Suspense

Stories For Business Use, #5

Have you ever been robbed, close up in person?

One September night in 2007 I was walking home about 11PM. The fastest route home passed a derelict university building under renovation.

As I walked two boys appeared at the top of the road. Both had hoods up. One was whistling.

“Excuse me pal! Excuse me!” I stopped and turned around. “Do you know where Broomhill is?”

They continued to walk up to me. As they got closer I could see that one was smoking a spliff. Both were about my height, perhaps taller. They positioned themselves either side of me.

“Yeah back up the road, left and right at the top,” I replied.

The taller one straightened up for a moment. “Just hand your phone over,” he says.

For a second we stood there watching each other. In those brief moments rational thought evaporates with a jolt of fear.

I turned and sprinted back up the road. Thirty metres. Twenty metres. I could hear the ‘thump thump thump’ of pounding footsteps behind me. I reached the junction with no space to turn. I ran blindly in to the road…

Today’s email is about suspense. Suspense is the next ingredient in our recipe for better stories.

Suspense is where you plant questions in your reader’s mind and withhold the outcome.

As a writer I find my written stories are better than my spoken stories. If I tell you a story in person I have a tendency to become self-conscious and hurry to the end of the story. Many people will do a similar thing with a written story, worrying the story is too long.

Suspense works on different levels. You can build suspense into the overall plan of a story, like my robbery story above. You can also build suspense into individual sentences. Sentences like ‘they positioned themselves either side of me‘ forces you to read the next sentence to see what they did next.

Withhold the outcome and people will generally read on.

Your challenge with marketing emails isn’t to write 300 word emails. Or 800 word emails. Or 1000 word emails. The length is less important than whether people want to continue reading, sentence after sentence.

If you re-read the ‘timeline’ article you’ll see I have factored suspense in to the timeline. You can do this up front when you are planning your story, or you can do it retrospectively to make an existing story more engaging.

Suspense doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. You just have to withhold the outcome, even for a sentence or two.

Your task for today is to take a story you have written and add in an element or two of suspense. Send it to me if you like and I’ll send you my thoughts.

I ran out into the road in front of a car. The car braked, blocking the path of my pursuers. The footsteps subsided and I escaped up a side road.

Don’t walk home late at night past building sites. And build suspense in to your stories.

Rob Drummond

Rob is the founder of Story Copywriters, copywriting coach, and author of Simple Story Selling. Grab a paperback or Kindle copy at https://geni.us/PrAb

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