Waiting for It… Waiting for It…

Suspense is all about time and timing. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, the door to open or the protagonist to turn around and see the monster.

Sometimes the scariest moments are when time itself is “suspended.” We’ve all experienced time seeming to speed up or slow down. Concentration and involvement make time fly; disenchantment and boredom makes time crawl. In life, nothing is longer than the minutes before the answer to an important question. It’s true in fiction too — especially if the answer solves a mystery or reveals the truth.

“And the killer is (pause)….”

Right now, there’s a lot of paranormal fiction where the magical characters are able to suspend time or to slow it down in order to manipulate reality. This can be a very useful plot device, but I much prefer the natural flow of time, the inevitability of time “waiting for no one” while it continues on. So when time suspends in a story, it is simply a feeling and not an actuality. This is, of course, simply my opinion.

Many pages of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” are devoted to traveling and waiting. These long passages — spent in contemplation of fate, writing letters, admiring the worrisome scenery passing outside the carriage, etc. — have the effect of suspending the forward motion of the plot and enhancing the action when it finally occurs. The time spent waiting is not wasted. It is simply the quiet before the storm.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…. And then, the clap of thunder!












  1. Yes! Writing ‘And time seemed to stand still’ does nothing but cue the reader to something that should be happening. It does nothing to actually make it happen.

    There are countless articles written about how we should write short, sharp sentences to enhance the feeling of immediacy in the reader, but very few about how to build the tension up to that moment [perhaps because slow anything is anathema in this go-go-zoom era].

    Making the reader wait is a good thing – if done well. 🙂

    • Candy

      Sometimes I think the trick is to make the character wait — and the reader follows along. I definitely think the reader will wait happily if they are invested in what happens next — especially if they are invested in the character’s fate.

      As for the instructions to write short, sharp sentences… HA! Sometimes that’s exactly the right approach and sometimes it’s not. In writing, as in life, I’m always leery of advice that starts with YOU SHOULD or YOU SHOULDN’T. Unless it’s something like “don’t smoke in bed” or proof read before you send out a business email, I’m anti-advice. LOL…

  2. You are anti advice because you are a rebel…

    I love that sudden burst of thunder and then followed by a torrential down pour is awesome. That has been summer here in Michigan this year.

    Interesting about the travel sequences in Dracula. That was very much how they traveled at that time. I wonder how they might have come about if Stoker had been alive now to write the story.

    And then take it a step further and imagine the Stoker sparkly vampire. That just seems wrong.

    • Candy

      I’m sure that Stoker would have come up with a brooding vampire — and brooding vampire hunter — even flying first class instead of riding in a slower-then-slow carriage. The brooding and contemplating were a good part of his style.

      Also… No sparkly vamps for him!

  3. I had similar thoughts this weekend, but not so much along the lines of suspense as opposed to character development. I happened across Rocky on TV and got sucked in (for the umpteenth time…) Anyway, my husband and I were sitting on the couch readily eating-up the part of the movie where Rocky gets to know Adrian. At about the same time, we both turned to each other and noted that movies nowadays don’t spend that much time getting readers invested in the characters. The same can be said for suspense in some ways.

    • Candy

      Yes, I think we sometimes (too often) jump to the action. If you don’t care about the characters, the consequences have less… umm consequence. Waiting for the boom to drop, vampire to attack, bomb to explode, etc. is time that can and should be spent getting invested in the people. It’s hard to care what happens to the characters if you never get to know them.