I've learned a lot during the time it took for me to write and publish my first book. One of the toughest things to figure out, though, was how to create and maintain suspense throughout a novel. Here's a few ideas I'd like to pass along:
*Location, location, location: The setting can add a lot to the suspense. Are you set on a windswept cliff above the rocky shoreline of England or in a deserted cabin surrounded by an expanse of forest? Probably sounds a little more exciting than in a split-level house in suburban America. (Though that can be worked with as well). But exotic locales and inherently mysterious sites can save you a lot of work.
*End each chapter with a cliffhanger. The idea is to keep readers turning pages into the wee hours, so avoid beginning a chapter with morning arriving and ending it as the sun sets. People can "go to sleep" in the middle of the chapter and then have the plot thicken and end on its highest note.
*Use strong words. Think compactly when you choose words. Take out unnecessary words, especially those that don't pack a punch. Choose verbs and adjectives carefully, avoiding common words. For example, use "crimson" instead of "red," "furious" instead of "mad."
*You must choose a worthy conflict for your book to revolve around. No one is going to care if a girl breaks up with her boyfriend. But if she's pregnant, her parents are going to kick her out of the house and a psychotic neighbor wants her baby...now you have suspense!
One of the toughest things about being a writer is the criticism we receive and the soul-searching that inevitably results because of it. When we write, we put our heart in its most vulnerable form out there and it can be painful when someone doesn't agree with what we've done. But to be a writer, especially one that seeks to be published, is to accept that every word you write may be analyzed. So, what's the best way to deal with this kind of scrutiny? Well, I've learned that I have to be my own best critic and editor before I even put it out there.
The art of self-editing can be invaluable to a writer. So here's a few tips that may improve your method:
1) Follow your own best instinct.
2) Elicit help from a critique group or others in the field.
3) Develop lateral thinking: "What's another way to go about this?"
4) Take a break if you need it. Coming back later can bring with it a fresh perspective.
5) Beware of dialogue that is too long and wordy. Remember that longer paragraphs slow the pace down; shorter paragraphs will speed things up.
6) Refresh grammar rules to avoid errors like splitting participles or using run-on sentences, punctuation and spelling errors like "your" for "you're." Remember, you're a professional!
7) Avoid verbosity (which is a big word for 'avoiding big words.')
8) Keep the tone of your work and characters consistent: Casual? Prose-like? Sharp and witty?
9) READ OUT LOUD! You'll catch errors in flow and structure more that way.
10) Remember that a book is never finished, it just finally gets published.