Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Movement, Immediacy, and Suspense--Or why your book should be like a small child

I have two children, ages 3 and 1.  My daughter is a dramatic queen-bee and my son is a rambunctious mover and shaker.  I absolutely adore them—they have the best giggles, the sunniest smiles, and the sweetest, sloppiest kisses—but when my exhausted head hits the pillow at night, I’m amazed I’ve made it through another day of mothering!

I was reading through my copy of Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover again the other day, and came across a passage that hit super close to home.

“If you think about it, children are almost always in motion. In their developing minds and bodies, their responses to the impinging outer world and lively inner world are immediate. Published writers of children’s literature understand the immediacy of the child—and teen—experience.  They reflect that understanding by becoming masters of movement and suspense.”

Movement, immediacy, suspense. Our children have them, our books need to also!

Movement, immediacy, and suspense in children:

My one year-old loves his new found freedom to move. His favorite area of the house is the stairs and he giggles and squeals when I rush after him to pull him down.  When either of my children want something, they want it RIGHT NOW, or preferably five minutes ago.  Everything has to be immediate, or we lie in wait of the…Temper Tantrum…and anticipating those sure does increase the suspense in parenting!  They can happen at any time, in any quiet church service, or any upscale shopping establishment. (My child has tantrumed in Nordstroms across the country.) J

Movement, immediacy, and suspense in writing:

Elizabeth Lyon says in fiction, movement and suspense are action and change, and lists a set of techniques to create vitality in our writing: 

1.      action
2.      reaction
3.      reversals
4.      subtext
5.      raising questions

Another way to create movement, immediacy, and suspense in fiction is by using the present tense.  I’m really only familiar with the Young Adult market, but the past few years I have seen a surge of books in present tense.  Some readers have an aversion to it, and I hope they start coming around. J I admit, the books I first picked up in present tense felt jarring.  Now I love it, and I’m in the middle of switching my current YA manuscript over. Ms. Lyon says present tense is intense, bright, and leaps off the page. Like any writing convention present tense also has drawbacks, but for me the strengths outweigh—especially since I write for teens.

What do you think?  What are your methods for creating movement, immediacy, and suspense in your fiction? Which books effectively use these tools?