A Lesson in Suspense from Lee Child


Going Hungry

Love, love, love:

Lee Child’s article this weekend  in the New York Times: A Simple Way to Create Suspense . (12- 12-09)  He compares creating suspense to baking a cake for your family, and says that you shouldn’t get stuck on the ingredients (i.e., characters etc.), but make sure, that your family goes hungry before the cake is ready. Then they’ll love the cake.  Can’t argue that. His message is that the suspense writer should constantly raise questions in the reader’s mind and slowly tell them answers until the big question is answered at the end. Child concludes:

Trusting such a simple system feels cheap and meretricious while you’re doing it. But it works. It’s all you need. Of course, attractive and sympathetic characters are nice to have; and elaborate and sinister entanglements are satisfying; and impossible-to-escape pits of despair are great. But they’re all luxuries. The basic narrative fuel is always the slow unveiling of the final answer.

So don’t bake cakes. Make your family hungry instead.

He makes it sound so easy. Gives a whole new meaning to: “Let them eat cake.”

But his analogy is, and he is, brilliant when it comes to suspense.

I have to say, however, and I know I’m not the only one taking up cyber space with this concern, that I’m irked by the fact that Tom Cruise is going to play Reacher in the upcoming Lee Child movie. He’s short, and so not Reacher-ish in any way to my mind. The name Reacher came from the times when Lee Child was a beginning writer and his wife said to him something like, “Well, if you don’t make it writing books you can always be a Wallmart reacher.” (Someone tall (he’s 6 foot 5) who reaches things on high shelves for people.) So Lee Child gave his leading character the name Reacher. What exactly can Tom Cruise reach for? Hmmm. And I’m not just complaining about height, because I don’t think about that sort of thing when I get involved in a movie, but the character of Reacher is deep and full of integrity and…  you get my drift. I hope the actor can pull it off, but dare I say it…

It will be a reach.

Have a great week.

Author: Jo-Ann Carson

About Jo-Ann Carson Where magic happens … Reports of Jo-Ann Carson’s death on a Gulf Island are greatly exaggerated or, at the very least, premature. The eclectic crew of ghosts that haunt her head spill onto the page in two series: The Gambling Ghosts and The Ghost & Abby Mysteries. A Viking with existential issues, a broken hearted Highlander, a Casanova man-witch and a Pirate with a secret are just a few of the males her strong heroines encounter in tales of fantasy, adventure and romance. A firm believer in the magic of our everyday lives, Jo-Ann loves watching sunrises, walking beaches near her home in the Pacific Northwest and reading by the fire. You can visit her on social media: Website * Blog * Twitter * Facebook

10 thoughts on “A Lesson in Suspense from Lee Child”

  1. I read the article also – He’s so right.

    I always say I am Tom Cruise’s biggest fan. HOWEVER – Produce a movie about Jack Reacher – yes!; Direct a movie about Jack Reacher-yes!; Star as Jack Reacher – NO WAY !!



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