What Not To Do In Your Opening Scenes — Tips by Suspense/Thriller Author Jeff Buick

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Fred E. Whyte

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

What information do you think should never be present in the opening?

JB: Boring stuff should never be in the opening. John strolled, leisurely, into the park. Who cares? I don’t. You just lost me. John saw the body as he entered the park. He’d always wondered what a dead person looked like. Now he knew, and it wasn’t pretty. If I’m the reader, I’m thinking that the dead person is going to play into the plot somehow.

What this scene does not need is paragraphs describing the weather, the length of the grass, what John is wearing, or the time of day. Unless, of course, those things are important. Which they likely aren’t, so leave them out.

What the scene does need, is for John to notice how tightly the scarf was tied around her neck and that it had a strange looking knot. That her ring finger had a pale strip of skin and that one boot had been removed and was missing. Strange things that appear unrelated, yet the reader trusts the writer enough to know that later in the book, all this is there for a reason.

You manage to create a sense of tension and almost ‘creepiness’ to your scenes that not only reflect the tone of the book and genre, but keep the conflict within the reader high. How do you cultivate this sensation? 

JB: Cultivating conflict and tension in a 400 page book can be a challenge. Mostly, being successful at it comes down to pacing. Start the book with hints of conflict—a difference of opinion in a Board of Directors meeting. Expand on it by entrapping the ethical person in the room into doing something horrific. Run a parallel storyline that shows an unsuspecting victim who is going to feel the repercussions of what just happened in the boardroom. Build the suspense. As each page goes by, the fallout from the coercion grows. Innocent people’s lives threaten to come apart at the seams. Our protagonist, the lone person at the helm of the company with any shred of ethics, is forced to put his own life in danger to stop the carnage. And it all started with a mundane meeting in a boardroom.

Envision your book like a movie playing out on the big screen. Liam Neeson is the man on the Board of Directors who was forced into an untenable position. How do you think he would react? Politely? By taking the perpetrators to court? Asking them to stop? Hardly. He would ratchet up the stakes at every turn until he took down the bad guys.

Pacing is the key. Escalate the suspense and action until the reader misses a good night’s sleep. They won’t get upset with you—they’ll write a five-star review on Amazon.

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