[Quick Summary: Daughter of a convicted traitor reluctantly goes to Rio to infiltrate a group of her father’s friends, & falls for the recruiter who doesn’t trust her.]
Someone (me) reads your story.
Someone (me again) suspects the story doesn’t build suspense enough.
Someone (me, now grouchy) struggles to explain to you the building blocks of suspense.
Enter “Notorious” and Hitchcock. (Someone (me) is relieved.)
The key to suspense is that she must always be at a fork in the road.
Ex. Alicia must seduce Sebastian (a bad guy & the man who wants her), but she’s in love with Agent Devlin (the man who has put her with Sebastian).
How to keep her at a fork in the road:
1 – Increase stakes by increasing the consequences.
Alicia can only access the secret room if she marries Sebastian. Will she marry him and doom herself to a life without Devlin?
2 –The love triangle keeps see-sawing back & forth, so we’re never sure who’s won.
Alicia & Devlin clearly have chemistry (Devlin wins). Alicia must placate Sebastian (Sebastian wins). Alicia longs for Devlin (Devlin wins).
3- Every decision seems to extinguish conflict, but actually creates two more.
Alicia steals keys to the secret room & takes Devlin there. When Sebastian spots them, Devlin kisses her deliberately to distract him. Now Sebastian is furious at Alicia, & her heart breaks even more over Devlin.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: If it’s done right, the suspense arc should not end at a fork. Suspense forks and forks and forks again.
by Ben Hecht