Skip to content

Tag: Writing Suspense and Thrillers

Why I Write Suspense

When I was five or six, my mother enrolled me in the Disney Book of the Month Club. Each month, our mailman would deliver a new book. I remember the excitement of seeing that package and the anticipation of which book would be inside. I know, Disney books are not exactly suspense. Yet, those books are likely responsible for planting the early seeds of suspense in my mind. Would Pinocchio continue to lie? Would Snow White ever wake up? That bit of the unknown always thrilled me.

As I grew older, and most of my friends went for romance stories, I went for suspense. I didn’t want to read about princesses and fairy tale weddings. I wanted the edgy stuff. The books that let me glimpse the dark side. The ones that made me work for the happy ending, if it came at all. The first book I remember making a huge impact on me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. This book was written in the sixties and encompassed the turmoil of that period, as well as the general turmoil of growing up. I was instantly hooked.

I didn’t fantasize about being swept away by the man on the cover of the most recent Harlequin romance. Escaping to new planets and meeting aliens held no interest for me. I wanted to know what drove madness.

In high school and into college, psychology and English were my favorite classes. If I’d been exposed to sociology courses back then, no doubt I would have found where I belonged. I watched people, listened, tried to anticipate behavior. Various ‘what if’ scenarios would keep me up late into the night.

Suspense writing has never been a conscious choice. Human nature fascinates me. Why do people behave as they do? What makes one person commit murder, while another walks away? The characters and plot that became my first book haunted me relentlessly until I finally sat down and gave them life. None of my books have been planned and writing has never been about the genre. For me, writing is about the exploration into the dark side.

Murder As Entertainment

Seeing a murder on television can help work off one’s antagonisms. And if you haven’t any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some. ~ Alfred Hitchcock

I write about murder – gruesome murder, bizarre murder, murder for hire, and murder as revenge. What I write is fiction. Mine is a make-believe world of murder as entertainment.

I’d like to take a noble stance and say that I don’t enjoy writing the murder scenes. But I do. That’s creepy to admit out loud, I know. I kill people on paper and I like it. How did this happen?

The truly odd thing is that I am a total pacifist. I even feel bad when I kill a mosquito. Those things are evil here in Florida, and I’m super sensitive to their bites, swelling up and itching for days. Yet I feel immediate guilt when I kill them. So why is it that I enjoying writing murder scenes?

I am fascinated by human behavior. And let’s be honest. People at their best are not as interesting as people at their worst. I want to know what pushes one person to the edge of civility, to a place I can’t imagine myself ever going. What is the catalyst behind the pull of the trigger or the thrust of the blade? No one lives in a vacuum and no behavior is born in a single moment. Someone who murders has to be inherently different from someone who does not. Or so we tell ourselves.

The woman who kills her abuser is different from the woman who is killed by a similar abuser. Is one action borne of rage and the other of fear? Why did the tenth black eye trigger a different reaction than the first or the third or the ninth?

Anybody who’s been through a divorce will tell you that at one point they’ve thought murder. The line between thinking murder and doing murder isn’t that major. ~ Oliver Stone

When a person hits that raw spot, the low point he or she never expected to be in, that treacherous climb back up can be as intense as the fall. Bloody fingers scrape against jagged rocks in the struggle to rise from the rubble. Some will make it, others will not.

The ability to explore the dark side without physically walking that line is one reason why I write suspense. Still, this does not explain why I enjoy writing the murder scenes. They are not a means to an end. I don’t write them in haste, so that I can then explore the outcome. I’m not emotionally removed from the scene. In fact, the only way I can write is to step into the character’s mind. I need to feel it the way he or she would. I need to be in that moment, with that person, pulling the trigger.

In a sense, writing for me is a lot like acting. I step into a role in the same way, at least psychologically. Perhaps that’s the allure. Writers, like actors, can become someone else. We step out of our comfort zone, embrace the anger and the absurd. We are no longer bound by our own moral compass. Those emotions, not ours but real just the same, allow us to walk in another’s shoes. When we’re done, we shed that skin and, if we’re lucky, we’re left with a better understanding of the world we live in.

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
~ Albert Einstein