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How to write suspenseful scenes like Dean Koontz - Inhale scenes
April 14, 2016
Write Engaging Scenes!
Are you wondering how authors write compelling, tense scenes? Are you wondering how they write 100k-word novels? How does Dean Koontz write a seventeen-page rape scene and keep the whole scene exciting?
The following three articles will get on you the path of writing engaging and extended scenes: inhale scenes, exhale scenes, and MRUs (extending scenes).
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I will start with inhale scenes. There are two kinds of scenes that bleed into each other: inhale and exhale. Just as you inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale, so to must your scenes. The inhale scene is the tense scene, the scene where crap blows up, the female gets dumped, or the mother struggles to make it to work on time. And the exhale scene is the calm scene; the scene where the man freaks out at his missing arm that he had lost in the explosion; the scene where the female rips her teddy bear's head off, wondering why in the hell her boyfriend dumped her; or the scene where the mother wonders why her kids made her late for work yet again.
When writing an inhale scene, keep the following parts in mind. I will go into more details about each part.
1. Make it clear who the point-of-view character is by sharing their thoughts, for example. Set the scene and where your character's are at in relation to each other and the objects in the scene. Set up the time and place in relation to the last scene.
2. Establish character motivation to achieve a specific goal and let us know the consequences of what will happen if she fails to achieve that goal.
4. Think of bad things that can happen to prevent your character from achieving her goals. This creates conflict and tension. She can fail repeatedly.
5. Narrow the character's options with each problem she faces while trying to reach her goal.
7. The scene ends when she either reaches her goal or fails to reach it.
Because I learn best by example, I will give examples as I elaborate on each part. The first thing we want to do is set up the scene while introducing our main character. I will call her Sandy. Dean Koontz would probably call her Sasha.
In the cramped but clean bathroom, Sandy searched for her brush, opening and closing drawers that were under the sink. Where in the hell was it? Her brother better not have messed with it.
I have set up the setting, placed my character in the scene in relation to the objects, introduced my MC, and established her point of view by sharing her thoughts. I've decided to start with tension that most people can relate to. The goal is to manipulate the readers emotions without them feeling manipulated. When a reader can relate to the character's problems, they feel sympathy for them. So this is why I have chosen to start the story this way.
I don't need to set up the time and relation to the last scene, because this is the first scene in the novel. I can continue to develop setting, but I want to give her a goal as soon as possible, which I've already hinted at. She needs to find her brush. But I still need to give her a motivation for that goal and make clear the consequences if she fails to reach that goal.
To make this article shorter, I will not write the scenes in real time anymore after this next part.
She ripped open every drawer and frantically searched through all the contents in them, like blow dryer, hair clips, other brushes, and curling iron. She checked the shower and even behind the toilet. She rapped her fingers on the sink's counter, thinking about slapping her brother upside the head. Okay, she had fifteen more minutes until her date arrived.
She really wanted this date to go well; she had to impress him. Like really because he was cute, smart, charming, and popular. If Charlie ends up being her boyfriend, she will be popular too, and she really wanted to be popular. Just once, you know, she would like to feel what that was like.
So she had to find her brush because her mother's brush just made her hair all frizzy, and she didn't have the time to go buy a new one. Charlie might not want to be with her if her hair is a mess on their first date.
Now I have made her main goal clear, which is to make the date go smoothly. I have made her motivation clear: to make Charlie her boyfriend so she can be popular. But that is not her only reason. She likes him as well. The consequences if she fails to make him her boyfriend are implied. I have set up her first obstacle, the first thing that could go wrong. Her hairbrush is missing. If she doesn't find it, her hair will be frizzy.
I need to think of other things that could go wrong while she is looking for her brush. I need to narrow her options. One way to narrow options, which creates tension, is adding a timer. The timer itself also creates suspense. A timer can be many things, like a cancer leaving her with three months to live.
She keeps checking her watch. By the time she gets downstairs, she only has ten minutes left. Her brother swears that he doesn't know where her brush is. Her mother doesn't know either.
Then her mother tells her brother to take out the trash, but he says it is Sandy's turn. Now she has a new obstacle. She tries to talk her way out of it, but she's wasting time, so she decides to take the trash out as quickly as possible. What else could go wrong? When she gets outside, a massive raccoon jumps out of the knocked-over trash can. She must get him out of the way, for she can put the bag in the trash and pick up the mess it had made. Eight more minutes. She finds a broom and pokes it at the raccoon, but it attacks the broom and rips it out of her hands. Seven minutes. She throws her brothers soccer ball at it. the raccoon runs off, but she feels bad about hitting it. She picks the trash up and runs back up stairs.
Five more minutes. Her options have narrowed. She no longer has the time to search for her hairbrush. The scene ends with her failing to reach her goal. She doesn't find her hairbrush. Now we write the exhale scene, which will be in my next article.