Subplotting your Way Through Suspense
by Carole Brown
A man. A woman. Their love. An elopement. Rebelliousness. Awakening.
I write suspense with touches of warmth and romance in it. In A Flute in the Willows, Book Two of The Spies of WWII, Jerry and Josie Patterson’s injuries were a real part of the story along with the main suspenseful part of dealing with a foreign spy on home soil. Here are a few of the subplots that I created to help carry the suspense along:
· PTSD. Suffering with PTSD—hurting, lonely, and misguided thoughts of what Jerry Patterson thinks he ought to do and the conflicting desires of what he wants to do increase the tension in this story.
Chapter 7, Jerry:
“Oh, Josie, you won’t ever know how I’ve missed you.” He pulled back enough to gaze into her face, his fingers in her hair, his eyes eagerly devouring her.
As if someone pulled a black, black curtain over his face, a dark shadow crept into his eyes and over his face like a mask, turning him into someone she didn’t know. Where had her Jerry gone?
In these examples, I show Jerry’s love for Josie, yet his PTSD has him doubting his ability—as an injured man—to provide for her. He can not believe she’d ever want a weak man—someone he now thinks of as himself.
Josie, in the meantime, struggles with fear that he no longer loves her or he wouldn’t treat her so coldly.
· Spy business. Being a spy is romantic and fulfilling in one way as far as good pay, exotic countries, and an elaborate life. But in other ways you have the danger, the edginess of never knowing what might happen next, the lies and deceit and betrayal.
Chapter 2 , Jerry:
Jerry Patterson checked his image one last time in the mirror, brushed at a piece of lint on his dark coat, and tucked a handkerchief in his pocket. Flawless. He looked good, if he said so himself. A suave—if a bit aloof—foreign gentleman. Smooth and well educated, with just the right touch of intrigue. The perfect spy.
Jerry is living the good life overseas, until his mission almost fails, the woman and man he used to get what he wanted realize he’s a traitor, and he almost dies. The approval and admiration from this German Family has vanished and all is left are death threats and a life of running and danger.
· Injuries. In Jerry Patterson’s case from A Flute in the Willows, he’s injured when shot as he was escaping from a foreign spy. In Josie Rayner Patterson’s case, her dreams and hopes are shattered when she suffers a devastating injury while ice skating at a competition.
Chapter 2, Jerry:
He started to scoot out onto the balcony when pain shot through his whole body, and he wanted to scream. What had happened? His left leg had gone numb…
Chapter 13, Josie:
Too late, she saw it, and stumbled, tried to correct her stance and felt herself falling, her left foot twisted beneath her body as she crashed onto the cold ice.
· Insecurity. Madly in love, both Jerry and Josie fear the loss of the other’s affection. Misguided by their own feelings of insecurities and inadequacy, they each battle doubts in their own way.
Chapter 10, Jerry:
Self loathing rolled through his stomach. He wanted to forget, to avoid the questions she’d want answered. He couldn’t acknowledge her desire to hold him up as her hero… Anyhow, why would she want a cripple?
Chapter 7, Josie:
Her heart froze in terror as if a tidal wave slammed into her. Something was wrong with Jerry. He didn’t love her anymore or he’d never have turned away from her like he had.
The injuries and insecurities Jerry and Josie suffer through go hand in hand.
Jerry believes it’s not fair to ask Josie—a healthy, athletic wife—to stay with him.
Josie believes Jerry has fallen for someone overseas. Why else would he no longer love her?
· Indifference to God and rebellion. Josie was raised in a loving, church-attending family. Yet a pursuit of her own desires, with lack of respect and appreciation for those who loved her, kept her from opening her heart to spiritual matters. Jerry, on the other hand, was raised by a verbally abusive father who had no care for anything but his business and money. Jerry hid the insecurity lurking behind his sulky mask and hadn’t given a thought to the reality of God in his life.
Chapter 38, Jerry:
“God, don’t let my Josie die. I’ll do anything.”
Chapter 17, Josie:
“So what happened to me this morning? Was it a mood? Worry over Jerry? The music?” Josie leaned her head against Papa Ossie’s shoulder.
“I think God was speaking to you. He was drawing you close to him, wanting you to accept as your Savior.”
“I can’t believe that. He wouldn’t want the likes of me. I’m much too—too–I’m not good enough.”
Jerry never had a chance to consider God. But when he faces some of the hardest events and problems in his life, his eyes are open to what really matters in his life. He’s humbled and determined to change with God’s help.
Josie, though, was raised in church, but her indifference to her family and friends casts her as uncaring and selfish. She has no desires beyond gaining the things she wants…until she’s brought to her knees by losing both of the things dearest to her. Only then does her heart soften and opens to God’s will.
Writing suspense is not hard once you know your main suspenseful plot. I add subplots to increase the tension. Use notes or an outline to keep track of your events and timeline. I also throw in some warm moments of light humor and allow the romance to play between my characters.
Overall, however you want to present your suspense, make it a story readers can’t put down.
Thank you, Carole, for sharing insights into your book and your techniques for including subplots!
She has two loves—her skating and Jerry, her husband. But when he returns home looking like a skeleton trying to return to life, she’s scared. What happened in Germany to change a man so much? Has another woman captured his heart?
Jerry has vowed to let Josie live her own glamourous life…especially after what happened in Germany. But when his wife’s life is threatened, Jerry realizes he can’t stand by and do nothing. Jerry has to risk all for the very soul and life of himself—Josie.
These two damaged, rebellious people learn the hard way that leaning on God instead of their own selves and abilities is the only true way to love and happiness.
Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. An author of ten books, she loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?
You can connect with Carole at:
Personal blog: http://sunnebnkwrtr.blogspot.com/
And find A Flute in the Willows on Amazon here.
I will see you next week with author Janet Sketchley and my second installment of Spring Suspense.