I’ve always been a big fan of suspense in novels. Doesn’t matter if it’s a mystery or thriller, historical romance or a women’s fiction novel. I like those lingering questions that keep me turning the pages. You’ll see a few of those in THE UNION STREET BAKERY.
However, adding a bit or a lot of suspense doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, there are some tried and true techniques that you can borrow from the mystery writers to punch up your fiction.
Setting. I always consider the book’s setting a character. I think about not only the novel’s location but also the time of year and the weather conditions. In THE UNION STREET BAKERY I chose a 150-old house in Old Town Alexandria. The oven in the bakery is not only past its prime and threatening to break, but the bakery’s finances are a mess. Oh, and did I mention it was a haunted house? These bits add suspense to the heroine’s life and hopefully hook the reader on page one.
Pacing. How fast or slow you move the story controls the suspense. I like to begin my novels about 30 seconds before trouble begins. I rewrote the opening of THE UNION STREET BAKERY at least ten times. Initially, I tossed in too much back-story about the heroine as well too much history of the bakery. Finally, I opted to start with the heroine waking up minutes before a 3:45 a.m. alarm and facing a new life she does not want.
Mini-Mysteries. Not all the story questions have to be big to keep the reader turning the page. Who’s on the other side of the door? What’s inside the box? What happened to the woman living at the end of the road thirty years ago? These might be small questions that can’t sustain a story but they are still interesting enough to keep the reader reading. Make sure you answer all those questions because you’ll frustrate your reader if you don’t.
Character Flaw. This is often at the heart of women’s fiction. I consider a character flaw a belief or fear that holds back the character. I also figure out not only what my character wants but also what they need. (Hint: they cannot be the same). Determine what your character is most afraid of and then use it against them. If your heroine is afraid of heights send her up a ladder. If she’s afraid of facing her birth mother, as in the case of THE UNION STREET BAKERY’S Daisy, then have her birth mother show up.
Women’s Fiction might not have the murder and mayhem of a mystery or thriller but that doesn’t mean you can’t try a few of these techniques to add a little suspense to your story.