Building Suspense by Keeping Secrets

a girl whispering to a boy

I blogged recently about building suspense through characterization, but today I’d like to talk about building another aspect of suspense. When you artfully keep secrets from your reader, this can create a sense of mystery that gives a book that “can’t put it down” quality.

Your reader needs to keep reading because the characters in the book know something he or she doesn’t. Just like in any situation where people are keeping secrets from you, as long as it doesn’t get too extreme, it motivates the reader to investigate and find out what’s really going on.

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The “Wow” of a Book is in the Subtext

child with sad eyes

What gives a book that “wow” factor that makes you want to read it again and again? You know what I mean–we all have books that we have to open and reread on a regular basis, or at least reread that one, dog-eared page. Sometimes it’s just beautiful prose, but usually it’s more than that. The book’s subject matter probably speaks to you on a very deep level. When this happens, it’s usually not so much about the superficial plot of the book as it is about the subtext.

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Twists and Double-Crosses in a Book

woman with finger to lips indicating "shh". close up

First of all, as I do my ghostwriting blog, let me give a little endorsement for green tea and the cafe where i drink it: Betterday. You people think it’s all about coffee. Let me tell you, the buzz you want is the green tea buzz. The buzz of the Dalai Lama, who can see into your soul.

Anyway, today we’re going to talk about “twist” endings. I’d say there are two kinds of twists: the twist that completely changes the entire meaning of the story down to the core, and the twist that makes you go “huh!” Because it just makes the story a little bit more interesting and fun at the end.

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Living Vicariously Through your Own Books

old man with white beard and red head scarf, looking over left shoulder

I’d just like to say what a fantastic idea my current ghostwriting clients had, in writing this book. The idea of their book is simply–what if we had lead a more exciting life? What if we had taken the freedom and creativity and energy of our youth and continued to live that way forever? In this case, the book is about the what if? of becoming bank robbers. For them, that’s the fantasy of the best life ever. Of course, because this is a fictional book, we get to make that life perfect and fun in every way. More fun than it would have been in real life, naturally, because not only is this book an escape for the readers, but also for the writers.

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Humor Has its Place, Even with Sad Subject Matter

double image of woman screaming

I’ve had a number of calls lately about sad memoirs and stories of great internal struggle. A lot of people with these types of stories want to know if humor can be incorporated into a story of mourning or struggle against depression or even mental illness. The answer is yes, but carefully. Of course, I would never recommend writing a book that mocked someone in a state like that, even if you are mocking yourself. These issues are very serious and if you mock them, or mock yourself for succumbing to them, you basically look like a jerk. But humor in any type of writing is a part of the author’s voice more than any aspect of what he or she has to say.

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Oral Storytelling Keeps Memoir Alive

black and white image of man speaking and gesturing

Hosted another great Santa Fe Speakeasy last night. This is a monthly show where local folks get on a stage (a little stage in a pizza parlor, mind you, not some big deal place) and tell true stories live, without notes. The idea is to keep the art of oral storytelling alive, and i think our four speakers yesterday really did do that. In fact, one of them worked with me prior to the show to really hone down her story. We keep them to ten minutes, which can be surprisingly difficult. The trick to keeping an oral story interesting is to really focus on which details serve the story’s ultimate intent.

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Details: Hitting the Sweet Spot

window in an adobe wall

Let’s talk a little bit more about what details to include in your memoir, whether self-written or ghostwritten. Most folks know that details are important, but sometimes this leads them to write in a lot of irrelevant details, and that bores and annoys the reader, whereas relevant details make the story really sing.

It’s important to note the difference between details that are integral to the plot rather than details that are incidental to the plot. The difference between the two might seem subtle, but it makes a world of difference in your memoir or novel-based-upon-a-true-story.

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Who am I, and What’s It All About, Man?

man holds photo of self over own face

Often, when I take on a ghostwriting job, clients give me their first-draft manuscripts. Usually they think we won’t have much to discuss in our interviews since “everything is in there.” But we still have to have lengthy discussions about some of the details that have been left out. So let’s talk about what type of details I need to write a memoir or novel that people usually don’t include.

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A Memoir Shouldn’t Preach

wild monkey

Started talking to an enthusiastic new author yesterday, and the work ties nicely into this blog. Here is something you might already know: show don’t tell. Though I think the concept is better expressed: experience, don’t philosophize. Show don’t tell is a writing tip you can get in any book or site dealing with writing basics, but let’s take a look at how the old adage applies to writing (or ghostwriting, in my case) a memoir or any first person account of events. Keep in mind that I’m assuming you aren’t writing a book of essays but a book that you want to read like a novel–something where the characters grab you, suspense builds, and readers are eager to turn that page and see what happens next.

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When Writing Your Own Memoir Just Isn’t Working

indian lady in a sari, smiling

Many of my ghostwriting clients come to me with written material, already. Some have tried to publish their memoirs and failed to find publication, which is why they seek out a ghostwriter to improve the work. Others have tried to write the memoir–sometimes over the course of many years–and have finally discovered that writing is hard, and creating a storyline requires very specific knowledge, and good dialogue doesn’t necessarily just come to you. I thought I’d talk today about how the ghostwriting process works when you have some material to begin with and want to continue from there.

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