Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Bomb Under the Table

I think I enjoy plotting and writing thrillers because I love reading a book that grips me from beginning to end with the ‘will he /won’t he succeed’ motif and the feeling that disaster is around every corner. Following the protagonist as he battles against what seem like unsurmountable odds and wondering if he could ever succeed in his ultimate goal... The dictionary defines supense as a state of uncertainty and this is certainly what is at the heart of all thriller stories. But the supense has to be maintained and in the case of a full length novel that can be difficult. This is why we have cliches about page turners and cliff edge endings - especially at the end of chapters. It is the delicate art of suspense.
Keeping readers on the proverbial edges of their seats is what I always aim for but I know this type of book is not to everyone’s taste but for me it is the bedrock of good story telling.
One of the best proponents of the art of suspense was Alfred Hitchcock and I seem to recall reading somewhere that he said one of the greatest ways to create really good suspense was to put a bomb under a table where people, unbeknowingly, are playing a dull game of cards. The audience of course would know the bomb was there and ticking but the players would not. What unbearable suspense for the audience!
Suspense in thrillers, in my humble opinion, is the key to success. A rising tension with lots of problems and conflict that the main character has to contend with is what keeps a reader guessing. But most of all it keeps the reader reading! A bomb under the table doesn’t hurt either!

Do you try to create bombs/shocks that put the reader into a state of uncertainty for the whole length of the story?


  1. I love Hitchcock, too. He was the master of suspense. And he did it with such a fine hand. Wish I possessed a smidgen of his talent.

  2. Hi Pat,

    Hitchcock was one of a kind.

    My book, Net Switch has lots of building tension and twists in the story all the way to the last word. Having the reader on the edge of their seat, throwing in conflicts and keeping the reader guessing is key to thrillers/suspense. I hope I've achieved all of this in my book.

    Nice to see you again.

  3. I love suspense! And I don't know if I've gone the whole length of the story, but pretty close. I love the bomb under the table theory!

  4. That's a great way or remembering the suspense element,Pat.Must go back and check the current WIP!

  5. Hitchcock is a master of suspense! Although I write romantic comedies, I do try to work in surprise plot elements.

  6. I like that idea of having the bomb under the table that the readers know about, but the characters don't. It could lead to all dorts of different scenarios.

    I do also quick like fast moving books that lead out of a chapter with the need to get straight into the next one.

    I imagine you love the high octane thrillers then Pat?

  7. That is great advice to remember. It's funny how a mundane scene can turn terrifying with one very simple change!

  8. Suspense is definitely needed I think in any writing. My favorite books to read and write all have some kind of suspense in it. It keeps me in the book. ;)

  9. Thanks everyone for some great comments!

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