Open Doors

I read a lot of books and magazines on writing, and I always have a couple of tips in my mind as I write–ideas I’ve found that address one of my many weaknesses. Last week, for example, I read Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover (a book so dense with content that every writer is bound to find something useful) and discovered the notion of “missed opportunities”–scenes with a strong element of suspense or conflict that the author doesn’t develop to its full potential. I’ve spotted dozens of these in my current book, and amped them up to maximize the tension.

This week, I discovered a related notion: the concept of the “closed door.” In On Writing, Stephen King points out that a closed door hiding the unknown is a very effective element of suspense–as long as we keep it closed. Once we open the door and reveal its hidden threat, its power is gone, so you want to keep that door ominously closed for as long as possible. After all, chances are the reader conjures up a threat far more frightening than anything you can invent, since he’s drawing on his own unique fears and phobias.

Combine these two notions, and you have the key to a winning scene–one that uses the power of suspense to the max and doesn’t release the monster too soon.