The art of building suspense in words

Daniel writes…

Hi Michelle

I first read Dark Matter sometime ago (maybe 6/7 years ago) and I remember not only at the time what an unbelievable chilling read it was, but how it haunted me with my own imagination and imagery thereafter. I've not been able to read it since yet it remains in my top 10 books of all time.

I have now just finished Wakenhyrst. Long overdue I'll admit as life gets in the way but a week away and you've drawn me in again. Your writing is fantastic and eloquently broken down in its structure of prose and diary entries.

I guess part of this is praise, a hope one day I can get the time in to get a signed copy from you, but really the question is how do you build suspense on pages?
In other media forms, music, acting, lighting, words (or the absence of) do so well, but you seem to do this phenomenally well I'm sure many of your readers agree.

I have read many many books across a broad spectrum and I liken your story telling to the Eddings fantasy tales and the twists and turns of Dean Koontz ,but neither and beyond have captured the chilling imagery you seem to put into my brain, and the satisfaction having not read cover to cover in a while that you have delivered.

Whilst I haven't read your teenage fantasy I encourage my girls to read them and I hope they see the same art that I do.

Bravo. I hope I can maybe catch you in the lake district or Lancaster once upon a time. I look forward to your next tale.

Michelle Replies…

Dear David,

What a wonderful message to receive!  I’m delighted that you’ve enjoyed not only Dark Matter, but Wakenhyrst, too; and I’m particularly pleased that my imagery has proved memorable.  Your question about how I build suspense is an excellent one, but I find it very hard to answer.  For me, building suspense is partly objective, that is, planning what the reader should be told and when, as well as what questions to raise in the reader’s mind, and when. But then the subjective bit comes in.  By that I mean the imagery and the other details and events which just seem to well up from the unconscious, particularly as one gets deeper and deeper into writing the story, and identifies more strongly with the characters.  You can’t plan for that, and it’s my favourite part of writing; but it’s also the most mysterious.

There you go, I’ve had a stab at answering you.  Thank you so much for getting in touch – and I really hope that you continue to enjoy my stories.  With very best wishes, Michelle