Saturday, July 26, 2008

Author Jenna Black - The Suspense Isn’t Killing Me

Please join me in welcoming our awesome guest blogger, Jenna Black. Not only is she a great writer, and a really fun gal to hang out with, she’s also does paranormal creepiness mixed with hot romance better than anyone I know. Her new book, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, will be in stores July 29th, and I highly recommend it! So, take it away, Jenna…

I went to see a movie (which shall remain nameless in the effort to avoid spoilers) last month that cemented my opinion that sometimes, you just have to forego the temptation to keep viewers (or readers) in suspense. In this movie, there’s a scene where a new character is introduced. From the first moment he appeared, I knew that this character was going to turn out to be the “secret baby.” I’m not sure why it was obvious to me so quickly, but it was—and probably was for other viewers as well.

I had no problem with the idea of this “secret baby.” What I had a problem with is that the writers seemed to think the viewers wouldn’t figure this out on their own. They kept dropping “subtle” hints of this character’s identity, but pretending it was a secret from the audience. I know we were supposed to be surprised when the truth was revealed, but I doubt there was a person in the theater who hadn’t guessed it already.

Now, there was no reason for the father to guess that this character was his son, so his surprise, I could deal with. But I wished the writers hadn’t acted like the audience wouldn’t figure it out. I think if they hadn’t bothered to keep it a secret, the story would have been just as effective—actually, more so, because I, for one, would not have been rolling my eyes at every hammer-to-the-head clue that was dropped.

It has long been my policy in my own books that if I think the reader is likely to guess something, I don’t bother trying to keep that something hidden. As an example, I’ll point to Gabriel, the hero of SHADOWS ON THE SOUL, who was first introduced in SECRETS IN THE SHADOWS. He’s a “secret baby” himself, and when I was writing SECRETS, my first instinct was to keep his true identity hidden for as long as possible. I thought that the big revelation would be the midpoint of the book, or might even happen around the black moment.

But as I was writing the first couple of scenes with Gabriel, I knew I had to drop a clue here or there so that the revelation wouldn’t come out of nowhere. And as soon as I dropped those clues, I realized there were going to be a significant number of readers who would guess the truth. I was badly stuck for a while, trying to figure out how to get myself out of this corner—until I realized that I didn’t have to keep the secret. If people were going to guess anyway, why not just come out and reveal who Gabriel’s father is as soon as the clues might possibly give it away?

I ended up revealing Gabriel’s identity in the third scene in which he appeared—obviously, way earlier than I’d originally planned. And looking back now, I feel certain I made the right decision. Yes, sometimes it’s fun as a reader to be able to guess where the story is going ahead of time—but it’s one thing to guess, and another thing to feel certain and then want to roll your eyes during the big revelation. So my advice to writers out there is to use suspense carefully and in moderation, and remember that there are ways to keep secrets from your characters without keeping them from your readers.


Hungers of the Heart, available now!
The Devil You Know, coming July 29 from Dell Spectra


Anonymous said...

Hey, Jenna,

*raises both hands and points my index finger at you*

Great post, girl. I think I know the movie you're talking about, too, and totally agree.

See you next week in San Francisco!


Jenna Black said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenna Black said...

You forgot the intense stare that goes with the finger-pointing, Faye. Wouldn't be the same without it. LOL. And I bet most people who've seen the movie will know what I'm talking about.

Gemma, thanks for the really nice intro! (Picture me blushing.)

Gemma Halliday said...

Hey, I only speak the truth. :) So glad you could come hang out with us, Jenna!

And I'm dying to know what movie that is now...


Christie Craig said...

Hi Jenna!

Okay...I'll point at you and stare too!

Great post. I love suspense, but it can be tricky when you try to keep too many secrets.

Thanks for guest blogging with us.


Terri Osburn said...

Jenna - are you ever surprised by a twist that shows up in the story well into the writing of it? I guess that would depend on if you plot or pants. I love it when some new turn comes as I'm writing and even I didn't see it coming. LOL!

Jenna Black said...

Hi Terrio--I have indeed surprised myself with my own twists. I'm more of a pantser, but even when I plot, sometimes I come up with stuff that I wasn't expecting.

In fact, the secret of who Gabriel's father was didn't even occur to me until I'd written the first scene with Gabriel in. Reading it back, I thought of the twist, and suddenly had to change my vision of the book. Then had to change it again when I decided not to make it a secret from the reader. (Even though it was originally a secret even to me!)