop’s footsteps approaching on the other side. He couldn’t let them take him, not again, he was prepared to kill rather than spend time in a cell again.

Jack opened the bedroom door ….

Better? The reader is now wondering what Harry will do, whether Jack will get a bullet or somehow avoids one. This is an example where the reader and current POV character (Harry) know more than another character (Jack). Harry knows the cop is on the other side of the door, but Jack doesn’t know Harry is.

Consider another POV this time from a third character, Steve a fellow police officer of Jack’s.

Steve lay on the rooftop, his binoculars trained on the apartment building opposite. Through a window he could see Jack in the apartment’s sitting room moving towards the bedroom door. Suddenly he saw a shadow move in the next window; someone was in the adjoining bedroom. Steve trained the binoculars on the bedroom window. It was the fugitive and he held a gun. The man had obviously heard Jack approaching and was waiting for him on the other side of the door. Frantically Steve reached for his mic.

Jack opened the bedroom door ….

Now the suspense is created by the reader wondering if Steve will be able to contact Jack via his mike and warn him before he steps into the room. Steve knows that the fugitive is there but Jack doesn’t.

I had an interesting conversation with Steve Rossiter of the Australia Literature Review recently on ways of adding different character point of views into a story to create and build suspense. Those conversations lead me to adjust and see clearer where my novel had to progress too.

We went through a number of ways that POV can be added:

1] Where the reader knows more than the current POV character.

For example the story will have already said earlier that the fugitive is hiding in the bedroom, so as we see Jack (in his POV) going for the door, the reader knows, but Jack doesn’t that the fugitive is inside the bedroom.

2] Where the reader and current POV character know more than another character.

Examples of this are the two given above using the different POV’s of Harry and Steve.

3] Where the reader and another character know more than the current POV character.

Here we could have the story telling how a tenant in the building where the fugitive is hiding sees him run into the apartment but doesn’t inform Jack as he hates Cops.

4] Where the current POV character knows more than the reader.

This is where the POV character knows or is planning something that hasn’t been revealed in the story yet. For example we could have Jack wearing a bullet proof vest, Jack knows he’s wearing it, but the reader doesn’t. It will come out later that he was wearing one.

…and finally

5] Where another character knows more than the reader.

I hope this helps in your writing.

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Jeff Nelson bio page

B is for Burglar: A Kinsey Millhone mysteryMoney RunConflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)Plotting and Writing Suspense FictionHitchcockThe Arvon Book of Crime WritingThe French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers

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